The 10 Elements of Extraordinary Nutrition
This is how you eat for pleasure and performance.
Furthermore and Cole Haan have partnered to bring you the elements of extraordinary in fitness, travel, nutrition, and mindfulness. We tapped our team of experts and high-performers to learn how to eat well at every meal, truly experience a vacation, and level up your workouts.
“High-performing people, from athletes to executives, don’t get to choose how many hours they work, how stressed they are, or how much sleep they get. But they all have to eat,” says Brian St. Pierre, R.D., CSCS, director of performance nutrition at Precision Nutrition in Scarborough, Maine. Nutrition, then, is the most powerful wellness factor within their control and one of the most influential decisions they’re making multiple times a day, he says.
Here, the ten elements of eating for success.
(1) 20-Minute Meals: “Take at least 20 minutes to finish your meal in order to be more mindful of each bite,” advises Tracy Lockwood, R.D., a New York City-based nutritionist. It takes the brain about that long to register fullness, so not only do you run the risk of overeating when you wolf down your meal, but you're also making digestion harder on your body. "If you don't chew your food enough, your stomach has to work harder to break it down into digestible pieces, which can lead to bloating and GI distress and prevent your body from absorbing 100 percent of the food’s nutrients," Lockwood explains.
(2) Savoring: Food is fuel, but it’s also a source of pleasure. Paying attention to how it feels in your mouth increases enjoyment while also making you inherently want to eat cleaner. “When foods are processed, the real flavors and textures go unnoticed,” Lockwood points out. Whole grain bread, compared to processed white bread, has grains, oats, and seeds you can feel and distinctly taste.
(3) Minimal Distractions: “The only distraction you should have while eating is the company around you—not a TV, not a computer, and definitely not your phone,” Lockwood says. All these things pull you away from mindfulness and unconsciously encourage you to eat way too fast. Try looking down at every bite you take, even if you are dining at your desk. This makes you more aware of what you’re actually eating, how many bites you have left, and how quickly you ate, she adds.
(4) The 15-Chews Rule: “Most people eat based on external factors such as how much is on their plate and how much the person next to them is eating,” St. Pierre says. Pay attention to how hungry you feel versus how hungry you think you should be. To do this, chew your food at least 15 times before swallowing (in order to get it to the optimal size to pass through your throat and go into your stomach) and pause between those bites. Sit back in your chair and take a deep breath before taking another one, considering your level of fullness as you do so.
(5) A Goal-Based Plan: Just how you would modify your training schedule to account for your particular goal (a marathon plan would be unique from a 5K plan), you’d modify your nutrition plan depending on your goal as well, says Katie Kissane, R.D., CSSD, owner of NoCo Sports Nutrition and Fitness in Fort Collins, Colorado. “Most people fail at reaching their goals [whether nutrition-related or otherwise] because they don’t have a plan,” she adds. First, determine what you want to focus on (such as generally eating clean, feeling more energized, gaining muscle, or dropping a few body fat percentage points). Step two: take a few hours on Sunday to meal plan for the week ahead. At the very least, it should include three goal-oriented options for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
(6) Mastery of Macros: At Precision Nutrition, St. Pierre and his team teach that each day, most active guys should aim for six to eight each palm-sized portions of protein, fist-sized portions of vegetables, cupped handfuls of quality carbs (such as starch and fruit), and thumb-sized portions of healthy fats. That breaks down to roughly 2300 to 3000 calories comprised of 30 percent protein, 40 percent carbs, and 30 percent fat. For women, aim for 1500 to 2100 calories comprised of four to six each of the same portions. Then, if your goal is to build muscle, swap out a few servings of carbs and fat for more protein; if your goal is endurance-based, swap a few servings of protein for carbs on training days. “This is a great strategy because it’s a baseline you can use to adapt indefinitely as your nutritional goals change,” St. Pierre says.
(7) Rainbow Plates: Just as important as balancing macronutrients is micronutrient (vitamins, minerals) intake. They help ease inflammation, speed recovery, and keep all the small parts of your system running smoothly, St. Pierre says. The various colors of fruits and vegetables indicate different nutrients. Before you leave the produce aisle of the grocery store, check to see that your cart is filled with every color of the rainbow, Kissane advises, and at dinner, think about what colors you haven’t eaten yet today.
(8) The 90/10 Rule: Small indulgences can provide a psychological break that actually helps keep you on track, Kissane says. “Follow your healthy eating tenets 80 to 90 percent of the time and leave 10-ish percent for pure enjoyment such as a glass of wine or eating a slice of pizza with friends,” St. Pierre advises. Depending on what works best for you, let yourself off the hook for two to three full meals a week or for one smaller indulgence every night. “If you’re eating mindfully and with awareness, you know when you’re overindulging,” he adds.
(9) The Clean-Slate Policy: You’re going to fall off the wagon. One secret of extraordinary eaters is how they respond to that. Have a clean slate policy, St. Pierre recommends. “Everyone has moments of impulsivity, and that’s okay. No one meal is going to break your progress or disrupt your goal. Don’t abuse it, but recognize those indulgent moments, be compassionate for yourself, then get back to your usual thing. That’s what really keeps you on track in the long run.”
(10) Monthly Evaluation: Consider what has been working, and what hasn’t. Decide whether you want to keep putting your efforts toward getting leaner, faster, stronger, or if you’re better served psychologically to scale back to maintenance for a month and reset your motivation. If you struggled with eating mindfully or portion control in particular, maybe you just concentrate on improving mastery of that skill for a bit. “These elements are all the foundation for a lifetime of successful nutrition that you can adjust according to any goal, so if you excelled at one thing but struggled with something else, ask yourself why,” St. Pierre says. “Too often we focus on our struggles, when sometimes we need to look at our strengths and consider how we can leverage the key to those wins in other scenarios.”