Strategic Eating for Performance and Fat Loss

Bottom Line Up Front: I noticed that I started to follow a pattern with my diet that was not really purposeful but instead combined a lot of nutrition strategies into something that naturally matched my daily battle rhythm and my training. I will explain what the framework is, what I am doing, why, and what you can take away from this. This is my strategic eating for performance and fat loss plan.

strategic eating for performance and fat loss

Background

First, let’s go over the profile and goals. This is for a 180-lb active duty male Soldier, 40 years old. The physical training plan that supports this won’t get explained in a lot of detail now, but we can say it involved rucking/walking every day (I don’t wear a pack every time), a 20-30 minute conditioning workout, heavy weight training, and a muscular endurance session each week. Also of note is I am training for a ruck march marathon where I will carry 35 lbs for 26.2 miles, so each weekend I do an especially long ruck, 10-20 miles. I get in 10,000 steps every day and around 100,000 per week due to the ruck training. I am very physically active.

Taking this all into account, my baseline energy requirements to maintain my weight are around 3,000 calories per day. My goal is to average 2,500 calories per day. My aim is to sustain my performance (not get worse) and to lose excess body fat in the form of 10 pounds (more or less).

For the past 5 years, I didn’t count calories or macronutrients, just ate well. Low carb, high fat, moderate protein, real food. Pretty simple. This January I decided to get more specific with it and actually track what I was eating and have a goal of getting to a comfortable 175. I fluctuate now around 180 plus or minus a few based on short-term dietary changes. I did some analysis and found the Lose It app to track my food intake. I will review this separately as it warrants its own post because it’s awesome. My initial plan was just to eat around 2,500 calories per day of good food and see what happened. This would involve some days of really low carb (under 50g all day), some fasting, and some treat meals on Fridays as this is how I always eat because I found it successful over the past few years.

I began to fall into a modified pattern that has proven successful in weight loss and performance maintenance that combines elements of a lot of strategies. Without planning to do so, I tended to eat less during the beginning of the week, more in the middle, a lot on Fridays, less on Saturday (because of so much on Friday) and a moderate amount on Sunday on my long ruck day.

Here is where I ended up after 30 days:

Day
Calories
Total for week
% of total
Notes
Monday
2000
2000
12%
Fast until noon
Tuesday
3000
5000
18%
Wednesday
3000
8000
18%
Low carb (< 50 g)
Thursday
0
8000
0%
Fast all day (approx. 36 hours total fast)
Friday
3500
11500
21%
Free eating, treat meal, high carb
Saturday
2000
13500
12%
Fast until noon
Sunday
3000
16500
18%

Notes

  • In my current assignment, I don’t have normal daily hours. I go in later on some days, so I can train and eat differently almost every day of the week.
  • A typical daily macronutrient breakdown would be something like 50-55% fat, 20-25% carbs, 20-25% protein with some exceptions (low carb Wednesdays, high carb Fridays for example).
  • My wife and kids are gone on Thursday evenings so I am on my own for dinner. This led me to doing an all-day fast on Thursdays. I don’t like to not eat dinner with my family but I like not eating dinner periodically so I can do an extended fast. This let me do that.
  • The fast on Thursday ends up being more like 36-40 hours since I don’t eat from dinner Wednesday at 7 PM until after exercising Friday morning at 9 AM. It looks like one day, but it’s in actuality much longer.
    • Remember, longer fasts are exponentially better. For example, six 4-hour fasts is not the same as one 24-hour fast. And a 36-hour is not just 1.5x better than a 24-hour. Probably something like 1.75x better. I am not getting into increasing marginal returns with you, but that’s the idea. It is a better than one-to-one relationship, a positively curved slope upward for you nerds. Obviously there is a limit to the effectiveness of fasts which I won’t try to explain now and derail this post. For me 36 hours is all I want.
  • To increase the fat burning effect of the fast, I then dropped my carbohydrate intake to under 50 grams on Wednesdays, getting into a mild state of ketosis ideally (didn’t do any blood work to actually verify) and a reduced hunger due to very low insulin (low carbs = low insulin = low hunger theoretically). So basically my body is just ready to destroy some carbohydrates by Friday since it hasn’t gotten any since effectively Tuesday. Conveniently, Friday we go out to dinner and dessert. Strategery.
  • I also continue to train on Thursday and Friday mornings while fasted. I choose rucking, walking, and steady state cardio (non-anabolic/strength/power) events to further utilize stored fat as fuel.
  • I make sure I eat well on days I do high intensity training and especially days I do heavy strength training.
  • I noticed I was easily hitting my daily average of 2,500 calories since I was basically getting so much credit from the zero calories on Thursday while still eating what I felt like was a lot of food. I don’t feel like I am restricting.
  • Adding in the two morning intermittent fasts on Monday and Saturday when I am already not hungry was very easy, which also made the amount of food I was eating feel like more than enough.
  • By eating in waves like this, I can easily maintain my average daily calorie goal of 2,500 calories, still enjoy my once-a-week treat meal guilt-free, actually utilize the treat meal to shock my metabolism to keep it burning hot, and do a carb refeed, which then supports my 3-5 hours of rucking on Sunday.

I hope you find the structure and analysis interesting and can apply it. I will continue to refine this over time after my ruck marathon is done and I get a new job with a new schedule.

Post thoughts/questions to comments.