Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Five Rules of The Butterfly Effect Diet

The Butterfly Guard... get it?  A Picture of the Butterfly Guard because we're talking about the Butterfly Effect?

The Butterfly Effect, thanks to Hollywood and other works of fiction, is now well-known.  The concept is this: the ripple of something small—like a butterfly flapping its wings—can lead to significant consequences—like the formation of a hurricane.  While the Butterfly Effect is often a part of chaos theory, it provides a useful framework for understanding how best to structure our training, our exercise, and our diet.  Last week, I argued that 20 Mile Marching (consistently meeting reasonable goals) was the most effective way to achieve long term success.  For a 20 Mile Marcher, the Butterfly Effect is a powerful force, and it’s one that you can begin to leverage immediately to improve your training.

For my purposes, as an individual recovering from injury, I want to shed body fat and regain lost muscle mass.  Before my surgery, I tended to weigh between 168 and 172 pounds.  I felt strong and agile and looked lean.  Post-surgery, I am weighing between 182 and 185 pounds and am lugging around my share of flub.  When I was an active competitor (two guesses why I am not anymore), I routinely cut weight for grappling tournaments, sometimes dropping 12 pounds the day before weigh-ins.  To prepare for that weight cut, I maintained a very strict diet that I pulled from The Grappler’s Guide to Nutrition.

While I felt great physically, staying on track taxed me mentally.  From that experience, I know that if eight weeks was a challenge, a lifetime of the same diet restrictions would be impossible.  To attempt such a thing would violate the 20 Mile March concept and doom me to failure.  Instead, I want a diet based on The Grappler’s Guide to Nutrition (the best sport-specific guide to nutrition that I have ever read) that I can reasonably maintain over a long period of time.  The following is my diet cheat sheet:

1. Eliminate soda consumption completely.  A bottle of soda (or pop, if you’re from Pittsburgh), can contain between 250 and 400 calories while providing no real nutritional value.  Don’t believe me?  Check the nutrition facts on your soda at home.  Removing this source of empty calories lowers your number of daily calories significantly, which can lead to better weight control.

2. Drink more water.  As athletes, monitoring our water consumption is important.  Dehydration is dangerous and can hurt your performance on the mat.  While I don’t expect you to carry around a gallon of water everywhere you go, it’s still good to consume roughly 3 liters a day, perhaps more if your workouts are exceptionally strenuous.  Also, chugging sports drinks all day may lead to too much sugar intake.  The electrolytes will best serve you immediately prior to and during a training session.

3. Consume protein immediately following a workout to encourage muscle recovery.  This is common knowledge among body builders and power lifters, and it's useful for grapplers as well.  However, you are likely to see a lot of body building books and websites advocate a high calorie diet to stimulate mass gains, which is probably not going to suit most grapplers, especially those looking to stay within a specific weight class, so be critical of the advice that you read (even mine).

4. Less pasta and sweets, more meats, vegetables, and fruits.  This is straight out of The Grappler’s Guide to Nutrition, which advocates limiting your carbohydrate intake to before 2 or 3 pm, arguing that your body is more likely burn carbohydrates consumed earlier in the day than at night.  For my Butterfly Effect Diet, I will strive to structure my meals this way, but it’s more important to me that I make an overall improvement to the fuel that’s going into my body.

5. You know what’s bad for you; strive for moderation.  Many of my friends follow the Paleo diet, many of my friends are vegan, and some of my friends follow the slow carb diet.  And they all praise the effectiveness of their choice diet.  Personally, I do not have the will power to discipline myself that strictly.  Instead, I do my best to avoid things like fast food in an effort to be generally healthy.

As you can see, none of these rules are particularly difficult to keep or seem all that significant, and that’s the point.  A relatively good diet that I can keep is better than a super-strict perfect diet that I cannot.  Do better, healthier diet plans exist that will give you faster, more dramatic results?  Absolutely, and I highly recommend learning about them and trying them.  If you are able to make an extreme lifestyle change and maintain that change, I envy you.  If you try a diet like that and fail, attempt to adopt the Butterfly Effect diet, and you may find that making a few small healthy decisions will lead to even more healthy decisions in the future.

How else could you use the Butterfly Effect to improve your training?  Could you eat an extra serving of vegetables and an extra piece of fruit a day?  Could you do 50 push-ups and 50 sit-ups after training?  Could you sneak in an extra 20 repetitions of a technique that you have been working on before class?  Could you do one more round at open mat, even if you’re tired?  A little extra can make a big difference.

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