Here’s what you need to know…
I recently fell extremely ill and had to take some time off from the gym, so I have decided to control what I can, which is what I do (or do not) put into my body.
- I’ve lowered my carb intake
- I began tracking and monitoring my protein
- I’ve been focusing on proper supplementation with fish oil, magnesium and zinc
- And drinking (some) red wine
Dive in to read more about my story and the rationale behind these decisions:
Quick caveat: I am not a doctor, licensed nutritionist or certified trainer. This is all research I have done for myself given my circumstances and conclusions that I have come to are best for me.
You know life has a way of resetting things. Sometimes the easy way and sometimes the hard way. I can’t say mine was necessarily the hard way given there are people who go through much worse. Be that as it may, it did completely knock me on my ass.
On August 11th, I went to my doctor with chills and a splitting headache. Once I got there, my fever was up to 104 degrees (that’s no bueno). They gave me an IV, meds and sent me home. That night I ended up in the ER and ultimately ICU for nearly 6 days. What was revealed through a spinal tap (they’re as pleasurable as they sound) was that I had viral meningitis, an extremely rare illness that affects people to varying degrees — mine being one of the more severe cases.
Now, over a month later, I’m on the road to recovery — but it’s a long road and not exactly what I pictured when I first left the hospital. At first, this whole break from training was a novelty. I thought to myself, “a couple weeks off will be great…I’ll eat pizza and cupcakes…” Ultimately, that couple of weeks has turned into over a month-long break with really no end in sight. I could be able to start training again in a couple weeks, couple months…I don’t really know. Given that, I’ve thrown out the cupcakes and pizza, done the research and decided to focus on the one thing I can control, and that’s my nutrition.
So, surely you’re not going to be part of the .1 percent of the population that comes down with meningitis, so how can this post help you? Maybe you’re injured or sick, or can’t train for another host of reasons.
These tips are things you can follow on and off training to help you keep your game up.
Who doesn’t like carbs, seriously? Those things are so hard to put down. By that, I mean literally take the cookie out of my hand and put. it. down. They’re so good and they serve a place especially when you’re training. When you train, you burn through your glycogen stores and they have to be filled back up. Eating carbohydrates is how we do this. It’s like filling your gas tank.
But, I’m not training — like I can’t even stretch. My body is still so weak, so the fact is I don’t need that many carbs right now. That being said, I’m keeping carb intake between 75 – 125g per day in food calories, which is low for me. I’m not anti-carb or pro paleo, but in this non training state it doesn’t make sense for me to keep reloading the glycogen stores like I would if I was training like a madman.
This is something you can certainly do when you’re off or in a lean phase. A couple of weeks of this before the beach will certainly give you a leaner look. More than anything, because carbs help us hold water. and it will ring your system out some.
When I was bulking and lifting like it was going out of style, I was legitimately taking in 250g – 300g of protein per day. You hear varying degrees of data stating protein intake needs to be anywhere from .75g per pound of bodyweight to the high end of 1.5g per pound of bodyweight. Obviously, I lived at the 1.5g per pound / per day spectrum, and felt like it worked for me.
Now, like in the carb scenario, I certainly don’t need that much, but I do want to maintain as much muscle as possible while I’m in this state — so I need some. I’m going to stick to the low end, which I listed above, but the key is actually making sure I get that much protein. Protein’s sneaky in the sense that I feel like it’s the one macronutrient of the three (carbs and fat being the other two) that can fall to the wayside.
If I don’t track it, I won’t take it in, and probably end up at about half of my goal — 100g or so when I need / want to be getting around 180g. For some reason, when you’re not training, protein shakes don’t taste that good (do they ever), but I’m making sure to have two a day with my three regular meals which gets me where I need to be.
This is a big category for me. I believe in supplements! There I said it. I’m not as much a naturalist as others and from what I’ve seen, I feel like we need to take in supplementation to get the nutrients we need.
There are a few big ones for me. I take these regularly, but now, more than ever, they make sense to regularly ingest on a daily basis for my overall health, muscle maintenance, etc.
- Fish Oils: I take 6g/day and believe that is the appropriate amount for most men from what I’ve read (4g for women). I use SFH’s Fish Oil that we carry at Iron Tribe, taking a serving in the morning and at night prior to breakfast and dinner. You’ve read about fish oils, there’s a whole host of benefits so I’m not going to sing all their praises, but for me I want to make sure I’m keeping my cholesterol in check, heart healthy and brain in check. Omega’s are one of the most important nutrients when it comes to brain health, and the virus attacked my brain, so this is my way of rebuilding.
- Creatine: It might seem weird to take creatine when you’re not training, but I’ve done the research. I’m not a huge red meat guy…I probably eat it once, maybe twice a week, and this is really the only way we get a decent amount of creatine into the body. That being said, I’ve decided to take in 3g/day purely for muscle maintenance reasons. Creatine’s been shown to help increase lean muscle mass, decrease fat and have other benefits – certainly when training.
- Zinc and Magnesium: I love these two supplements for different reasons, but you can typically find them paired together on the shelf. Zinc has been shown to increase our immune defense, preserve lean muscle mass, increase testosterone in men, among other things. For these reasons, I’m loading up on it these days and more than the daily recommended serving. I take 150mg – 200mg per day. I feel comfortable with that based off the research I’ve done. This is significantly more than what is recommended, but do your research and whether you’re on the high end or just dose it regularly, it’s something I would recommend.
Magnesium has been shown not only to increase energy, but also calm nerves and anxiety. It also helps digestion and is important for heart health. I don’t go crazy on this one (going above the daily recommended value), but partition it out through the day and am getting 200 – 400mg through supplementation.
A Little Red Wine Goes a Long Way
I’m a beer guy. I’ll admit it’s probably my favorite drink (along with water). I’m not a beer connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination, but it is something I have learned to enjoy. That being said, since getting sick I have pretty much been avoiding all forms of alcohol. I’m not going to lie, I’ve had some drinks here and there and in social situations tried to enjoy it, but it’s hard right now because it doesn’t really serve a benefit. I’m also taking a number of medications, so it’s better safe than sorry to avoid it in most situations.
After doing the research though, I have began to drink red wine each night due to the sheer benefits of it. Now, when I say drink it every night, I do mean every night, BUT two glasses (8 – 10oz that I measure out). I’m not downing a whole bottle or taking it past that because the negatives would outweigh the positives.
So, what are those positives and why did I decide to add this to my regimen? First off, resveratrol, which looks something like this (3,5,4′-trihydroxy-trans-stilbene) is a natural compound found in red grape skin. Wine actually has a higher amount of this compared to foods or supplements, so it’s the best source for it. Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to protect the heart and circulatory system, lowering cholesterol, and protecting against clots which can cause heart attacks and stroke. It also has shown to have a number of positive benefits on the brain, and with what I’ve been going through with viral meningitis, that’s a good thing.
Red wine also increases HDL (the good cholesterol — think of it as the garbage truck clearing the bad stuff out of our arteries) something exercise also is a proponent of, but since I can’t train, this is helping keep my levels where they need to be.
So, those are my tips and tricks for those of you who might be ill or on injury reserve. Some of these might not be a bad idea to include in your everyday lives even if you are currently training, depending on your situation.
This decision to take control of what I put into my body and help me recover from illness is my one step towards the thousand mile journey back to the gym and my friends at Iron Tribe. Until then, you’ll see me on the sidelines, encouraging you along as you realize all of your fitness goals.
Sarah oversees social media and internal communication for Iron Tribe Fitness. Her goal is to share the mission of Iron Tribe so others can be transformed by the program, and ultimately become the healthiest version of themselves.