I haven’t taken a break from Simple & Sinister training for the last six weeks. Over the last few months, I transitioned from the 16kg to the 24kg kettlebell. Every day, my one-arm swings are more solid and my get-ups are steadier.
In case you’re not familiar with the challenge presented in Simple & Sinister:
While most strength programs prescribe regular rest days, S&S is unique in that it is designed to be both a training regimen and a daily recharge. The purpose, as stated by Pavel in the book itself, is “moderate daily training [that] will keep the muscles’ fuel tanks topped off, while making tissues resistant to microtrauma and almost soreness-proof. It is the ticket to being always ready.”
A year ago, I dabbled in S&S with less success. This time, I’m using three principles of nutrition that are enabling me to minimize my days off from training and therefore remain truer to the intention of the program. Timing of meals, eating a lot of fat, and using morning assessments are simple techniques that increase the number of days I can train consecutively.
My Goal and My Dilemma
My immediate training goal is to achieve the Simple standards with the 32kg kettlebell. The biggest problem in training for this goal is recovery.
“Prof. Arkady Vorobyev explains that incomplete restoration training stimulates the recovery ability; your body literally has to learn how to recoup faster… or else.”—Pavel Tsatsouline.
Simple & Sinister requires that training is maximal and that energy is high every day. But this seemed like a paradox. I stumbled through S&S before, with many off days. I was supposed to acclimate to the daily demands of the kettlebell, but instead I was getting more tired. Days off seemed like a backward step for me to take if I was supposed to be training daily.
Timing: Cycles, Science, and Fasted States
Then I came upon a book by Dan John, a former Olympic discus thrower and training coach who, like Pavel, takes a lifelong approach to training. A single idea of his stuck with me and changed the game. “Exercise, eat, eliminate,” he wrote in A Lifelong Approach to Fitness.
This order of metabolic operations is simple, but it goes a long way. Exercise on an empty stomach. Eat after exercise. “Eliminate,” or stool, before you exercise again. Repeat. In real-life terms, this is likely to look most like eliminate, exercise, eat. But the idea is to train and eat according to the body’s natural cycle of metabolism and energy.
I learned from years of sports and powerlifting that I could train harder after I emptied my bowels. But making it a rule, every time, cemented a biological rotation for my body. I found it easier to eliminate on schedule. I also watched as my recovery naturally became more consistent, regardless of how tired I was at night. By late morning, my usual training hour, I was ready.
This rotation seems to have stirred up a corresponding cycle of energy. And it certainly makes sense in terms of metabolism and hormones, which I’ve been researching over the last several years.
I’m going to get into a bit of the science for a moment. The basic metabolic hormones are cortisol and insulin. Cortisol is the morning “get up and go” hormone. It’s the trigger for fat burn when there’s low carbohydrate and protein levels in the blood. This is considered a fasting state. In this state, instead of glucose being the primary fuel source for your brain, your body relies on fatty acids and ketones. These fuels are more efficient than glucose and provide you with increased focus and sustained energy.
On the flip side, insulin is released after eating, when glucose and/or protein is elevated in the blood. Insulin tells your muscles to store glucose as future energy, and your fat cells to convert it to fat. The liver also does both of these things as a backup. This is no longer a fasting state. Now glucose and protein are being used for energy and fat storage, depending on your needs. Fatty acids and ketones become secondary fuels.
There is a marked difference in how these fasting and non-fasting states feel.
I find that eating protein and carbs, and thereby triggering an insulin response, makes me sluggish. Even if it’s minimal, after a small meal, this slump in energy costs me prime training time. Make it a bigger meal, like a weekend brunch, and I am down for the count. There’s no way I’m going to train for the next few hours.
To be as alert and strong as possible when training, I delay my first meal until later in the day. Dinner is usually big, and on some days it’s my only solid meal. I find this strategy works best not only for physical training, but for work and mental focus, as well.
“My personality was such that I’m not real good at eating three or four small disciplined meals, I’m better to defer gratification and then eat one meal.”
This timing, which some call intermittent fasting, works well for me. But there is a caveat to delayed eating. Do not take fasting to extremes. Kettlebell training is no small task, and requires a lot of energy. Eat when you are ready to eat.
Eat Fat First, Then Eat a Lot of It
There is a way to fast in the morning while also taking in energizing nutrition. Eating fat, unlike carbs and protein, will not end the fasting state. This is because fat does not turn on the insulin response. Remember that carbs and protein trigger insulin. Introducing good fats to your system encourages the body to continue to use fat as energy, and thus your training state is preserved.
Dave Asprey, creator of Bulletproof coffee, wrote in his book The Bulletproof Diet:
“We’re often told to avoid fat because it has more calories, but when we build a high-performance car to go faster, we design it to use high-octane fuel, which stores more energy per gallon than low-octane fuel. We measure the octane of food using calories, and when you teach your body to burn fat for energy it becomes a higher-performance machine, complete with a kind of energy that’s normally unavailable.”
After six months of experimentation, I found that eating more fat and avoiding wheat and sugar gave me greater mental focus, improved memory, and sustained energy without crashes. Over the last five years, eating lots of fat during work and travel has also helped me keep a six-pack and normal body weight. I also added 65lb to my squat at 168lb body weight over one year of eating between 8-12 tbsp of fat per day.
Butter coffee, inspired by Dave Asprey’s famous recipe, has been the most effective and enjoyable tool in my nutritional arsenal. It’s a blend of good butter from grass-fed cows, medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, and coffee. I add whatever flavors I like that don’t have sugar or other harmful stuff. Chocolate and vanilla are my go-to ingredients.
The butter provides healthy saturated fats for energy and building blocks for cells. The MCT oil is a blend of capric and caprylic fatty acids, which provide rapid brain fuel. Mixed in a blender, the drink becomes a great start to my days.
You don’t have to drink butter coffee to get the same effects. Other excellent sources of fat such as broths and egg yolks may be found through research and self-testing. You can find whichever fat source works best and tastes best to you. But Asprey described a good reason to eat more fats:
“Our cells, organs, and brains are all made of fat and need high-quality fat to function optimally. Fat is also the basis for the lining of your nerves, called myelin, which allows electricity to flow efficiently… When you eat enough of the right fats without excess carbs, your body learns to efficiently burn fat for fuel and to form healthy cell membranes.”
Whether or not you consume fat first thing in the morning, eating more of it from wholesome sources supports the gain and retention of strength and muscle.
Much of the controversy over the right proportion of carbs, protein, and fat in the diet is rooted in the “either/or” paradigm. But sometimes the answer is just, “Yes.”
I eat lots of fat. I also eat lots of carbs. I do not count calories or macros. I measure portions roughly by feel. I enjoy my food, and I eat as much as I need. It’s easy to tell when I’ve eaten enough fat. I simply can’t get myself to eat more. Carbs are a little trickier. This is where morning assessments help.
In the morning, I haven’t eaten or done anything yet, so if something is feeling off, I can usually pinpoint it to my food and portions from the day before. Here’s how it works:
- The moment I wake, I check for clear-headedness. If I feel groggy, it’s usually because I had junk food, too much carbs or sugar, MSG, or another toxin.
- I look for normal body composition, meaning no unreasonable pudginess or weight loss. If I have noticeable fat gain, I can usually trace it back to eating more carbs than usual. On the other hand, if I lose muscle or get skinnier, I may not have eaten enough starch.
- I also gauge my energy. If I’m fatigued, anxious, or cranky, I know I didn’t eat enough carbs the day before. I want to feel calm, rested, and fresh.
These simple checks for mental state, body composition, and energy act as meters for nutrition of the previous day. I dial my food up if there are signs of deficiency and dial down if I’ve eaten too much.
Your goals will determine what you look for in the morning. Generally, favorable body composition, good mood, and sufficient energy are green lights for training. I don’t accept a sub-optimal condition as something that is out of my control. I use these principles of nutrition to make adjustments based on morning symptoms and to build the wellness I desire.
Simple Nutrition Principles
Simple nutrition principles like “exercise, eat, eliminate,” eating lots of healthy fats, and morning assessments have increased my capacity to train on S&S from day to day. The metabolic rotation optimizes my energy cycle. Good fats fuel my performance and supply building blocks. Morning assessments calibrate nutrition to changing demand.
My advice to you is to find the most effective foods and the most efficient meal schedule for your goals, lifestyle, and body. Food choices and portions are vague here because everyone is different. Morning assessments will help you grasp how much and what food benefits you the most. Build your foundation and you will make effortless adjustments as training and life bring the unexpected.
Simplicity minimizes confusion and indecision. The easier your eating is, the more likely you will stick to it in the long run. Adopt this simple and sinister nutrition approach that secures your ability to punch in yet another training session.