3 Simple Nutrition Principles to Power Up Your Simple & Sinister Training

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.

Two-Hand Kettlebell Swing

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.

Consider the words of General Stan McChrystal, former commander of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, during an interview with Tim Ferriss:

“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.

Morning Assessment

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

The Rack position

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.

Steve Ko
Steve Ko, SFL, is a Bay Area native who used unconventional nutrition and strength training to overcome chronic joint pain, depression, and poor memory to become clear minded and strong. He regularly experiments with food, training, and meditation in his quest to build a life of long-term wellness.

Steve has been training in bodyweight exercise, powerlifting, and most recently kettlebells on the Simple & Sinister program. He gives detailed accounts of his unconventional eating, training technique, and mental breakthroughs on The Brilliant Beast Blog.

17 thoughts on “3 Simple Nutrition Principles to Power Up Your Simple & Sinister Training

  • This is a very similar pattern to how I eat, how I ate during the early period of s&s, 16-24 but the parameters shifted with the 32. There are many ifs and buts here, lean mass/current body fat, other life stressors, current strength levels, current aerobic efficiency and many others that will cause this template to shift. My post s&s feast changed and I upped breakfast and a light lunch changed to a lunch. So what started as a fast/light meal and post training feast changed to a traditional 3 meals a day. I just kept the starch until after training.
    I agree with the general plan with the caveat that don’t starve if hungry!! And be prepared that energy needs will change, if you are lean you’ll need to eat, if wanting to lose some blubber then resisting hunger may still be an option and all that has to be balanced by your ability to recover, and thus individual variation. Anyway, enjoy some potatoes along the way…….

    • Thank you for sharing this Alistair. It makes sense that food needs increase when training load increases. Good to see you were able to scale your principles of nutrition to changing demands.

  • Thanks for the well written article, Steve. Just wanted to add a caution for women about fasting before a workout. As Dr. Stacy Sims, author of Roar:
    How to Match Your Food and Fitness to your Female Physiology… , says, “if you are a woman, fasted training directly increases cortisol, and this can backfire leading to insulin resistance”, .
    Nutrition is individualistic, but it is gender specific too, especially in terms of its hormonal affects. You seem like a sensitive writer so I’m assuming you care to know that there is a difference between fasting for man and fasting for women.

    • Tara, thanks for reading and thank you for the kind words. Yes, “Nutrition is individualistic, but it is gender specific too”. I agree. I have spoken with women (and men) who have found that strict intermittent fasting and carbohydrate delay does not work for them over the long term. They get tired, especially with exercise in the mix.
      Each person must find the way of eating that agrees with their nature. Testing is the most important element of any decision regarding nutrition. With that being said, there’s also the option of fasting as needed and when appropriate. Situations like exercise or not, stress levels, and overall condition of the body affect the way nutrition impacts a person.
      Even for women, I have seen benefits in terms of energy increase, weight stability, and strength retention from moderate fasting schedules. This could involve regularly including adjustable amounts of collagen protein with fat in the mornings, only fasting every once in a while, or doing a strict fast schedule with periodic breakfasts before energy cycles decline.
      It’s true that some people, women as well as men, may not benefit from fasting. As with all principles, nutrition guidelines should be made practical and beneficial to overall wellness. There are no absolutes, and even the things that seem to work without fail may change over time. I appreciate the perspective you bring here.

    • Pedro, HRV stands for heart rate variability. This is a calculation of the change in heart rate. If you measure your heart rate, you will count a specific number of beats within a set amount of time. For example, 60 beats per minute. Go one level deeper mathematically and you can find that between heart beats, there is a changing interval of time. So even though your heart beat 60 times in a minute, the first two beats could have been one second apart, while the last two beats could have been .75 seconds apart. According to HRV researchers, the higher your variability, or the more random your heartbeat intervals, the better your overall state of wellness is. This has been connected to higher cognitive ability, better physical performance, and quicker recovery. A high HRV is most often associated with a low stress level. In general, the more stressed you are, the more consistent and less variable your heartbeats become. With breathing techniques related to meditation and other methods, you can increase your HRV and test whether you experience the benefits it is supposed to bring. There are tools that can measure HRV and give you feedback as training. Hope that helps.

  • Great article, I was all excited to tell you about bulletproof coffee! And then …. ah! He found it!! I’ve also experimented with 24-36 hour fasts, after either kb training and or a 5-10 mile run and always have a really good hrv score after
    Very cool

    • Awesome, Ben. Good to see another person using fasts, fats, and even HRV with kettlebell training. The run is impressive on a fast of that length. Thanks for sharing and hope you find more success with these principles.

  • Yes, S&S is more demanding on your energy systems than perhaps many might think. The first day you do it it seems not enough, but then day after day the energy expenditures accumulate.

    • Kozushi, I’ve found the same. Although continuous training is the way to adapt, a nutritional foundation seems to be key to supporting this. Hope you’ve found success with S&S.

  • Thanks a lot for these great insights! I’ve been experimenting with “intermittent fasting” for a month and came to the questions you give answers to : how not to break the fast in the morning AND sustaining the body needs, how to sustain energy over the long run on the S&S program (I’ve been in and out of it a few times because I crashed each time) and how to assess your intakes depending on how you feel. Man, your thoughts come right on time, many thanks!

  • I noticed that vegan diet significantly shortens recovery time after food. many times the slump doesn’t exist or is barely noticeable.

    • shay, I’m glad you’ve found this to be true. My experience is only one person’s, and each person has to try and find out what works for them. Thanks for sharing.

  • Good article and I respect your journey. But did you quote Gen. McCrystal???? Check your mentors. Lol

    • General McChrystal is one of the most loved and respected military commanders of all time. His concepts completely changed the way the Special Forces operated in Afghanistan and Iraq for the better. I would say he is a great mentor.

This article is now closed for comments, but please visit our forum, where you may start a thread for your comments and questions or participate in an existing one.

Thank you.