DIY Personalized Nutrition
The RAFT Method: A modest proposal to help you figure out the best way to eat.
The Upshot, Upfront:
Personalized nutrition companies look at your physiology and lifestyle to help you make the best nutrition choices.
While these companies are great, a little patience and perseverance go a long way towards helping you figure out those choices on your own.
Here at New Personal Best, we’re all about qualifiers. Even when countering lofty universal claims made about nutrition strategies such as keto, vegan, or gluten-free eating, we gingerly point out that, regardless of the research, there’s always a chance that one of these modalities may work for you like Han worked for Leia.
That, teammates, is the core conceit of personalized nutrition. No single diet works for everyone, but every diet works for someone.
Personalized nutrition—sometimes called precision nutrition—attempts to help people find their ideal way of eating by holding up a mirror. To quote Charles de Lint, famed Canadian author and guy I’d not heard of until I just found him on Google, “Look inside yourself for the answers.”
In this case, we’re talking about looking at aspects of your physiology and lifestyle to determine which foods work best for you.
Groovy, right? The only problem is that physiology and lifestyle involve a bunch of factors, so things can get really confusing, really quickly.
The wide, wide world of personalized nutrition.
Our bodies are unique, therefore we all respond differently to various nutrients. Some of the obvious differentiators include weight, height, gender, and activity level. The more cutting-edge differentiators include genetics—our DNA has a say in how we react to food—and the microbiome—the way bacteria colonize our gut impacts how we absorb nutrients. Continuous glucose monitors (CGM) are also a pretty cool way individuals can learn how food (mostly carbs) impacts their system in real time.
Another piece of the puzzle is the increasing number of services providing access to nutrition professionals, often registered dietitians, who can give one-on-one advice in a convenient and affordable fashion, typically over the internet.
Nothing new under the nutritional sun.
Personalized nutrition is nothing new. Dr. Roger J. Williams—whose greatest hits include discovering vitamins B5 and B9—coined the term “biochemical individuality” back in the 1950s. (For some reason, the holistic set truncated it to bio-individuality, perhaps because the word “chemical” lacks qi flow. This frustrates me because it takes the credit away from Williams, but whatever. No one can take folic acid from you, Doc!)
Even the USDA’s Recommended Daily Allowances were designed to offer individual flexibility. They’re defined as, “the average daily dietary intake level that is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirement of nearly all (97 to 98 percent) healthy individuals in a group.”
In other words, they’re roughly the amount of a nutrient that will probably work for most people, provided they are healthy by government standards. More or less.
Despite this flexibile rasa, for decades now, we’ve been bombarded with nutritional methods claiming to be the end-all-be-all. Frankly, you can’t blame them. No-one will buy your intermittent fasting book if you market it as “The solution that might work for you, but maybe not.”
Which brings us to the new wave of personalized solutions. Genetics, microbiome research, CGMs and other wearables, and one-on-one advice—all amazing. If you have the opportunity to utilize any of them, go for it. I’ve worn an Abbott Libre Sense Glucose Sport Biosensor thanks to Supersapiens. I’ve also had my DNA tested with Habit—both super insightful experiences. No matter what you pick, you’re going to learn something about your body.
That said, if you’d rather spend your extra cash on carbon, neoprene, or Smart Wool, you can also learn a ton about fueling your body on your lonesome. All you need is a little common sense and patience.
The RAFT Method.
Because you’re an athlete, you probably have more body awareness than the average bear. When you push yourself the way you do, today’s eating choices manifest during tomorrow’s workout. Use this feedback to your advantage.
The first step is to find a way of eating that interests you—and try it. I’d recommend starting with a balanced approach like a Mediterranean diet because it makes a nice baseline.
If that doesn’t work, try something else. But instead of going about it all willy-nilly, use something I call the RAFT Method.
Resilience. Never give up! Never surrender! It might take some time to find, but there’s a way of eating perfectly suited to your needs and tastes. It’s just like any other race. Don’t stop until you cross the line. You got this.
Accountability. Find others with your goals and share your nutrition experiences. As an athlete, it should be easy to find likeminded folks in your tribe. If you want to do it New Personal Best-style, we have a Clubhouse Forum on the topic.
Flexibility. If it works for you now, great. Do it until it stops working—then try something new. Your body and your circumstances constantly change, so be ready to adapt. On that note, there may be some aspects of a modality that work for you. It’s okay to keep those. Nothing wrong with a patchwork diet, as long as it works.
Thoughtfulness. Think about what you’re eating as you eat it. Also, keep a food journal for a few weeks. Write down everything you eat and drink and how it impacts your workouts and the rest of your day. Look for patterns. You’ll quickly see which foods work and which don’t.
The RAFT Method works for any transformative challenge, but let’s start with personalizing your nutrition to help you—say it with me now—kick ass!
On a final note, I debated between calling it The RAFT Method or The FART Method. The latter is more my sense of humor, but RAFT has a better chance of catching on, so I sold out. Feel free to think “FART” if that tickles your pickle.
(photo note: If you’re not familiar with raft in the main photo, it’s from Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl, one of the most bad-ass nonfiction adventure tales ever written. I strongly recommend it.)
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