Two of the questions that people ask me most frequently are “Why don’t you start a restaurant?” and “How can you stay so slim with all the food you eat?”
The answer to the second question is very easy: portion control AND enjoying it. It is not about WHAT you eat, but HOW MUCH of it and if you ENJOY it (as otherwise you won’t be able to stick to it long-term). I eat all the food you see on this blog, including desserts, fried foods, chocolate, cheese, and even foie gras. And I love wine and drink it regularly. The reason that I am still able to control my weight is that I am disciplined in how much I eat and that I can make it taste good. So if I have some cheese while I watch a movie, it is about 30 grams (1 oz) only. Or if I have some 85% dark chocolate after dinner, it is 10 grams (1/3 oz) only. It’s not about eliminating cheese and chocolate, it is about not finishing all the cheese or chocolate in the house at once. And the reward for that is that I get to eat it every day. And if I have to eat 200 grams of protein per day but less than 2000 kcals, I know how to prepare food that will meet those requirements, AND is enjoyable.
This approach is commonly known as “If It Fits Your Macros” (IIFYM). It means that you can eat anything, as long as the macro nutrients in what you eat meet your daily target (calories, grams of protein, grams of fat, grams of carbs). There is tons of scientific evidence that this is true. All other factors such as eating ‘whole unprocessed foods’ instead of ‘junk food’ (highly processed foods), or meal timing (such as periodic fasting), or eliminating certain food groups (such as carbs) primarily have an influence on how easy it is to actually stick to your macros. For instance, it has been demonstrated that junk food makes it easier to eat more calories (and thus harder to eat few calories). Periodic fasting or cutting out carbs both just make it easier to eat less calories. But it has been shown in studies again and again that all differences in weight loss or weight gain can be explained completely by the amount of calories that people ended up consuming. And that most diets fail after a while, because people are not able to stick to them permanently. And that is needed to reach and maintain the body weight (and, more importantly, fat mass) that you want.
In my twenties and thirties I have been able to keep my weight very stable at around 72 kilos (159 lbs), which means a very healthy BMI of 21. I wasn’t very lean though and lacking muscle (because I didn’t do any sports). It was embarrassing how weak I was, and I often had colds or the flu. After turning 40 I decided that I needed to get more muscle, and started working out. This also meant that I had to eat more, because you can’t build muscle without enough protein and energy to fuel muscular growth. Below you can see the result of my efforts.
On the left I am 39 years old, 73 kilos (161 lbs) and 20% bodyfat. (I could not find a photo of when I was 40, but I looked exactly the same.) The photo on the right was taken this morning: age 47, 79 kilos (174 lbs) and 9% bodyfat. What I have done over the last 7 years is known as body recomposition. Apart from looking a lot better, I am much stronger and hardly ever get colds or the flu anymore.
When you start working out and watching your diet, the first phase of body recomposition is relatively easy, because you can lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. Once you become more advanced, this gets harder and harder. Instead, what most people do, and I have done as well, is to go through phases of ‘bulking’ (gaining muscle by gaining weight, hopefully with as little fat gain as possible) and ‘cutting’ (losing fat by dropping weight, hopefully while maintaining as much lean mass as possible). From the above numbers you can calculate that I have gained 6 kilos of body mass, but lost 7.5 kilos of fat and gained 13.5 kilos of lean mass. This involved going to the gym between 2 and 7 times per week, but also being very consistent about the amount of calories I was consuming as well as the composition of those calories. I have learned a lot along the way about both training and nutrition, in general as well as specific to my body and genetics. With everything I know now I could probably have reached the same result much more quickly.
This was a very long intro for a very simple recipe that is not at all culinary: chicken with broccoli and rice. The ultimate ‘fit boy’ meal, but my version is very tasty because of the addition of sesame seed, sesame oil, and chili oil. It is one of the post-workout meals that I prepare at least once a week to have as lunch after I have worked out. It has the following benefits:
- It is very tasty
- It can be prepared in 15 minutes
- It can be adjusted to any macro nutrient composition that you like and is suitable for both cutting and bulking
- It is very nutritious
For a post-workout meal you will need enough protein to build muscle, and enough carbs to restore the glycogen stores in your muscles. 0.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is a good amount, and even when cutting it is advised to consume at least 0.5 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight to replenish glycogen. What I do to adjust this post-workout meal for cutting, maintaining, or bulking, is to vary mostly the amount of rice (50, 100 or 150 grams), and also slightly the amount of oil I use (using 1, 2, or 3 teaspoons of vegetable oil in addition to 1/2 teaspoon chili oil and 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil).
Here is my recipe. It is not very culinary, but very tasty, quick and easy to prepare. I pre-cook large batches of chicken breast sous vide and freeze it, as that makes preparing this dish even easier and ensures the chicken will be moist and tender. But you can also make this with raw chicken breast.
For a single portion (amounts here are for my ‘maintain’ version)
150 grams boneless, skinless chicken breast
150 grams broccoli florets
100 grams jasmin rice
2 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp chili oil (or to taste, but reduce or increase the amount of vegetable oil accordingly)
1 tsp sesame seeds
2 Tbsp soy sauce (or to taste)
Season the chicken breast with salt and vacuum seal.
Cook sous vide for 1 hour at 60C/140F, then chill. This can be done beforehand in batches and the chicken can be frozen. Defrost in the refrigerator, or more quickly in a bowl of cold water.
Bring about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) of water to a boil in a saucepan for which you have a steamer basket. When the water boils, add the rice and set the timer for 10 minutes.
Cover and adjust the heat such that the rice will boil gently.
While the rice is boiling, separate the florets of the broccoli and chop into bite size pieces. (I discard the trunk, but you could also peel and slice it.)
Put the broccoli in a steaming basket…
…and put it above the rice. I like my broccoli to be steamed for 8 minutes and I can prepare the broccoli in 2 minutes, so for me the timing works out perfectly. If you like your broccoli to be steamed for more than 8 minutes or you take longer to prepare it, you should prepare your broccoli before adding the rice to the boiling water.
While the rice is boiling and the broccoli is steaming, prepare the chicken. Take the chicken out of the sous vide bag, and reserve the bag juices. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.
Heat 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil (or the appropriate amount for your macros) in a frying pan, and sear the chicken briefly over high heat until golden brown, about 1 minute per side.
(If your chicken was not precooked sous-vide, you should now lower the heat and finish cooking the chicken over low to medium heat, turning often, until just cooked through.)
Take the chicken out of the pan and lower the heat. Add 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil, 1/2 teaspoon of chili oil, and 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds.
Stir the sesame seeds over medium heat until they are lightly toasted, then turn off the heat.
Dice the chicken. (Please note that it is much easier to sear the chicken when you dice it after searing. The chicken will also stay more moist this way. It is also much nicer to dice cooked chicken than it is to dice raw chicken.)
Place the diced chicken back in the frying pan with the sesame seeds to keep it warm.
When the broccoli has been steamed to your liking…
…add it to the chicken, and drizzle with soy sauce to taste (I like 2 tablespoons).
This is also a good time to add the reserved juices from cooking the chicken sous vide. If it ends up too watery, turn the heat back on and stir briefly to allow some of the moisture to evaporate.
When the rice is cooked, drain it and add to the chicken and broccoli.
Stir to mix.
It is now ready to be enjoyed.