Healthy Diets For Freelancers

Written by Tom Herudek
 — September 12th, 2019 — General

Would you like to wake up full of energy and feel that way all day? What about having crystal clear thinking – free from brain fog? Want to be productive all the time? Great, you are in the right place. 

In the past 7 years, I went from being an overweight individual smoking 30 cigarettes per day, feeling almost dead by 5pm, to a sports enthusiast. I lost 30kg. I now exercise twice a day. I feel absolutely incredible the whole time I am awake. 

Diet overview

Like everything I do, these results are the product of extensive research on the topic of health and longevity. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on this and have done 7 years of field testing on myself. 

I won’t give you a step-by-step tutorial. But I’ve tried to summarise my research into easy-to-digest rules, which should give you the aerial view of a healthy lifestyle. Some of these rules might seem obvious to you, but beware! Underlying each, is extensive research and thinking. 

Finding the right diet for you

Each and every person is different and there are tons of different ways of eating. So you must do your homework and find the right style for you and your needs. You have to be open-minded and start listening to your body. There are many factors you need to consider. For example:

  • How active you are – if you do not move at all, you will have to have a different diet than if you exercise twice a day
  • What are your targets – if you want to gain weight, lose weight, optimize for focus or simply feast every day
  • Genetics – some people function well on a low-carb high-fat diet. Others thrive on the high-carb low-fat diet. Some are gluten intolerant while others can live exclusively on pasta.
  • What are you willing to sacrifice – do you have time to make homemade food every day? Can you afford special ingredients?

Pick a diet style which suits you, rather than following a trend. To do this effectively, you have to be open-minded.

Frequency – even eating 1x per day can (in some cases) be enough

There is a common belief that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This belief is based on a misinterpretation of research studies. There is plenty of info about this, but you can start with this recent article by Peter Attia (a doctor specialized in longevity). I’ve tried almost all the options available and here are my thoughts about a different frequency of feeding

Eating 5 meals per day

This means breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner and even an optional snack before bed. 

I find this means you are constantly eating. It is really time demanding and the portions have to be small, otherwise, you gain weight pretty easily.

Usually, this “eating every 2 hours thing” is proclaimed to be “fueling the flame of metabolism”, but this is bullshit (short-term fasts boost metabolism by up to 14%). 

My experience: I would only prosper on this eating style if I were exercising 3 times a day. Otherwise, I would feel completely full all the time. I would also gain weight (thanks to overeating) and spend a lot of time handling food.

Eating 3 meals per day

The good old standard. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

I, too, occasionally jump on the breakfast train. Sometimes, for example, I wake up feeling as though I’ve not regenerated properly from my last exercise session. So I have breakfast. Or, from time to time, I’ll feel hungry after my morning swim and do not want to wait till lunch.

My experience: long term sustainable, but I usually don’t feel hungry in the morning. When I do, I just eat breakfast

Eating 2 meals per day

My favorite method of intermittent fasting. This is usually called 16/8 and it refers to 16 hours of fast and an 8 hour long eating window. By not eating in the morning, you are giving your body a window in which to burn fat. Plus, you increase your insulin sensitivity, which promotes overall health as well. There are also plenty of benefits in terms of the ability to concentrate, which is great if you are doing creative work.

My experience: I’m overall most satisfied with skipping breakfast, eating a smaller lunch and then feasting until dinner, preferably after a workout. 

Alternatively, I go for a bigger breakfast and then do not eat till dinner. You lose the intermittent fasting benefits, however, on the plus side, you don’t activate the sympathetic nervous system in the morning.

Eating 1 meal per day

Also known as OMAD (One meal a day) or 20/4, where the 4 refers to a 4 hour long eating window. This approach to eating is fun because if you are able to withhold food for a whole day, you can have a true feast in the evening. The only downside is that you will really overstimulate your sympathetic nervous system

Also, this approach is only possible if you have a sedentary job and workout right before dinner. 2-phase training would be destructive and you’d feel pretty bad for not re-fueling after the 1st phase.

My experience: definitely fun to do this, because the feast is great. Overall, I have a tendency to get overexcited by this diet plan, so I don’t practice it very often.

Week-long water fast

Water fasting is not a new-age thing anymore. There is plenty of research confirming that the autophagy benefits of a water fast are tremendous. 

I’ve done this. It was really annoying, but I made it through and it basically changed my life in terms of health. Like, instant level-up. But the benefits are only present if you do not eat and drink anything other than water, tea or coffee. 

Juice fast, on the other hand, is really bad for your health. Not only the “detox effect” is, of course, pure bullshit, but eating that small number of carbs blocks the autophagy process. Hence you are just starving yourself without any benefits.

Carbs – you don’t need as much of them as you think

This, of course, depends on your genetic dispositions. Charles Poliquin – the world’s most famous strength coach – has this measure: if you do not have a visible 6-pack visible, then you do not need any carbohydrates. If you have a visible 6-pack, then you can start thinking about carbs and your genetics. 

As I’ve said above, there are people, or, better-said, nations, who have been eating carbs for thousands of years and their bodies have adjusted to this diet. Think of the Japanese, Asians and Indians in general. If you belong to one of these groups, then it is most probably safe for you to eat a lot of carbs, because your ancestors have eaten them. Charles Poliquin estimated the size of the natural carb-eaters as 30% of the population. 

There is still a good 70% chance that carbs are not that good for you. In that case, the healthiest way for you to eat would be to rule out carbs and eat way more fat instead. More info about fat metabolism and why it is actually good for you can be obtained in the great book The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living. It has been written by 2 extreme proponents of the low-carb way of eating, so I would not take it word-for-word, but it is definitely a great source of knowledge. 

The purpose of carbs and why they are not essential

I have done my medical degree exclusively on the internet, so please do not consider me a scientist (or even a doctor). My discipline is IT development and business, so I might not be 100% accurate here. Basically, there are 3 main forms of fuel used in the human body:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Fat (free fatty acids)
  • Ketones (made from fat by the liver)

Certain parts of the body function on particular fuels. For example:

  • The heart can work on carbs, fat and ketones, preferring ketones, which work 28% more hydraulically efficient
  • The brain can work on up to 75% of ketones and 25% glucose. It cannot be fueled by fat, because fat cannot go through the blood-brain barrier
  • Muscles can work fueled on fat, ketones, and glucose.
    • The more “fat-adapted” you are, the more fat you burn in the muscles
    • The higher the intensity of the exercise, the less fat and more glucose is used 
    • There is always some requirement for glucose to be burned in the muscle

So, if you do not work out, then you need approx 30g of carbs per day to power your brain. But wait! There is a process called gluconeogenesis – where our body creates carbs from fat or protein. It can do it at a rate 2g of carbs per hour. So theoretically you can create up to 50g of carbs per day on your own. Other systems of your body are fueled by fat or ketones exclusively. This means: that if you do not excessively work out, then you require basically zero carbs to thrive and prosper. 

In my opinion, the fact that you do not need any carbs is not well known and we hear a lot of bullshit on this topic. But, the more time spent exercising or the greater the intensity of the exercise, the more carbs you need.

Ketones and why they are useful

The reason I was able to survive my 7-day water fast is solely owing to ketones. Once you are deprived of food, your body starts burning fat from its storage. But as stated above, some organs (mainly brain) cannot burn fat for fuel. Your liver steps in to the game and starts converting the fatty acids into ketone bodies. The ketone bodies then work as a fuel source for the brain, heart and other organs, which require them. This is the mechanism which allows you to survive prolonged periods without food. 

However, you do not have to fast completely to start producing ketone bodies. It has been found that if you eat less than a 30g of carbohydrates per day, you transition into “nutritional ketosis” and your body starts to produce ketone bodies as well. It is because your brain requires approx 120g of glucose per day and ketones can meet up to 75% of those needs. So you still need to burn approx 30g of carbs per day. The thing here is, that having ketones in your blood has a lot of interesting side-effects:

  • Ketones are strongly anti-inflammatory, so just being on keto diet, you are significantly reducing inflammation in your body
  • If you burn ketones or fatty acids for energy, they make less oxidative stress, so it is kind of “cleaner” fuel.
  • If you combine both points mentioned above, it means that there is significantly less damage dealt to your body (less oxidative stress) and the body is able to deal with the damage more easily (less inflammation)
  • The brain actually prefers to burn ketones instead of glucose. If you power your brain with ketones, it feels like something absolutely incredible and game changing. All my anxiety just vanished up, I’m calm like a zen master and have this constant flow of energy. Not to mention the unbelievable drive I’m experiencing.

The science behind carbs and exercise

You can actually measure how much energy you derive from carbs and from glucose when you are exercising. A great article about this topic is from Peter Attia, which explains the science. I’m not willing to invest so much time and money into this research, so I will do my bro-science here – feel free to add any comments below.

When you play badminton on a competitive level, it is one of the most demanding sports you can do (would guess that MMA is tougher though). You will burn approx 500-600 carbs per hour.

Fat adapted people

Let’s say, that a fat-adapted person is able to derive 75% of their energy from fat and 25% from carbs (for the purposes of badminton and yes, this is a wild guess). This means, that we need to get 150 kcals from carbs. 1g of carbs = 4kcals, so it means you will burn 37.5g of carbs in this session.

You have approximately 500g of glycogen stored in your muscles and approximately 100g – 150g of glycogen stored in your liver. So we can say:

  • If you play 1 hour of badminton on a competitive level, you need to replenish 37.5g of carbs, equating to approx 250g of potatoes. 
  • If you do anything less tough, like weight lifting, basic running, etc. Then the carb burn rate would be far smaller. It could be as little as half – which is 19g carbs. Well done, you’ve earned the carbs contained in a small salad!
  • The glycogen from muscles cannot be released in the blood, so it is locked there forever and has to be burned by activity. Only the liver glycogen can be unlocked. So, if you’ve burned 37.5g of carbs from your 650g storage, you’ve burned approximately 5.7% through your glycogen storage. There is absolutely no need to fuel yourself with carbs for 1 or 2 hours of sport.

Based on the quick math I’ve tried to demonstrate, even if you exercise rigorously, you’ve burned the carbs equal to one salad. Even though eating the carbs is fun (I can’t express enough how much I love it), the need for them is pretty negligible.

Non-fat adapted person

The article “should you become a fat adapted runner” explains that fat adapted athletes are able to burn 1.2g of fat per min and high-carb athletes are able to utilize only 0.5g of fat per min. In numbers, this means that if fat adapted athletes are utilizing 100% of the fat they could, the non-fat adapted athletes are utilizing only 41%.

So in our badminton example mentioned above, this means that you derive approx 30% of energy from fat (41% from the 75% of fat-adapted athletes) and 70% energy of carbs. From 600 calories, you need to fuel 420 of them (70%) by carbs. This is approx 105g of carbs burned per this session. Incredible difference, right? As a fat-adapted person, you burn approx 35% of the carbs needed by non-fat adapted person.

What is better?

Your first thought might be: “it is better to be non-fat adapted, because you can burn more carbs and thus eat more carbs, right?” But you are missing a few advantages. 

Being fat-adapted means you can burn your body fat easily, so you have fuel to function for hours or even days. This will dramatically improve your endurance in all sports. For example, I can feel a significant difference between me and my partners in badminton and beach volleyball – I can keep going for hours, without any pause or food required.

Fat is a much cleaner fuel, so you will regenerate faster from your workouts and put in more than the other guys.

Fat is also a much more stable energy source. This means that you will have tremendously high energy levels throughout the day. Remember what I was saying at the beginning of this article? I used to be tired at 5pm, and by 8pm, I was almost dead. I no longer experience this lethargy. Even on days when I’m doing carb loading and eating a lot of carbs, I’m still fully energized throughout the day (ok, when I eat tons of chocolate, I’m tired).

What happens when you eat more carbs than you need

First, the carbs go to the muscles and liver. After these storage places are full, then your body has a coping mechanism for them. They go to the liver, where they are metabolised into tryglicerides, which is basically fat. This fat is then stored into your fat cells.

Eating more carbs than required to fill up your muscles and liver glycogen stores makes you fat, that’s it.

This is a natural mechanism of our bodies to preserve excessive food. If you continue eating more carbs than you need, then not only you will get fat, but you’ll also most probably develop type 2 diabetes as well (more info in this excellent podcast with Peter Attia and Jason Fung about type 2 diabetes)

Micronutrients – Quality of the food you eat

It is important to feed your body with proper micro-nutrients to thrive. You can only gain these from proper food. Let me show you a few rules I obey (95% of the time, of course, I’m human as well and occasionally I really enjoy a cheat meal).

Everything that is processed is a big no no 

What is a processed food? Everything that has more than one ingredient. All the frozen pizzas, pre-made and instant foods, breakfast cereals, chips, chocolates, etc. Producing processed food destroys most of the micro-nutrients, enzymes, vitamins and health benefits.

For example, a few years back I ate millet porridge. It is really annoying to prepare it, so I started purchasing the instant version of the millet porridge. You just boil the water in the kettle and then pour the porridge, that’s it. It was too easy and too good, so I got suspicious about it. After researching, I found that the process of transforming the millet porridge into an instant form destroys most of the micro-nutrients. So I stopped eating it.

Gluten is not good for you, even if you are not a coeliac

Gluten opens your intestine lining and allows big molecules and bacteria to pass into your blood stream. This will irritate your immune system and in the long run, it can lead to autoimmune diseases. It can also cause brain fog and increase overall inflammation. 

The mechanism is basically the same as cholera bacteria. Gluten somehow triggers the zonulin protein, which then opens the intestine lining. Approximately 90% of the population is sensitive to gluten and it can cause them problems. I personally don’t eat gluten or any gluten products.

Fried foods are pro-inflammatory and pro-cancer

Our cell membranes are built from fat molecules. In the process of frying, trans-fats are created. They enter the bloodstream and then they are used as a building blocks for your cells. The properties of trans-fats are different from other fats. So the cells with membranes created from trans-fats are not able to work properly and are more prone to cancer. I, of course, enjoy fried food, but I try to only eat 1 fried cheese every 2-3 weeks.

The origin and quality of your food matters due to omega 3 content

This is mostly related to meat, eggs and veggies. I try to purchase only grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish and eggs from free range chickens. According to my research, these products contain the most omega 3 fatty acid and the best quality of micro-nutrients. 

Eat plenty of veggies, limit fruits

Veggies contains a lot of micro-nutrients and vitamins and they are relatively low-carb. So I aim to eat 2 big salads every day. 

On the other hand, for some unknown reason, a lot of people are under the impression that fruit is something utterly healthy and that if they stuff themselves with a bunch of fruit, they are going to be super healthy. They can’t be more wrong – fruit is super high carb and it is similar to chocolate. It is a little bit better, because it contains some enzymes, which could be used to digest. But if you eat 3 bananas or half a liter of orange juice, you are not going to be healthier and you are not doing yourself a favor. You are just snacking on the wrong food. 

Replace sweetened drinks with zero calorie drinks

It is surprising, that in 0.5 liter of Coca Cola, there is around 55g of sugar. These drinks are incredibly sweet and even drinking 1 cola per day will do a lot of damage. If you can’t see yourself without coke, then I would definitely at least replace it with the zero carb variation. However, the low carb version is not good either, because most of the artificial sweeteners also trigger the insulin response. But at least you are dodging the 55g of carbs, which is always great.

Summary

My primary target was to broaden your mind and show you that there are many ways you can approach your diet. Although it is not as prevalent as it used to be, the current fitness / healthy lifestyle paradigm is still about stuffing yourself with carb heavy food 8 times per day to “keep your metabolic fire flaming”. So if you are a proponent of this lifestyle, the information above might seem a little bit extreme to you. But I would encourage you to do your own research.

How I am eating?

Most of the time, I adhere to a ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting. Usually, I eat 1 or 2 times per day. I try to have at least 0.5kg of low-carb veggies to every food I eat. My macros are hovering around this: 

  • Carbs 30g – 100g per day (based on my activity level)
  • Protein 50g – 80g per day (based on my feeling)
  • Fat – 100g – 350g per day (based on my activity level and feeling)

I also supplement around 5g of Sodium and 1g of Potassium through salt every day. I try to workout every day and, a few days per week, I also do 2 full training sessions. I do strength training, beach volleyball and badminton, resulting in approx 7 – 14 training units per week. 

Recently, I’ve started experimenting with more water fasts. So my regime is to have a 48 hour water fast every week (no food on Monday, dinner on Tuesday). I do a full training session while fasting and it works ok for me. Then, every month, I incorporate a 3 day fast and every 3 months a 5-7 day fast. 

While traveling or having a vacation, I try to eat low-carb most days, but of course, I do have cheat days and I love them.

Doing all of the above is a little bit annoying, but the rewards are tremendous for me. I always feel calm, rested, driven and full of energy from morning till dusk.

Key thoughts

  • Your eating frequency can vary from 3 times per day to 1 time per 2 days and you can still thrive
  • There is truly no need to consume any carbohydrates
  • Fat is your friend and being fat-adapted has huge benefits
  • Focus on the quality of the food you are eating instead of the quantity or frequency
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About the Author

Hi! My name is Tom Herudek and I am full-stack WordPress developer for hire.
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