Madhurjya is the most loved and respected swimming instructor in our part of town.
But to the world, he is popular as the Indian 70.3 Ironman triathlon champion. He has represented India in multiple international triathlon events. And at 37, just a few weeks ago, he secured another podium finish at the Vietnam 70.3 Ironman triathlon.
Very coincidentally, I first met him during my son’s swimming lessons. The one thing that is hard to ignore about him is his ripped body. Seems straight out of a sculpting mold. 🙂 A budding fitness enthusiast myself, I got curious to find out what it takes to build a body like that.
He gave me his secret sauce over our occasional chats (not a very talkative fellow, I must say :)) I have mulled over that for weeks and presenting you his insights in a manner that can be consumed as 3 simple nuggets of body-building (and fat loss).
Being an international athlete, he does train very regularly. But attributes most of his body-building success to his diet.
“Well, you can exercise, but you can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet…You eventually are what you eat..”
1. How much are you eating?
Its very important to balance your calories if you want to lose fat and build muscle. Your ideal calorie intake depends on your height and weight, your activity level, your age, and your goal.
Being a high performance athlete, Madhurjya maintains a diet of about 2500-3000 calories per day sustaining his BMI level between 15-18%.
But if you are looking to lose weight/build muscle, you must create a caloric deficit. Now there are lot of sophisticated apps (namely My FitnessPal and HealthifyMe (Indian diet specific)) that will help you to count your optimal calorie intake based on your goals. There are diehard fans of such apps but my personal experience says it is a bit too much work to fill in each meal, snack, and nibble everytime unless you have a professional mindset like Madhurjya. Of course, there are nutritionists who can help you at a premium. But if you are looking for simple hacks on how to control calories, here are some of mine:
Eat till you are satiated, not full This is a very time-tested principle followed by Okinawans(world’s highest centenarian population) in Japan: the hara hachi bu principle which is to eat until you are 80% full.
What it translates to is eat meals, until you have space left for a snack.
If you normally eat 3 rotis/flatbread, take two first. See how full you feel…often times you may actually feel satisfied with just two. The signal to stop eating is when you feel satisfied: no longer feel hungry, but not full.
“How do you even know it is hunger?” This is one of the transformative questions my husband’s nutritionist asked him. Often times, we mistake cravings, social settings, or stress eating for hunger. Listening to your body for real hunger cues can help you reduce your calorie intake. Real hunger means that you will eat anything thats put in front of you, even if its that lauki sabzi (bottlegourd curry) that you’d normally hate to touch.
It doesn’t have to be eaten just because its served. When food is in the plate or in front of us, we get tempted to finish it. And that invariably leads to overeating. But I always remember my friend Sapna Chawla’s favorite quote: “Waste it or waist it”. Remember this, when you are stuffing that extra helping of rice down the gullet just so that your fridge won’t have to bear the load.
2. What are you eating?
Food we consume is primarily a balance of three macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fat. The tricky thing about macronutrients is that the amount each of us should be eating can vary from person to person. Generally, for adults, the macronutrient breakdown recommendation is 45-65% calories from carbohydrates, 10-35% from protein, and 20-35% from fat. Fo example, Madhurjya tries to maintain a macronutrient ratio of 50-35-15. MyMacros+ app is a good start to calculate your daily macronutrients ratio. It will also give suggestions on what foods to eat to maintain the macronutrients balance as well as the micronutrients needed.
Love Food that love you back!
Btw, a big myth that Madhurjya busts is that you need supplements to get a six pack or to win medals. Madhurjya does not take any supplements, pills or protein drinks. Just real food. His diet includes lot of eggs, vegetables, fruits, cereals, legumes, rice, chicken, fish, and nuts/seeds.
On a typical day, this is what he eats:
Early morning : Custom pre-workout fruits and vegetable drink*/one fruit, steel cut oats with dry fruits/seeds and honey, 1-2 eggs, black coffee
After workout: 2-3 egg whites and banana
Morning snack: cereal bar or rava idli
Lunch: rice, dal and vegetables
Afternoon Snack: boiled egg, bananas with nuts/seeds or cereal bar
Pre-work Snack (Evening): curd with fruits, nuts and honey or a pre-workout vegetable juice
Post-work out Snack: Drumstick mushroom soup or boiled seasoned legumes/beans
Dinner: Grilled chicken or fish with salad or quinoa
After-dinner snacks (if needed): dry fruits and yogurt
And lots of water, in-between.
*Instead of whey proteins, he creates his own pre/post-work drink out of fruits and vegetables. He also creates his own dinner salads which are a visual delight. And since you have all been kind enough to read till here, I will share his secret recipes at the end. 🙂 Btw, If you are looking to get creative with fruit and vegetable drinks, please check out this book “Juicing For Healthier Families” authored by a dear friend, Parul Agarwal.
According to him, Indian diets invariably lack in protein…A simple tactic is to ask yourself “where’s the protein?” with each meal. And believe me, Its not hard to compensate the shortage of protein (if there is)…You can easily add a bowl of (greek) yogurt, some tofu/eggs/chicken, or even handful of nuts or hummus to any meal. Madhurjya packs boiled eggs in a tiffin wherever he goes. He will pop one in, whenever he feels hungry.
But if all that seems complicated to follow and you still want to achieve results, here’s my take: Instead of focussing on what to eat, start first with what not to eat.
No Processed foods No added Sugars No Saturated/Trans Fatty foods
3. When are you eating?
Nutrient timing may be important for elite eaters like Madhurjya but frankly not so much for most other folks.
Madhurjya eat lots of small meals/snacks each day (i.e. every few hours). But frankly, there are only a couple of important considerations when it comes to nutrient timing.
The most important thing according to Madhurjya is eating after exercise (or during your most active part of the day), especially within the first 30-45 minutes since our bodies are greedy for nutrients around that time. He typically eats most of his protein and carbs during this time.
If you are lean and simply want to maintain your existing body composition, consuming more carbohydrates throughout the day will likely be fine.
But If you want to lose body fat, you have to aim to consume a majority of carb dense foods during and after exercise sessions (for about 3 hours after). Outside of the 3 hour window you should be consuming primarily protein and fat, while consuming fewer carb dense foods (25% or less of the meals).
And avoid mid-night snacking if you are looking to lose weight. If you are really hungry, a warm glass of milk or green tea or even yogurt is a better choice.
But my take, if this is too complicated, follow this simple principle:
Eat when you are most active and less when you are not.
Madhurjya’s final advice to all is: If you want your diet to work for you, add discipline to it. That is the most important ingredient!
As promised, here is Madhurjya’s custom pre-workout drink recipe:
*According to him, the beetroot juice is a god-send for athletes/body-builders. It helps you run faster, pedal harder, and workout longer.
And as a bonus, some of his favorite dinner salad recipes:
And finally my take on body-building: If you strive for progress, perfection will follow! 🙂