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I’ve always been obsessed with food. When I was a kid I came home from my first day at play school and all I could talk about was what we had for lunch. When I was a teenager I used to go on hikes with my family, I don’t remember where we went, but I remember we had turkey sandwiches. And when I came home from overseas for what was supposed to be a week’s holiday my mom made me three cheesecakes in three days and on the fourth I cancelled my return ticket.
A few years ago I was a mess and I didn’t know it. I spent my weeks doing a boring job pretty badly, and I spent most of my weekends on the couch, watching anything and everything. I was tired all the time, more tired than tired, unproductive and unmotivated and probably a little bit depressed. But most of all I was confused. About where I was, what I was doing, where I was going and why, and how I’d got here in the first place. If you do it wrong, growing up will kill you. What does more tired than tired feel like? Think of it as a kind of fog in the brain, a strange sluggishness in the chest. Sometimes I’d be walking to work and I’d feel I could happily melt right into the ground. Like I was running on fumes. Like I had glue in my gears. In those days I was living on coffee. Breakfast was a takeaway flat white, lunch was a double Americano. And supper was worse: I remember once sitting on the couch with a plate piled high with a super-sized something awful that I’d picked up at my local drive through, and when the plate slid sideways and all of that deep fried crap fell right on to the pillow, I literally ate it just like that, picking fries off the blanket and thinking, yeah, this is what more tired than tired feels like. Like rock bottom.
When I was a kid my mom used to leave bags of apples outside my bedroom door, and when the whole family suddenly went vegetarian when I was in high school she’d stash T-bones in the fridge just for me. Then I went overseas and I couldn’t keep anything down and lost 11 kilograms in the first six months; I came home two years later and got hooked on those cheap apple pies you can buy at any grocery store; and I went through a phase where I ate nothing but tubs of vanilla custard. I’ve always been obsessed with food, then I grew up and it almost killed me.
Adrian Penzhorn has a plan for that. He’s a nutritionist, one of the guys behind Food for Sport, with a track history of working with the best, which is why I contacted him and asked if he’d become our new resident nutrition advisor. He was so keen to help that he gave all the guys doing this year’s 100 Days to Muscle challenge a 20-page guide to bulking up, with an emphasis on quantity. The first time I paged through it I thought, okay, that’s a lot of eggs. Then I read some more and thought, jeez, that’s a lot of bread. And then I read to the end and thought, crisis, that’s a lot of chicken. Five in the morning is pretty damn early to start scrambling up four egg whites, even for me, and two fistfuls of vegetables is a lot of green to add to each and every meal. I think the idea is to match, as close as possible, the calories I take in to all of those I’m sweating out on the road; that way, I’m not so much losing weight as using it. A diet plan like this one is designed to push my body fat down, and take my lean body mass up. And I think the goal, ultimately, is to get me stronger. Clean carbs, lean protein, leafy veg. In bulk. It’s not a radical plan, and it’s not a secret. (You can download it right here.) But it is a good plan, and I say that because it’s working.
A few years ago I was a mess and I didn’t know why. This past weekend I came across a few photos on my phone from that time and in them was a clue: a picture of a trolley, taken from above as I pushed it through a supermarket. I’d taken it because my girlfriend had asked me to, so she could see, from a few provinces away, if I was looking after myself. The short answer is no. The longer one is worse: ciabatta rolls, cheese, and a lot of chocolate. A diet like that will make you more tired than tired; it’ll make you lazy, and confused. It’ll make you weak.
I’ve always been obsessed with food and these days are no different. Four eggs on toast in the morning, this is where I live. Oats and yoghurt an hour later, toast and a ton of tuna, peanut butter and bananas, this is my happy place. Lean meat and brown rice and fistfuls of veg; this is making me stronger. I can feel it in my legs, when I’m halfway up a hill and I don’t want to die, and I can feel it around my chest and in my bones, when I’m coming round a corner and my body wants to go up a few gears on its own. And I can feel it in my brain: focused and clear, not confused, not anymore.