The Healthy Calisthenics Diet

What would the “calisthenics diet” be if there were one?

People don’t get into bodyweight fitness just because they can. Most peoples’ default course of action to get healthy is to join a gym.

You’re different. You are a Bodyweight fitness fanatic because it is a way of gaining control.

Bodyweight fitness enables you to develop a healthy body without investing in tons of heavy bodybuilding equipment and spending on gym memberships.

Using your own body weight is simple and natural. Shouldn’t your diet follow the same principles?

If you’re like me, you also took up calisthenics to eliminate some of the overhead of fitness: gym memberships, expensive equipment, space for expensive equipment in your home, maybe even risk of injury.

Keep going. Put that in perspective.

Your body and your health are not a function of the calisthenics workout routine you follow.

Your body and your health are a function of what you eat.

Hippocrates is known to have said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Thousands of years later, it’s generally accepted that body composition and weight are driven more by food than by exercise. Some say 80% of the impact is exercise, vs. 20% from food.

(Could this be why the misguided directives to load up on carbs instead of healthy fat has been so detrimental to Western health?)

Frank Medrano, well known calisthenics expert, is a vegan. When searching for nutrition and calisthenics, Frank Medrano’s program is the first thing you find. You can read a little about his Vegan Shred program here.

Nothing wrong with being vegan of course, but it’s certainly not the only way to go.

Suffice it to say, if you want to take control of your health, you simply must control your diet. Or, if you’re not controlling your diet, your diet is controlling you.

Principles of the Calisthenics Diet

There are a handful of principles which can be followed to help you make the right decisions without too much stress. You see some of these in a number of common programs: Tim Ferris’ 4 Hour Body; Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Diet; Mark Sisson’s Keto Reset Diet; Mark Hyman’s Eat Fat Get Thin; and so on.

It really comes down to these principles:

  1. Eliminate Processed Foods In Favor of Whole Foods
  2. Drink Enough Water
  3. Eat More Fat
  4. Put Special Attention to Reducing Sugar and Processed Carbs
  5. Eat Enough Protein!
  6. Supplement Properly


Eliminate Processed Foods In Favor of Whole Foods

One of the most basic and simple principles you can follow–or at least strive toward–is to construct most or all of your meals from whole foods.

Whole foods are those that come from natural sources and out of the earth, rather than out of a factory.

This principle doesn’t require you to carry around a list of acceptable foods, or a calorie chart. Just eat real stuff.

By eating a whole food diet, you eliminate the additives that large food manufacturers must add to products to keep them fresh and make them taste good.

To follow this principle, you’ll be eating a lot of vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, and sustainably raised poultry and meat.

The source of the poultry and meat is important because many confined animal feeding operations (CAFO) feed their animals corn in order to make them fatter, which alters the nutritional profile of the animal.

By eating whole foods, you’ll automatically be eliminating additives, chemicals, and poorly fed animal meat. You’ll be putting more energy sources that have real nutritonal value into your body.

And it’s so easy to do!

RELATED:  11 Bodyweight Exercise Routines by Calisthenic Experts

More and more restaurants are serving whole foods, organic foods, grass-fed foods and the like.

Keep your eyes open!

Drink Enough Water

Another important element of a calisthenics diet is to drink enough water.

Water is the most important substance in the body. Water plays a part in just about every biological function in some way.

Water lubricates your joints. Water aids digestion–ever taken a stool softener to clear up constipation? Why do you think its treatment method is to add water to the stool?

Water keeps the brain functioning properly. I pay a lot of attention to nutrition and optimal brain; one of the simplest methods of staying sharp is to stay hydrated!

If your urine is darker than light yellow, you’re retaining water for bodily functions and you need more water.

You can’t live two days without water.

In my home, I only allow three beverages: hot tea, water and red wine. No soda, no lemonade, no sports drinks. And I limit the wine because alcohol and sugar both affect the liver in similar ways.

Eat more Fat

This one might be a little controversial.

Dr. Mark Hyman has been beating the drum about fat recently. His new book is titled Eat Fat, Get Thin.

Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Diet includes Bulletproof Coffee, which includes grass-fed butter.

Is fat really back? Indeed, it is!

Turns out the preeminent nutritional principle of the last 40 years in the West has been….wrong. Eating fat doesn’t make you get fat or gain weight. Eating fat doesn’t give you heart disease.

We now know that sugar in disproportionate quantities (read: the amounts most Americans eat) is a primary driver of chronic disease[1].

Lifehack observes that among the benefits of eating more fat are brain health and heart health[2].

Have an avocado!

Healthy fats in the calisthenics diet

The brain is 60% fat. You may also be surprised to find out that your brain needs cholesterol. The myelin sheaths around your nerve cells are made up of cholesterol. From those two facts alone it’s clear that neither substance can be considered inherently “bad.”

In fact, Dr. Mark Hyman explains it this way[3]:

“in the absence of refined sugars and processed carbohydrates and starches, healthy fats shut down cravings, accelerate weight loss and can help prevent and reverse disease.”

To be clear, there is healthy fat and unhealthy fat.

  • Unsaturated fat is the “good” kind — it helps you increase the “good” cholesterol (HDL) levels in your blood stream. It’s often in nuts and fish.
  • Saturated fat has gotten a bad rap over the years, and it’s really the center of the debate of sugar vs. fat. Saturated has long been considered the villain that caused heart disease[4]. Generally speaking though, according to Hyman’s study of the last 40 years of research, saturated fat doesn’t cause disease (especially in the absence of excess sugars).
  • Trans fat should absolutely be avoided[5]! The FDA has banned trans fats. These fats are created artificially and as it turns out, they ruin your cholesterol ratios, increase inflammation and generally lead to lots of disease.

Eating whole foods rather than processed is one easy way to ensure you’re eating more of the healthy fats than the unhealthy ones.

Breaking Away from Sugar and HFCS

Generally speaking, to be truly healthy and independent of Big Food and Big Pharma, you have to make a move towards more and more whole foods and move away from processed food.

One particular area of focus for many on the Western diet is refined sugar, and even more important, high fructose corn syrup.

RELATED:  Bodyweight & Calisthenics Roundup - October 2016

Science has shown that sugar is chemically addictive[6], affecting the same areas of the brain targeted by cocaine and nicotine.

Like other addictions, once this one takes hold it takes more and more sugar to gain the same level of reward.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may be even more addictive than sugar[7], similar to cocaine. And it’s in all sorts of processed foods because the subsidies given to corn farmers.

I think you can be healthy and consume some sugar, if you have self discipline. If you can’t control your cravings, though, you need to take drastic action.

Sugar is known to do a number of bad things to your health[8]:

  • Contributes to tooth decay by providing energy for the bacteria in the mouth
  • Contributes to fatty liver by overloading its capacity to proess fructose
  • Contributes to insulin resistance, a step towards diabetes and potentially Alzheimer’s[9].
  • Might contribute to increased rates of cancer through the insulin path
  • Fails to encourage satiety which leads to eating more calories and gaining weight
  • Contributes to higher cholesterol and heart disease

Based on the growing evidence of the impact of sugar, it may be wise to substantially reduce your sugar intake–and cut high fructose corn syrup altogether–if you want to take your own health seriously.

Read more about how sugar affects calisthenics gains here.

For some who aren’t yet devoted to whole foods, this really is step one on the way to a healthy calisthenics diet.

Eat Enough Protein

Bodybuilders need protein to increase their size.  According to this article in Men’s Fitness:

Your average desk-bound male requires just 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.

But exercise can nearly double those requirements. For endurance athletes, Peter Lemon, a professor of exercise nutrition at the University of Western Ontario, recommends getting between 0.5 and 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight. “For strength athletes, those numbers are even higher–generally between 0.7 and 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight,” he says. If you’ve been shooting for a gram of protein per pound of body weight–or more–you’re overdoing it.

But as a bodyweight athlete, you’re not necessarily a bodybuilder. (unless you mix in Crossfit, in which case you might be)

Eating a wide-ranging diet of grass-fed and other natural foods, you might be surprised how much protein you get in things like nuts and seeds. I don’t eat a ton of meat, but I eat lots of eggs–which themselves are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. But I don’t count macronutrients–I just eat good food.

The ideal protein intake is far from a settled matter, but there are some considerations:

The potential benefits of higher protein intake, these researchers argue, include preserving muscle strength despite aging and maintaining a lean, fat-burning physique. Some studies described in the summit reports suggest that protein is more effective if you space it out over the day’s meals and snacks, rather than loading up at dinner like many Americans do.

Based on the totality of the research presented at the summit, Rodriguez estimates that taking in up to twice the RDA of protein “is a safe and good range to aim for.” This equates roughly to 15% to 25% of total daily calories.

Keep in mind your height and weight, age and level of activity all play a part in how much protein you need.

If you’re active–even as a bodyweight athlete who gets his or her 10,000 steps per day on most days–you’re at least moderately active and shoudl factor that into your thinking.

RELATED:  Bodyweight & Calisthenics Roundup - Halloween 2016

What about Muscle Growth?

Muscle growth can happen as part of a standard calisthenics program, along with the general healthy eating principles listed above, but you need to emphasize a couple of key things.

  1. First, you NEED to progressively challenge yourself. Don’t stick with standard pushups without advancing to more demanding moves. Those more difficult moves are what tears up your muscle fibers and causes them to regrow a little bigger each time.
  2. Second, eat enough protein. Protein is the matter from which muscles are built. According to experts, you’ll need to consume 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight to make sure you are well fueled enough to grow to the size you want.
  3. Finally, here’s where you might differ from the above advice: You want to balance your protein out with additional carbs if you’re “bulking,” and consider reducing healthy fat. This is because carbs plus too much healthy fats causes unwanted weight gain.

Most people pursuing calisthenics want strength rather than pure size. so this advice is specifically targeted at those who are seeking to build muscle mass. If you want general health and functional strength, please continue to follow the general guidelines in the prior sections.

Supplement Properly

You’ll want to evaluate some of the most impactful dietary supplements available today:

  1. Athletic Greens – the most complete veggie and greens supplement on the market, endorsed by Tim Ferriss.
  2. Bulletproof Coffee (Cold Brew) – rather than getting ingredients and mixing it yourself, get it pre-mixed in a cold brew bottle.

Where Can You Learn More?

If you’d like to learn more in more depth, and to understand why these principles work, I suggest having a look at The Keto Beginning. (full disclosure: affiliiate)

This is the most comprehensive, down to earth introduction that I’ve found. It’s less marketing, more science. Have a look.

The Keto Beginning

From the intro to Leanne Vogel’s program:

“When we lower our intake of carbohydrates, increase our consumption of glorious fats and moderate our protein intake, our blood sugar and insulin levels are reduced, levels of HDL cholesterol increase, and the visceral fats around your vital organs are “eaten up”. This is nutritional ketosis.

In nutritional ketosis, your body becomes a fat-burning machine, effectively breaking down fatty acids into ketone bodies that are used, even by the brain, as fuel. Studies show that nutritional ketosis has the potential of alleviating food cravings, blood sugar irregularities, mind fog, excess body weight, abnormal cell growth, psychological imbalances, infertility and more.”


The Calisthenics Diet In Summary

Follow a few simple principles to make sure your dietary intake is complementing your health just like your bodyweight fitness program.

  1. Eliminate Processed Foods In Favor of Whole Foods
  2. Drink Enough Water
  3. Eat More Fat
  4. Put Special Attention to Reducing Sugar and Processed Carbs
  5. Eat Enough Protein!

Let us know what other principles you follow in the comments!


Images courtesy Pixabay: here, here and here.

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