14 Highlights Of The Ultimate Nutrient-Dense, Peak Performance Diet

Brad Kearns

After recording a podcast episode with elite international heptathlete Chari Hawkins (click here to listen), we got to talking about how she is open to improvement and wants to learn about all the cutting edge principles for peak performance and recovery. Well, especially in light of my recent reflections and recalibrations about the energy balance model, I felt it was the perfect time to sum the key points of what many experts are now landing on as the optimal human diet. 

1. Nutrient-Dense Diet: Strive for maximum dietary nutrient-density with your food choices—what could be more important or beneficial than that goal? Use my Carnivore Scores Food Rankings Chart as a guide. This helps you perform, recover, and maintain good hormonal and immune status. This entails following an ‘animal-based’ diet with sufficient amounts of nutritious, easy-to-digest carbohydrates to fuel performance, recovery, and hormone status. 

2. Ditch Processed Foods: No other conversation is necessary until toxic, nutrient-deficient foods are eliminated. Number one is refined industrial seed oils (canola, corn, soybean, sunflower, safflower oil), either in a bottle or in many frozen/packaged/processed foods and restaurant meals. Next is refined grains and sugars and processed foods and beverages made using either ingredient. Toxic modern foods aren’t just empty calories—they actually compromise internal cellular energy production and make you reliant on more junk food to sustain energy. 

3. Prioritize Protein: By far the top dietary priority and the way our appetite/satiety hormones are wired is to prioritize protein. The best protein source is animal foods, as they provide a “complete” form of protein with all nine essential amino acids in the most easy to digest form. The idea of getting “plant-based” protein sources is highly flawed—these are less bioavailable sources of protein, and often highly processed by necessity to extract a jug of protein powder.  We need meat, eggs, and fish for human protein optimization.

4. Meat and Fruit: These are the most nutritious, easy-to-digest foods on the planet! Meat is the best source of protein and contains across the board micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) that an athlete needs. Fruit is also a great source of energy as it is nutritious and contains good fiber and water content, but with minimal plant toxin concerns. 

5. Red Meat: By far the most nutritious type of meat. Conventional chicken, turkey, and pork are vastly inferior and have unfavorable fatty acid profiles due to their shitty feedlot diets. Cows can better handle the feedlot diet, and in fact do live 80% of their lives on the open range, eating grass. But the life of a feedlot chicken or a pig is brutal—they fare worse than cows and deliver a worse end product. Funny, but a morning meal of oatmeal and toast, with an energy bar as a snack, a spinach salad with chicken, almonds, and seed-oil dressing for lunch, and then chicken pasta with broccoli and asparagus for dinner, followed by a little Ben & Jerry dessert afterwards is almost complete shit all day long. Not doing well on the chart

6. Plant Toxins: Consider the carnivore-ish message that plants have natural toxins and not offer nearly as much nutrition as the best animal foods. We all know grains, even whole grains, are highly objectionable (ever heard of gluten?), but toxins are also high in leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, nightshades, even in nuts and seeds—the lauded ‘superfoods’ of the vegetable kingdom are unnecessary, possibly counterproductive, and have nowhere near the bioavailable nutrition as top animal foods like liver, oysters, steak, eggs, sardines, etc. Amazingly, vegetables are basically unnecessary. Goodbye kale smoothies!

7. Selective: Choose the best sources of meat such as grass-fed beef, pasture-raised eggs, pasture-raised chicken, heritage breed pork, and wild caught seafood. I love ButcherBox because they always source the best foods in every category and then deliver them right to your door!

8. Reconsider Restrictive Diets: Keto, low-carb, vegan, strict carnivore, and intermittent fasting/time restrictive eating prompt stress mechanisms, such as the elevation of cortisol, adrenalin and glucagon in order to liberate energy from storage and/or manufacture ketones in place of dietary carbohydrate. You may feel great under the fight or flight influence, but it’s important for athletes to minimize all other forms of stress in their lives outside of training. This may warrant a recalibration if restrictive diets are part of the picture.

9. Back Door Benefits: The benefits from fasting, keto, low-carb, primal/paleo, carnivore, vegan often come mainly from what you DON’T eat, rather than their own magical inherent benefits. If keto is keeping you away from pasta, granola bars, spinach salads, almond milk smoothies, you do start feeling better—but it’s not because you are cutting all carbs. This message comes from The New York Timesbestselling co-author of The Keto Reset Diet. Ouch. At least we called it a ‘reset’ diet instead of permanent. 

10. Bio-Energetic Model: In contrast to restrictive diets is the concept of striving for maximum cellular energy at all times by eating nutritious meals of maximum nutrient density. Jay Feldman’s Energy Balance podcast is a great resource to learn about this concept (you can also listen to me interview him about this concept here). It opposes our current obsession with fasting and keto, but we have to have the correct perspective that ANY restrictive diet delivers benefits because it limits unregulated intake of processed foods. We want to focus on performance and recovery, so we might want to back off from restricting calories, restrictive meal windows, or restricting carbs. Instead, it’s worth pursuing the goal of full cellular energy status every day, all the time. “If you claim to feel better skipping breakfast, that means we need to take a close look at the crap you’re eating for breakfast,” says Jay Feldman. 

11. Full Dials: “Reproduction, repair, growth, and locomotion are a zero-sum game—borrow too much from one and the other dials turn down,” says Dr. Herman Pontzer, anthropologist and author of the book Burn (listen to his two appearances on the B.rad show here and here). The most extreme example of this is when female athletes train too hard and eat too little, which can cause menstruation to cease—the ultimate dial turndown! We want to always regulate training stress levels (not overtrain), but we need maximum support with optimal sleep and nutrition status. Ketogenic eating patterns can easily be at odds with these goals. You want to consume nutritious carbs and ditch the processed carbs that interfere with cellular energy production. 

12. Cellular Energy Production: If you have issues with regulating blood sugar, regularly crash and burn in the afternoon, or are bonking during or after workouts, then these are signs of diminished cellular energy production. This is caused by overtraining and/or eating processed foods (processed fats hamper mitochondrial function and inhibit fat burning; processed carbs produce endotoxins in the gut that cause inflammation and hampered cellular energy production). To help your body recover, focus on managing your training stress load, optimizing sleep, and optimizing nutrition. 

13. Liver(?!): The people I respect highly, like Dr. Paul SaladinoDr. Cate ShanahanLiver King the Instagram sensation, and many others highlight liver as the single most nutrient-dense food on earth. This could be the magic formula for athletes to start integrating it into their daily diet for improved micronutrient status, recovery, and hormone balance. If you don’t love the taste, you can cut chunks and freeze them. Every day, I’ll eat a few frozen chunks, and drop more into my morning smoothie. Get some grass-fed liver and start upping your liver game! If you have trouble getting regular access to grass-fed liver, you can of course get freeze-dried grass-fed liver capsules, and many other animal organs, from Ancestral Supplements. Check out my MOFO supplement that we co-promote, a custom formulation designed to optimize your natural internal testosterone production. 

14: Sample Day For A High Performing Athlete: If an elite athlete wanted to optimize their daily diet, a pattern like this looks promising:

Morning: A huge bowl of fruit and/or a huge smoothie with bone broth liquid, whey protein, full-fat yogurt, frozen fruit, frozen liver chunks, creatine, and other performance agents as desired.

Training: Spoonfuls of raw honeycomb or dried fruit in and around training for easy to digest energy. Clean sources of hydration like mineral water, coconut water, and kombucha are ideal, even fruit juice cut with water is a better alternative to those colored, chemical-laden sports drinks.

Post-workout meal: Eggs, steak, fish, avocado, fruit, sweet potatoes, and other choices from the plant section of the chart

Evening meal: Enjoyable entrees and perhaps extra carbs (fruit, root vegetables, and higher-carb vegetables like squash and pumpkin) to ensure full recovery each day.


Brad Kearns
Brad Kearns
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