This Simple Approach to Eating Will Enhance Your Cognition Every Day
Everybody wants to know how the highest-level athletes fuel their bodies for elite competition. What are their go-to foods? Which diets do they rely on for max performance? How do they strategically break up their day? In Eat Like a Champion, a recurring franchise, we give you the inside scoop on our professional athletes' dietary habits: what they're eating, why they're eating it, and when they're eating it. Follow their lead and fuel like a champion.
“I think diets are nonsense,” Spartan Pro Maggie Cvetkovic, an investment banker based in Hong Kong, says.
That's precisely why, when asked for advice on what to eat, she says that she doesn't have any to offer.
“Every person is different," she says. "What works for me may not work for others. Giving food advice is like telling people what career to choose or what lifestyle they should live. It’s often up to the individual to figure it out.”
Related: Eat Like Canadian Spartan Pro and 'Flexitarian' Samuel Hébert for a Week
Past Dieting Experiments (and Poor Results)
“For the sake of improving my performance, I've experimented with different diets,” Cvetkovic says.
Vegan: "I felt tired and grumpy because I didn't get enough carbs.”
Related: 6 Ways to Stay Nourished as a Vegan (Plus 3 Things to Not Worry About)
Paleo: "I felt hungry and bloated at the same time. My body doesn't like eating too much meat, and I still wasn't getting enough carbs.”
A strictly raw-food diet: “I felt bloated and didn’t get enough carbs.”
The Bottom Line
“None of these improved my performance,” Cvetkovic says. “They achieved the opposite, leaving me with not enough calories. I came to the conclusion that diets are nonsense and they don't work long term. Athletes are the last people who should worry about eating too much.”
Instead, the professional athlete has adopted a consistent, sustainable approach to meals that doesn’t hinder her athletic performance, provides her with the calories she needs, and delivers a mental energy boost. The meal plan is a blend of simplicity and efficiency, integrated into a whole-spectrum, health-focused lifestyle.
Life Is Short, So Prioritize Friendships and Go With the Flow
What does whole-spectrum health mean? Cvetkovic personally puts a high value on friendships and her social life, so the nutrition guidelines she follows reflect this priority.
Related: 14 Days, 5 Rules, Epic Results: The Spartan Whole-Food Detox Challenge
“I avoid sugar and try to eat less processed foods,” Cvetkovic says. “But if I go out with friends, processed food is usually unavoidable. In this case, I just go with the flow. I prefer the company of others over scrutinizing my food choices.”
In other words, Cvetkovic certainly is not in the business of fun-killing or preaching a rigid nutrition doctrine (Paleo, keto, or otherwise) at the dinner table. Her food approach has become aligned with the idea behind a quote from former NFL lineman and now Power Athlete CEO, John Welbourn, who once said, “I don’t care what kind of diet you’re on. If a friend offers you a beer, you drink it.”
Eating on the Clock
That said, the simplicity and efficiency Cvetkovic practices is not without a sharp level of discipline. (She is, after all, a professional athlete.) Case in point: During the work week, the Spartan Pro follows a time-restricted eating (TRE) schedule with a six-hour window for consuming calories.
“I fast 18 hours every day,” she explains. “I eat my last meal at 6 p.m. and my next one is at 12 p.m. the next day.”
Related: How to Start a Food Journal That Turns Motivation Into Discipline
A considerable amount of research has shown that TRE has the potential to enhance metabolic health, and a six-hour window has been proven to be exceptionally effective. One Nature study revealed that eight weeks of time-restricted eating produced highly favorable results related to body weight and fasting blood glucose levels.
But Cvetkovic says that her six-hour TRE schedule results in personal enhanced cognition, which is typically one of the major benefits linked to fasting and increased ketone production.
“[Eighteen hours of fasting every day] keeps my mind sharp and focused,” she says.
The Cognition-Enhancing Meal Plan
Cvetkovic's intense training schedule and ability to commit unequivocally to a successful career showcases exactly how a time-restricted eating schedule can deliver plenty of energy.
Consider this: Starting with a 5 a.m. wake-up call when she walks her dogs, Cvetkovic fits her Monday through Friday OCR training in at 6 a.m. By 9 a.m., she’s at her standing desk, grinding through a long work day in Hong Kong that doesn't conclude until 7:30 p.m. After her walk home from work (notice: she walks instead of driving), the athlete walks some more with her dogs, and is in bed by 9:30 p.m.
Related: Fasting Is in Our Blood. Here's How to Do It Right.
Ancillary values of Cvetkovic’s nutrition game plan? Simplicity and efficiency. Here's how her meals fit into a six-hour window throughout such a busy and productive day.
5 a.m.: Firing up the Engine With Espresso
— A large glass of water
Note that Cvetkovic is not gulping down a fudge-filled, 600-calorie espresso bar concoction, just the burbling espresso part.
Related: How to Consume Endurance-Boosting Caffeine if You Hate Coffee
Cvetkovic doesn’t break the fast until lunch. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that coffee can help ward off hunger during a fast. This may be one of the benefits of the pre-dawn espresso that Cvetkovic drinks.
Lunch: A Free-for-All
This Spartan Pro's lunch plan consists of any (or a combination) of the following:
“Every day is different,” she says. “I eat whatever I feel like on that day."
Related: 4 Ways Pizza CAN Fit Into Your Training Plan, According to Dietitians
Dinner: The Basics
— Vegetable Salad
Generally, Cvetkovic's dinner includes any of the above. It's balanced, simple, and has all of the macronutrients covered.
The most cogent takeaway from her current approach to nutrition is that, unlike other diets that she tried (and that failed her because she just didn’t get the energy she needed), Cvetkovic is able to get all of the energy she needs to excel in her training and career out of just two meals (and six hours) a day.