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Nick Mitchell: The foundations of good health for men

What are the foundations for good health for men?

It’s not necessarily about weight or BMI, what is really important is how much fat you are carrying for your size.

This is the key factor for men who want good metabolic and physical health – but it gets overlooked by the vast majority of people.

Ultimate Performance founder and CEO Nick Mitchell talks about the dangers of being ‘skinny’ fat for men’s long-term health – and how you can diffuse this ‘ticking timebomb.’

It starts with eating better quality foods and lifting weights…

BEN KENYON: What then are the foundations for good health that men of any age should start considering? And some of the steps people can take, to shift this weight to kind of get over the past 12 months?

NICK MITCHELL: So what’s specific to men, it’s the same for women generally. Really, it’s not a magic formula for a man. The specific thing for a man to maintain his health is to keep at a healthy body weight.

Now, a healthy body weight varies from person to person. Ultimately, it isn’t about what you weigh, it’s not about BMI if you want to dig into a body mass index. What it’s about, it’s effectively about how much fat you’re carrying compared for your structure, for your frame and for your muscle size.

The very, very worst thing anyone can be… again, this is a universal thing for both men and women. The worst thing you can be is ‘skinny fat’. So you can look, I want to say ‘normal’ – you can look like you’ve got it, you can have a good BMI, and you can fit into all the clothes and look like you are in decent nick. But underneath it, there’s no muscle, and you’re all soft, squishy and flabby. You’re a ticking time bomb.

A very, very recent study looked at the propensity for people to become type 2 diabetic, which is basically lifestyle-induced diabetes. Diabetes is effectively inflammation. If you’re a diabetic, you’re in the firing line for COVID. If you’re diabetic, you don’t live as long; you’re more likely to get Alzheimer’s. They call Alzheimer’s ‘diabetes of the brain’. So this is really, really serious for people and it’s about not being skinny fat. It’s not about being overweight per see – it’s about not being skinny fat.

So how do you address not being skinny fat? Well, the first thing that you do, is you address the quality of the nutrition that you eat. You don’t have to count calories, but you have to address the quality of the food that you eat. We overeat, so we shouldn’t be eating too much. Men like to stuff their faces. We all know men who like to stuff their faces. I like to stuff my face. How many women like to stuff their faces? Do you know? “Oh, I’m really full; that feels good.” Men say that, right? We pat our tummy, don’t we? Do women do that?

BEN: None that I know.

NICK: I haven’t met any yet, have you? It feels very much like a male-dominated thing, now that I come to articulate it out loud. Don’t stuff your face. Go for a walk after a meal, So a 10-minute walk after the two main meals of the day let’s say, I would do that. That makes a huge difference for blood sugar by moving your body.

The primary tool for maximising a male or female’s health is weight training. It’s the primary exercise tool I should say for maximising a man’s health, is weight training or any form of resistance training.

So that can mean press-ups and bodyweight squats done in your living room. You don’t have to go to a gym. Of course, the gym allows you to do more things and allows you to progress, allows you to go further but in terms of the minimum viable product, the minimum level of commitment needed to get a result, you don’t have to go to a gym, but you have to exercise your muscles because the fuel that your muscles use when you’re doing weight training type movements, the fuel that it uses in a very simplistic term, is the sugar in your blood. And you want to deplete at certain points of time that sugar in your blood, you want to deplete the sugar, you want to be able to refresh your pancreas.

What they found were people who had type-2 diabetes is their pancreas, which is the organ that produces insulin, that then deals with blood sugar, that deals with the carbohydrates that you eat. What they found with type-2 diabetics is that the pancreas, instead of being, don’t take me literally here now, instead of being like this [gestures], and it’s shrivelled up and shrunken because it’s been exhausted because it’s been tapped time after time after time ‘handle this Mars bar, handle this bag of crisps, handle these cans of coke’. Time after time after time, and it doesn’t get refreshed because we don’t have periods of fasting anymore either. We eat constantly, we eat when we wake up, and we’ll have a snack before we go to bed, and we’re snacking in between.

So, the worst thing for all our health – the single worst thing in the world and planet for all our health – is the convenience food industry. It’s the absolute single worst thing. If everybody started eating home-cooked meals which don’t have to be salads and sardines and things like that, they can be ‘normal foods.’

BEN: It’s everything your mum told you, right? Sleep well. Eat well.

NICK: All of it is everything that your mum and your grandma told you everything. Everything. It’s meat and two veg.

BEN: Why is it so complicated, and why are so many men going off the rails? Is it a certain life stage? Is it certain something about cultural society? Is everyone just going off the rails?

NICK: Everyone’s gone off the rails, but men have gone off the rails more because men are not into themselves in the ‘internal’ in the same way that women are. So men are into the ‘external’.

So men are more likely to take anabolic steroids because it’s the external. Women are more likely to spend time doing yoga, doing pilates, eating macrobiotic diets and things, whatever that means, right? They’re more likely to do that because it’s the internal. And testosterone makes you more external, and a lack of it will make you more internal. And it goes back to nature.

We have peacocks and peahens, don’t we? Which one has the plumage?

BEN: The male.

NICK: The male. Show off – ‘look at me!’ Now, that’s not saying that women are not vain. Of course, women are vain. That’s not saying that women don’t care about their appearance. That will be an absolutely bizarre thing to say. But with men, it’s external, and it’s chasing external validation. That’s what men do too much. For women, it’s a different thing. Again, hormones, male hormones, androgens make us more assertive, more dominant, more aggressive and more ambitious. None of which are part of looking after yourself.

That’s the challenge that men have to marry this instinctive hormonal, genetic, evolutionary desire to do certain things whilst also maximising their health. And of course, it can be done. Of course, it can.

Interested to know how Nick manages his food and diet? In the latest from our Men’s Health series, Nick speaks about his personal struggles with diet and how he overcomes those temptations.

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