We recently sat down with Mary Shenouda, creator of paleochef.com and Phat Fudge to discuss everything from post-workout nutrition, fads and trends within the industry. Mary is a private chef for some of the most well-known celebrities and athletes around, but she’ll never tell you that. Mary is all about finding the highest, quality ingredients and working them into the specific needs of her clients - with a little humor thrown in the mix, of course.
Question: With an unpredictable schedule, what are best practices at maintaining proper nutrition habits on the go?
Mary: As the saying goes, preparation is everything. Personally, having an autoimmune disorder, if I’m not packing correctly, my two options are to starve, or eat something that will set me back days - sometimes weeks.
Keeping things like Phat Fudge or jerky in my bag is enough to cover me if I’m stuck between appointments. When dining out, digestive enzymes are a must paired with ordering as simple as possible off the menu, (i.e. steak and steamed veggies or ordering just off the sides menu).
Question: You work with CEO’s, celebrities and pro athletes. What is your recommended pre/post workout nutrition?
Mary: As annoying as it is to hear, it really depends on the individual. Each of my clients are so uniquely different, from standard paleo to keto to intermittent fasters, each method identified through various medical testing and practical application.
That said, if they’re not one to be fasted before a workout, utilizing low-glycemic fuel focused on fats as a pre-workout (around 200 calories) with their choice booster (caffeine, maca, beets, etc) is what my clients find to be ideal.
Post workout/recovery, protein in either food form or a blended drink is their go-to. If they aren’t keto or a high-octane output athlete, carbohydrates + protein in a 4:1 ration.
Question: Gluten has a really bad rap right now. What does average person need to know about it? Do they need to avoid it if they don’t have Celiac Disease?
Mary: Gluten is a composite of storage proteins found in wheat, acting as the glue that holds foods together, elastic in texture. For someone like myself with Celiac disease, the body is unable to digest the protein causing an immune response that attacks the small intestine. This damage results in malabsorption, where nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.
Left untreated/undiagnosed this can cause conditions such as headaches/migraines, hives, iron deficiencies, infertility, IBS, hormone imbalances, neurological manifestations and several others that are commonly misdiagnosed and mistreated.
Even if you don’t have Celiac disease, you could have some level of intolerance and the only true way to be sure, outside of any medical test, is through an elimination diet for at least 30 days before reintroduction.
Something I wish I knew early on was how insufficient simple blood tests were to determine a celiac/gluten intolerance diagnosis.
Question: What’s the most common mistake most people make in their diet that they aren’t aware of?
Mary: The most common mistake I see the average person make is a combination of not eating enough calories in their diet (the word itself sounds restrictive) along with consuming foods that are nutrient shallow. I find that most folks are calorie focused instead of benefits focused.
Since nutrition and diet are incredibly personal, and will vary from athlete to athlete, your greatest barometer is being aware of 3 things: hunger, energy, and cravings.
Question: Of all the fads in nutrition, which one is the most sustainable for overall health and performance?
Mary: The one that works for you in which your choices and habits are supporting a life of vitality. Sounds corny, but there is nothing more true than that. If you’re able to stick to it, whatever it is, feeling healthy, strong, and are carrying a positive mindset about your trajectory then you’re on the right track.
If you’re stubbornly sticking inside the box of one dogmatic diet, obsessed with measurements on a stick or scale, but at the expense of your performance, you’re a moron.
All that being said, most people benefit from reducing foods that cause inflammation in their body. The kicker here, again, is that what these specific foods are will vary from person to person outside of assuming we all agree to cut out/limit processed foods like bread, pasta, cereal, chips, energy drinks, and so on.
There are also lesser popular supplementations that I find success with for my clients like regular use of CBD oil for inflammation, and Nigella oil for immune support and vitality.
Question: Which blood analysis do you recommend for athletes, if any?
Mary: True for myself and with my clients, bi-annual and even quarterly testing on standard health markers are done, along with a full pituitary panel and neurotransmitter testing.
Wellness to me is about maintaining and staying ahead of any changes, instead reacting to symptoms as they arise that have become too loud to ignore.
Question: Besides PF, what are your go to energy sources?
Mary: Mushroom Extracts like Cordyceps from FourSigmatic, Maca Root, and Beets (fresh, powdered, pressed) are regular attendees in my hot and cold beverages.
As for foods, liver is my go to, consuming at least a quarter pound a week. I jokingly call Liver Nature’s Red Bull. It can be intimidating to some, but I have yet to find anyone that doesn’t like my Bangin’ Liver recipe, nor doesn’t feel the benefits of adding it to their diet within the first 2 weeks.