Food and nutrition is often made into an extremely complicated topic. People trudge through magazines and articles trying to make head or tail of what is good and what is bad, should we avoid carbs? is fat bad? or is it just trans-fats and what about breakfast? I thought that was REALLY important.
The strange thing about this confusion is that, really, it shouldn’t be there at all. Yes we all have different metabolisms, tolerances and slightly different requirements but in essence, we are all human and on the most basic level we all require the same stuff. Why then are we drowned in a constant stream of information telling us food x,y,z is making us fat or worse, killing us.
I think its important to ignore most of the information out there, especially what is in pop-media, most (not-all) is simply hyped to sell a magazine or product. What we should really do is take a step back and take an objective look at food – what it does and why we should eat it. Then armed with our new outlook we should make our own personal attitudes to food – based on what we want and why.
For this kind of analysis to work properly we need a defined goal.
To make it simple, i’ll give an abbreviated spectrum:
Improve performance ——–> Improve appearance ———> Improve health
Obviously these three categories (in most instances) merge quite a bit, most people want to improve all of them concurrently. My point is that its important to realise specifically what it is that is important to you in your training/dieting pursuits, chances are one of the above three categories is your main aim, with the other two following somewhere close behind.
So, now we have a goal we need to decide on a process. This process, as well as being applicable, needs to be realistic and CONSISTENT. In other words, you need to factor yourself into your plan and accept that occasionally you may decide to not bother or stray from the plan somewhat. Therefore, in order to make things as consistent as possible, you need to make sure you aren’t demanding earth-shattering commitment from yourself every waking minute.
I’ll use an example of someone who wants to improve the way they look, they’d like to improve performance a bit and although health isn’t their focus – that would be nice too.
So, here’s the diet:
7am: 5 egg whites, 100g chicken breast, 1 cup green tea
10am: 5 egg whites,..
Why are you eating egg whites at 7am?
because you read that egg whites are a great source of protein, you should eat every 2-3 hours etc etc?
A diet doesn’t need to be anything like that – its just an abridged version of something pulled out of a bodybuilding magazine. How long are you realistically going to eat that concoction at 7am before giving up or dreading each morning? There’s enough research out there now to suggest that meal frequency is irrelevant and you don’t need breakfast. Equally, objectively, the only difference between “clean” and “dirty” food choices is the length of the carbohydrate chains (some are closer to sugar than others), the type of fat (trans-fats aren’t great for your health, and processed chemicals and preservatives (also not great for your health). However, we have a primary goal on how we look, there is little to no difference between food choices as long as you don’t dont abuse it make McDonalds your primary food choice.
Why not eat enough protein for the day (usually 1-2g per pound of bodyweight), get enough fats from fish, nuts, seeds and oils, then have something sweet after the gym. Eat 2 meals per day, one before training and one after.
Now, how long would you stick to that? you get to eat some foods you like, only have to prepare two meals and have a few fairly flexible rules to follow – probably longer than the first diet. Would it be advised in the mainstream media? Probably not, after all, we’re probably skipping breakfast, not eating every two hours and most likely eating a good amount of carbs in the evening. Would it work? You bet. Why? its easy to follow and enjoyable while still respecting your physiological needs.
So our priorities are: Aesthetics -> performance -> health.
Lets say this means initially gaining some muscle then losing some fat for the summer months. So some moderate weight gain first then fat loss. Here’s a plan:
We’re going to start by eating 2 meals per day and to enhance the benefits, dont eat until 12:00pm
We’re going to start eating 1g/lb of bodyweight of protein
In each meal we’ll include some olive oil/nuts/oily fish or a fish oil supplement
In the first meal of the day, eat mainly meats/fish/eggs and vegetables. Not steadfast by try to limit carbs and sugar.
In the meal after the gym have some carbs (pick a food you like) and on days we don’t get to the gym skip this and repeat the first meal.
In each meal, eat until you feel full, don’t stuff yourself.
Weigh yourself every Sunday: weight up a bit – keep going, weight up a lot – eat a bit less, weight the same or less – add another meal after the gym.
The point I’m trying to make is that we should question dogma – 6 meals per day may work but we could easily just eat 1 or two. Are sugary foods bad for your health? If you abuse them, yes, but if you include them sensibly in your diet just before and after weight training there is no reason not to eat them. Look at what you want to achieve and evaluate whether a food fits into your plan – don’t just stop eating or avoid something because some one else says so. Experiment, try something, see what happens and draw YOUR OWN conclusions. In a few months you’ll know that maybe a certain type of food bloats you, maybe you make great progress while eating jelly beans after the gym, maybe you perform better only eating in the evening and just sipping a shake before the gym. You’ll end up with the best diet ever – the one that works FOR YOU.