You may have been caught in the middle of the following lover's quarrel:
“You know what that chicken on your plate has been through right? Meat is bad for you! It gives you cancer. It is pumped with steroids and hormones that will make you fat!”
“Well, my food is shitting on your rabbit food! Do you know research shows vegans have lower IQ than meat eaters? Enjoy your carrot.”
This scenario has happened to me, many times.
If there’s one thing there’s not a lack of in 2018, it’s opinions. How many times have you turned to Google for nutrition advice, only to be left even more confused 5 minutes later? It's easy to find countless nutrition gurus giving you the “best diet to lose weight, get stronger, and perform at your best” only to be turned on its head by another charismatic character telling you about their “new nutrition program created especially for you this Christmas.”
No wonder we bounce like yo-yos from one thing to the next. The goal with this article is to help you filter through the noise and to figure out what advice to take and what you should trash.
A 6-Step Goals Assessment
There are some very important things to consider before moving forward with any nutrition plan:
- What’s your goal? Where are you in relation to that goal?
- Evaluate your current diet and your past dietary habits.
- Your body composition will also determine what your total calorie consumption and nutrient balance need to be—this is the most fundamental component.
- Examine your health and performance history.
- Use biochemical testing. If you really want to nail this down to perfection then biochemical testing is an important step.
- Consider a nutrition-focused clinical examination. This means having a doctor examining you from top to toe, assessing your physical appearance as well as internal function to help determine your nutritional status. This assessment helps to uncover any signs of malnutrition, deficiencies or nutrient toxicities.
Before you start any specific diet, it’s worth looking at the research. Who’s the study performed with? Is that relevant for me and will it benefit my goal? Does it take bias into an account?
Some other components to keep in mind:
What About Supplements?
When an athlete has reached an appropriate level of maturity and competition-readiness supplements can be considered. It is imperative that a good training plan, recovery plan, and nutrition plan are all in place. Something to make a note on in the massive use of supplements used by everyday athletes today.
Does it really make a difference or is it an excuse to not actually do the work that will allow you to reach your goals? With athletes, the use of supplements has been carefully evaluated and only supplements with good evidence of efficacy, in at least some exercise models, are used.
If you choose to include supplements, use products that are backed with research and avoid supplements with a lot of additives.
Nothing Beats the Basics
Before you choose one diet over another, the most important thing to keep in mind is that you should focus on nutritional basics—namely macronutrients.
Protein is your body’s building blocks. It helps maintain and build new muscle mass and can reduce muscular damage. This equals faster recovery and a better adaptation to exercise long term.
You need between 1.2-2 grams of protein per kg of body weight—choose the higher end of grams if you’re training hard.
Carbs are the best source of energy to fuel your training. They improve high-intensity performance and preserve muscle and liver glycogen. Carbs are what tell your brain you are well fed and help to increase muscle retention and growth.
Carbs stimulate the release of insulin which, when combined with protein, improves protein synthesis and helps to prevent muscle breakdown.
When it comes to sports performance, fats do not seem to improve or diminish your results. Fats slow down digestion and this helps maintain blood glucose and insulin levels to keep you on an even keel. Fats are crucial for the uptake of certain vitamins and minerals, help to optimize nerve signaling, and help balance your hormones.
What About Superfoods?
The term "superfoods" is the result of brilliant marketing if you think superfoods are weird foods you can’t pronounce the name of. However, superfood by definition is: "A food that is rich in compounds (such as antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids) considered beneficial for one’s health."
Superfoods include the following:
- Blueberries, raspberries, and cherries
- Dark, leafy greens
- Olive oil
- Whole grains
- Cruciferous veggies (cabbage, broccoli)
Superfoods are worth stashing in your diet for sure, but there’s no need to slim your wallet purchasing acai, goji berries, or goddess juice from Machu Picchu.
What About Nutrient Timing?
Make sure you keep things real with yourself while taking all the above into consideration.
Unless you are a high performing athlete you have a lot more flexibility when it comes to timing and the key is to make your timing as simple as possible.
Below are a few worthy guidelines if you want to perfect the diet towards your training goals.
In the three hours before your workout ideally want to eat something that helps you:
- Sustain energy
- Boost performance
- Preserve muscle mass
- Speed recovery
Post Workout Recommendations
After your workout, you will want to eat something that can help you:
- Build muscle (and improve future performance)
If you train first thing in the morning/fasted, it becomes more important for you to eat something as soon as possible after your training session. If you’ve eaten before your workout, you have more flexibility with the so-called “anabolic window.”
The Paleo Diet
The paleo diet consists mainly of clean meat, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruit—ideally organic. One of the good things about the paleo diet is that it’s hard to overeat on unprocessed food, even if I have no doubt some people could pull it off.
If I was going to favor one diet over the others it would be paleo. It’s simple, it’s clean, and includes tons of veggies and no artificial fluff. Meat is, without doubt, the best source of protein for getting strong and optimizing performance. Eating organic meat would be ideal when following the paleo diet due to the mass production of non-organic meat and the use of growth hormones.
Following the paleo diet may not be for you if:
- You’re allergic to nuts. It may be hard for you to get all the nutrients you need.
- If you’re an endurance athlete, super lean, or struggle to gain weight. Skipping the golden resource of carbs you get from oats, rice, and pasta might be biting your own tail.
- If you have a history of eating disorders, malnutrition or have struggled with deficiencies in the past. If this applies to you then always pursue ‘restricted diets’ with caution. If your body interprets a restriction in the diet, it can trigger a stress response in your body.
Using a Vegan Diet
The good thing about a vegan diet is that if done correctly it’s full of vegetables and clean foods like the paleo diet, apart from the fact it excludes meat and eggs. Following a vegan diet is certainly the best you can do regarding sustainability and animal welfare.
With the development of supplements and the increasing quality of the nutrients in those supplements, you can use a slow transition phase and function well on a vegan diet. A lot of athletes have shown that already. What you should keep in mind is that meat has a higher protein quality, and for the simple reason that meat is more similar to human flesh than a piece of broccoli, you will want to increase your overall intake of protein to above the recommended doses to make up for this.
As with the paleo diet, if you have a history of malnutrition, deficiencies, or eating disorders, it might be harder for you to physiologically thrive on a vegan diet. The body remembers your past circumstances, and if it picks up indicators that food might not be available, it easily turns into “survival mode” increasing stress hormones in your body.
The Keto Diet
In the most basic form, the keto diet involves keeping carbs close to zero (or less than 50 grams a day). Simply put, it’s a high-fat/low carb, low protein diet. The keto diet has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity and help your body burn fat for fuel more efficiently, which can be good if you’re struggling to lose weight.
Using a High Carb Diet
Diets are like fashion—a hype. One day fat is bad, the other day it’s carbs.
Carbs make you gain weight if you eat more calories than you burn. It’s easier to eat more calories from carbs than proteins because carbs don't make you feel as satiated as proteins. Carbs are the best fuel for high performance in training and for your energy levels. However, a high carb diet is mostly relevant for endurance athletes that do high volume training. If you eat a high carb diet and this is not the case, you are likely to miss out on important nutrients from fat and proteins.
Use Your Best Judgement
Before you decide to follow a diet, ask yourself:
- What’s my goal?
- Where am I today?
- Will this help me close the gap?
- Is it realistic based on my lifestyle?
- Is there any reason why this might not be a great idea?
Remember, you must have some nutritional habits in place. From there, play around and see what works for you. As with everything, there is no one size fits all.