As I am sure we have all experienced, diets have a start and they have an end, and the end is usually somewhat premature. The reason for this is that the majority of diets out there in the media are not maintainable. They ask too much of you and place nothing but restrictions on what you can and cannot eat. Nutrition on the other hand is simply the fueling of your body via the nutrients that you digest.
As such, in nutrition there is no such thing as a banned food; there is simply always a better choice. While yes, a fruit salad is a better choice than a slice of cheesecake, sometimes you just need a slice of cheese cake! Nutrition understands this more than a diet does. The diet restricts you to rigid guidelines and dictates what you eat, whereas a more balanced view of what goes into your body shows that consistency wins out over rigidity. What does this mean? Quite simply that one bad decision does not throw off a week of good clean eating, but one bad thing can destroy a diet. We are going to explore what I believe to be important pieces of basic knowledge regarding your body and how to effectively fuel it throughout the day. I hope that you find this informative, and encourage you to play around with the concepts I talk about within your own lives. Learn to enjoy the act of eating not just for the taste of good food, but for how much better you feel by making a better decision.
So, how do you make the best decisions regarding your nutrition? We start by upping your knowledge. The body works through uses a relatively simple process to absorb food into the system. The mouth chews our food and begins the process of breakdown. What we eat then hits our digestive system and works its way through different stages of breakdown and absorption until it is defecated or urinated as waste. It is through this process of digestion that we receive the full benefit of the food that we eat. While the food we eat provides us with the macronutrients that we need for daily bodily health, we also absorb nutrients, minerals and other substances that are beneficial to the body. As such, the body wants to be provided with food that it knows how to handle and is very dense in nutrients and minerals, rather than processed food which do not have a very high nutrient density.
So now that you are schooled up on the science of good nutrition, let’s take a bit more of an in-depth look at some of the public concerns regarding good nutrition:
Calories in vs. Calories out? –
Variety is the spice of life, and there are a huge amount of different foods out there. Whatever macronutrient you are looking to chow down on, you can get anything you want to fill this section of your diet. But, should you? Look, the fact of the matter is that we all know what I mean when I say phrases like, “eat clean”, and “good choices”, but what people don’t really understand is that this is by far one of the most important aspects of nutrition. The choices you make in your food selection are going to be the first step that you take in your nutritional and athletic success. If we look at this from a physics standpoint, 600kcal of carbs is 600kcal of carbs, regardless of the source. Unfortunately, physics is wrong – well to an extent.
The law of thermodynamics (energy in vs. energy out), when applied to the body works, only if you look at the body as a furnace. The body is not a furnace. It is a living ecosystem which is subject to development based on outside influence, and as such, it process’ macronutrients based on the quality of what goes into the body. The key thing to remember is calories are what you need to live, and provide you with the energy to refuel and develop. Being in a major calorie deficit is going to negatively affect your ability to perform and, taken too far, can be very bad for your health. As such we don’t want to deprive your body of calories, but they need to come from good clean sources. Thankfully, these are found in abundance in nature. The reason for this is that, as far as the body is concerned, there is one hell of a difference between 600kcal of carbs from sweet potato as opposed to Haribo. This is due to hormonal responses of the body in response to the food you eat. So when we make food choices, we need to make sure that we make the best choices, not just for our goals, but also the moment in time that we need a specific macronutrient.
Nutrient timing –
So, if we work on the premise that the body is an ecosystem that is constantly reacting, we understand that there is a great deal going on in our body which we can take control of. So let’s put this into the context of training. There are two hormones that we need to keep in mind before we delve into this – insulin and glucagon. When you start exercising the fuel mobilizing hormone glucagon gets to work, freeing up all of the fuel that you have stored in your body to allow your muscles to contract, relax, and move in a way which allows you to act out the motor patterns relevant to your sport or activity. This is your glycolytic system in full effect! With me so far? Ok, cool! So, when you are done using up your bodies fuel stores, doing whatever it is that you are doing, the fuel storage hormone insulin kicks in.
This is the optimal time to take in the two macronutrients that are essential to refuel and rebuild. The protein you take is synthesized at a higher rate due to the rise in your bodies’ insulin levels, which causes your protein to be broken down into amino acids at an accelerated rate and sent where it needs to go, namely your muscle fibers to induce the act of muscle growth – Hypertrophy. However, because the bodies’ insulin levels have elevated, this is the best time to get carbs inside you without the fear of excess fat storage. Once again, this is due to insulin’s function as a storage hormone, which allows for a fast absorption of carbs into the muscles and liver to be stored as glycogen. As such, the best choice of carbohydrate is a high GI carb such as fruit or white rice to allow for maximal absorption in the shortest amount of time possible. I would not advise this during any other time than post workout, unless you are particularly lean or require an exceptionally high amount of carbs.
The reason for this being, that insulin production is not just triggered by a metabolic demand, it is also triggered by the food we eat. So when we eat carbs, we trigger an insulin response, and the higher GI the carb source, the higher the insulin. If insulin does what it does best, which is store stuff, but your muscles and your liver are already full of glycogen, then what is it going to do? Well, it’s going to do the only thing that it can do, store said sugars in adipose tissue. Yep, that’s right, as fat. So what is the take home message from this section? Base the majority of your carb intake around your workouts. Whether you front load, back load, or intra-load, it does not matter so long as you work within a time frame which allows you to take advantage of your bodies’ primed anabolic state which will allow for the greatest amount of carbohydrate uptake.
Goal Orientated Nutrition –
It sounds silly, but give me a chance to explain. It sounds like the simplest thing in the world, but so many people try to eat for multiple goals, i.e. ‘I want to put on mass so I will eat loads of calories, but I don’t want to get fat so I will take in minimal carbs’. This is madness, and is in fact counter-productive. You need to pick one goal and eat towards it. If you need to gain strength, take in more carbs post workout to allow for a higher rate of central nervous system regeneration and energy refueling. If you are trying to put on mass, take in even more carbs post workout with a high GI source first, followed by a low GI source in your next meal to give your body some extra raw materials to work with. This is all part of a process that will ultimately allow you to optimize your goal.
Note I say goal, not goals. You need to prioritize one goal, one eating protocol, and track your progress based on how close you are to getting to that goal, not how far you are moving away from the status quo. If you are prioritizing strength, stop worrying about your physique. You are moving towards a strength goal, and once you are there, you can prioritize your physique from a whole new place of strength.