I think most of us chase nutrition information from multiple sources and wind up confused. A major source of this confusion comes when we fail to distinguish between health, aesthetics, and performance. We lump all of these goals together under the umbrella term: “healthy diet”. Eating with each of these goals in mind, though, requires very different tactics.
Let’s start with health. I actually think that eating for health is the simplest, but it has been severely complicated by the both the food industry and the fitness industry. Here is the secret to good health: Eat REAL food. The food industry has created billions of food like substances that now make up the bulk of most Americans’ diets. These foods have been processed with unwanted chemicals and the nutrient balance has been altered. As creatures of this Earth, we were meant to consume the food created by the Earth, not in a lab. If you eat a variety of plant-based whole-foods you will very quickly improve your health.
Aesthetics is a very different beast, as it is focused completely on the outside appearance and inner health is irrelevant. This is where an “if it fits your macros” or “flexible dieting plan” works well. Simply altering your calorie intake and macronutrient balance can drastically alter your body composition, regardless of the quality of food you are eating. This is why we see body builders with amazing physiques eating poptarts and pancakes to get their carbs for the day. It works, I’ve lived it, but remember that just because you look good on the outside does not mean you are healthy on the inside.
Performance goals are my favorite, as they require the most thought. The first necessity to perform well is eating a proper quantity of calories. Food provides us fuel for our workouts, so if you don’t eat enough you won’t be able to perform at a high level. The next step would be finding the proper macronutrient balance. We use both carbohydrates and fats to produce energy. Carbs are utilized for high intensity anaerobic activities. Fats will be utilized better in a long, low intensity aerobic workout. It is important to eat the right type of fuel for your workout to optimize performance. The final consideration is the quality of your food. Our bodies are enduring and will learn to function on almost anything, but that does not mean the “anything diet” is an optimal one. The better the fuel you put in, the better the machine will run.
I think too often we look to people who diet for different goals than us because we don’t realize that there is a difference. You need to decide what your goal is and eat according to that. Can you improve all three areas simultaneously? Absolutely, yes. BUT if you want to take any one to the extreme I believe you will have to make a small sacrifice to the other two.
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