Nutrition is a lot like religion and politics. Uneducated people looking for answers hear something that they like and hold onto to that one particular idea without question and vehemently attack anyone or anything that so much as challenges that idea. In a society of fatties looking to a fitness and health industry that is predominantly bogus, how can the average person or even the fitness enthusiast compare and grade one nutritional method against another? Well, hopefully this article will give some insight and knowledge to those and create some higher level understanding and thinking amongst those who are interested.
My background in nutrition is really quite simple. Being skinny my entire childhood and prepubescent years, I searched for methods to gain weight. This lead to reading the traditional muscle magazines, purchasing books, and eventually taking multiple nutrition classes in college (I was on a path to double major in nutrition until I got in an argument with my overweight type II diabetic nutrition teacher). The most influential teacher over that time period was experience. I’ve been skinny, fat, weak, strong, lean, fast, athletic, slow, and probably everything else in between in pursuit of high school and college athletics, bodybuilding, strongman, Olympic lifting, endurance races, and powerlifting. I’ve gotten the chance now to learn and be on a team with the best nutrition coaches on the planet as well as work with hundreds of clients myself since I got into the training industry. If I had to describe my nutrition methods I would say simple and individual. I approach every client differently and am big on compliance. The best nutrition plan isn’t worth anything if the client won’t follow it. Therefore, I will present to you the five components of nutrition that everyone needs to be aware of. I will also give examples of nutrition protocols that focus on only that one particular component.
Your body is a biological machine that is bound by the same physics that apply to other machines in the world. A calorie is a measurement of energy and therefore the more work being performed by your body, the more calories needed to maintain its current mass (Energy=Mass, thank you Einstein). If you intake less calories than the amount of work you are performing, your body will be forced to find another energy source. It finds this energy source within itself and ends up converting its own mass (tissue) into energy and the end result is that you lose weight (along with whatever tissue your body decided to utilize, ideally body fat). The opposite is true as well, that if you intake more calories than you require for the work being done your body will convert that extra food into body mass and you will gain weight. Weight Watchers is a perfect example of a nutrition plan that focuses only on caloric intake. It gives a certain amount of points (calories) that you are allowed to eat and lets you choose the foods that make up those points. The down side to this is that your body isn’t a closed system and is constantly regulating itself. The amount of energy being consumed and converted is constantly varying based on many factors like activity, consumption of food, and hormones. Also, not every calorie is treatd the same in the body. That brings us to macronutrients.
Macronutrient is the term used to describe those nutrients (food components) that provide your body with energy. They are broken down into three categories: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Proteins are the building blocks of your body. They are what your muscles, skin, organs, some hormones, and other body parts are made out of. Your body can use protein for energy but it prefers to use it to make things. Carbohydrates arethe body’s preferred source of energy for most physical activities. Your body does not make anything out of carbohydrates so if it can’t use it for current activity, it will store is as either glycogen (stored glucose) in the muscles or liver, or it will convert it into bodyfat (your body isn’t a fan of wasting good energy). Finally fat is what your nervous system, certain hormones, and other body parts are made of. It is also the primary source of energy for longer duration activity and while at rest. As you can see, different macronutrients are utilized differently in the body. A common nutrition plan called ‘If it fits your macros” focuses only on macronutrient amounts. Again, you are allowed to choose whatever foods you like as long as they fit within the boundaries of the macronutrient amounts you have been asigned. The down side of this is that different foods have different effects on the body outside of just their calories and macronutrient makeup.
3. Food Choice
Different macronutrients have different effects on the body but the source of those macronutrients plays a role as well. For example, although a sweet potato, an apple, and a jolly rancher all provide you with the same end product (sugar), the body’s response to all three will be significantly different. Also, the micronutrient makeup of different foods can play a role in overall health and function. Micronutrients are nutritional components that don’t provide you with calories (vitamins, minerals, electrolytes). These play major roles in basic body functions and depending on your food choices, you may or may not be getting the amounts of each that you need. For example, a sweet potato is more nutritionally dense than a white potato which is more nutritionally dense than French fries from a bag. Other factors can be seen in the difference between grain fed and grass fed beef. Grain fed beef has higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids compared to grass fed which has higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids have been shown to increase inflammation while omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to decrease it. A popular diet that focuses only on food choice is the Paleo diet. While food choices are very important, when you eat those foods makes a difference as well.
Timing plays a major factor in how your body will utilizes different nutrients that you intake. For example, during and post workout, your body is in need of easily accessible energy for work and for recovery. During this window your body will process any carbs you take in much differently than if you ate them at another point during the day. Different macronutrients have been shown to affect the way you sleep as well. Another factor that comes into play is the combination of foods eaten together. Liquid foods will digest much faster than solids and proteins and fats will slow down the digestion of carbohydrates if eaten together. A popular diet amongst many powerlifters and strength athletes that focuses primarily on timing is carb back loading. While timing is important, there is one final component to consider.
This is the most diverse and dynamic component to nutrition. It takes into account the physical, mental, emotional, and social differences amongst everyone person. Some people physically can’t eat certain foods due to allergies like lactose intolerance or Crohn’s disease. Others have a mental barrier that makes it tough for them to stay on a specific dietary plan or who may have some type of eating disorder that they have to work through or aren’t even aware of. The emotional connection to food is extremely strong and is another challenge many people face when trying to change their diet. Finally, many people have social struggles like specific work and time requirements or even being in a social group that centers around eating and drinking. The genetic makeup of everyone is different and therefore the potential for different responses to different diets, food choices, etc is high. A diet that tries to focus primarily on individuality is the blood type diet. While individuality plays a huge role, it is still just one component of nutrition.
You can see that nutrition can be a bit more complicated than just jumping on the latest fad diet (even if it isn’t mainstream and is just amongst strength athletes). What can you take away from all this? Well, if you don’t focus on any of these when it comes to nutrition, then focusing on just one will probably yield some results. Because of the individuality component, these results will vary from person to person which is why not everyone who goes on weight watchers gets skinny and why not everyone who carb back loads gets huge and shredded (but they’re really good at selling you on the idea that you will). Also, look at any nutrition plan you see with a grain of salt and an ounce of education. Does it makes sense or does it just play into your desire to keep eating bad foods? I’m surprised by how many people get sucked into a diet because it tells them they can keep eating shit foods and still reach their goals. Finally, understand that if your progress has stalled or if you are looking to take it to another level, you will either need to do a significant amount of research and testing on yourself or hire someone with experience who can help you reach those goals.
I hope this has opened your eyes a bit to the fact that nutrition isn’t quite as cut and dry as many would have you believe. Much like training, it can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make. In either case, having the knowledge of what to do and the will power to do so are still the two components that are always a factor.