One of the main topics covered in this first installment is the question: What is good nutrition, exactly? Dr. Berardi (who will henceforth be referred to as “JB” for typing ease) makes a good point when bringing up this topic – everyone has their own answer (for the record, mine has always been along the lines of “balanced diet”, an answer which was shot down in the same paragraph).
Turns out there are a few “must haves” in order for nutrition to really be good – and it’s not all about what or how much you eat. These things matter as well, of course, but it goes beyond that: Good nutrition takes into consideration how what you eat affects you, as well as what you’re actually putting in your mouth.
This Will NOT Be An Amazing Revelation
The higher the quality of the food and drink you ingest – whole grains, fruits and veggies, lean meats, etc. – the better off you will be, from a health and a fitness perspective both. You probably learned that in 2nd grade along with the food pyramid (and probably in every health/PE class you’ve had since then. It bears mentioning again though, because good nutrition will help you achieve your health and fitness goals far more than any exercise will do. It’ll also keep you looking good – bonus!
Too Much Is… Too Much?
Quantity is just as important. Weight gain or loss, whether in the form of muscle or fat, can be traced back to your energy balance, which is the net of your energy intake and energy output. Positive energy balance occurs with an energy intake greater than an energy output. This is easily demonstrated by weight gain, in the form of fat: when you eat more calories than you expend during your daily activities, your body will store that excess as fat, in turn leading to a whole host of health problems (and leaving you looking not-so-good in that swimsuit). This is a HUGE problem in Western cultures, given our easy access to lots of calorie-dense, nutrient-empty foods, and our tendency to sit a lot (in the car going to work, at work, on the way home, on the couch after dinner, etc.). And the knee jerk to the creeping weight gain? Better go on a diet!
Except that a negative energy balance (when your energy intake is lower than your energy output) can cause problems of its own. Restrict your energy intake too much, and your body will start shutting down every non-essential process it can, including your metabolism – not ideal when you want to lose that excess body fat! It also will slow or halt other processes. Reproductive function can come to a screeching halt, and even your brain function can slow right down (thinking actually does use a lot of energy – who would have thought…). None of this is good news if you A) want to be healthy, B) want to perform well, or C) look good naked.
The Truth Hurts (Sometimes, Anyway)
Possibly the most important aspect of good nutrition is, well, you. Not so much your cells or digestive system, but the bit that decides whether or not to stop for chocolate on the way home from work. As pointed out in the Precision Nutrition text, most people simply don’t have a very good idea of what they eat, something I’ve found through my experience coaching both athletes and personal training clients. A lot of people think they eat really well, but when they take a couple days to record what, how much, and when you eat and/or drink, it results can be quite surprising.
This honesty in nutrition and diet goes hand in hand with how well it works, too. The results you get from the health, performance and body composition standpoints will tell you how good your diet really is. I have a client who swore up and down that he only ever had salads for lunch, and ate really well at home – and wasn’t losing any of the weight he wanted off. Well, several food diaries and several less drinks per week later, he’s well on his way to the next pants-size down (awesome work, by the way – you know who you are). The point of it all? No matter how good you think you’re being, if the results aren’t coming, you might need to re-evaluate.
And that’s my thoughts on that. As mentioned, each time I get through a chapter (or at least once a week) I’m going to share my take on it. Knowledge is power – enjoy!