Vail Daily column: The diet trap
February 20, 2017
If I were to give you a test question asking which diet is best, could you answer correctly? Here are your choices:
• Low-fat diet
• Paleo diet
• Vegan diet
• Ketogenic diet.
No matter which selection you've made, the right answer wasn't even listed. The correct answer is whatever works best for you. That may seem simple enough, but today the tendency is for people to jump on the no-carb bandwagon while dunking sticks of butter in their coffee, or to shame anybody who consumes full-fat milk. The two ends of the spectrum are extreme, and completely unnecessary. Perhaps people have forgotten the law of thermodynamics stating that energy can neither be created nor destroyed in an isolated system. Calories in, calories out. This is quite simple, yet somehow people still believe it takes a magic diet to achieve fat loss or muscle gain. Low-carb supporters believe that every gram consumed is an evil insulin spiking demon that will instantly store body fat. Low-fat supporters believe that if you look at an egg yolk you might instantly have a heart attack. Both sides and nearly every other "diet" protocol are completely irrational. Food allergies and sensitivities are real, no doubt, however that does not mean an entire macronutrient should be eliminated from any healthy diet.
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Why you need fats, carbs and protein
Every macronutrient serves a vital role in complete human optimization. Fat must be consumed because it regulates the hormones in our body and provides the building blocks for nutrient absorption. Not to mention, it is most often what makes food taste good, which is equally important. Look at most "low-fat" food labels, and you will see that despite a lower fat content, the amount of sugar and other processed junk included in it is present. In other words, eat the whole egg, not just the white.
Protein is essential to humans because it is how we repair muscle tissue. We must consume essential amino acids, a by-product of complete protein sources, in order for muscle protein synthesis to occur. Do not buy in to the high protein myth and replace all of your water with protein shakes. Although important, you really only need 0.8-1 grams of protein per a pound of body weight. Any more than this and you are wasting your money and bound to develop some digestive distress.
Lastly, the fuel to your high intensity exercise, carbohydrates. More often than not, carbohydrates get a bad rap because they can be easily consumed through highly processed foods with little to no micronutrient density. The problem with limiting or completely eliminating carbohydrates is that they serve as our primary fuel source during intense anaerobic exercise. Not to mention, our brains use glucose as fuel for the brain. Eating carbohydrates does not mean eating processed foods, rather it means eating enough nutrient dense fruits, vegetables, starches and whole grains to fuel your activities. The amount you need completely depends on how much activity you are doing, and your current level of fitness. The source, completely depends on your food allergies, nutrient density and personal preference.
Find your perfect plan
Look to eat the healthy foods that satisfy you the most. It is completely unnecessary to subscribe to one way of eating, and it will only lead to compensation down the road. If you feel deprived, then make a change. Focus on greater micronutrient density, not just macronutrients. Food is only a vehicle to provide your body with the nutrients necessary for optimal health, treat is as such. Your best options will always be those that are minimally processed and as close to their natural state as possible. Aim to buy organic grass-fed meats, and organic vegetables. For fruits, those will a thick outer layer such as bananas, oranges and avocados, organic is not necessary. Those with a thin outer layer that you will be eating, i.e. strawberries, blueberries, apples — always buy organic.
How much to eat?
When you've figured out the best way of eating for you, this is the time when you can track your calories and begin to make body composition changes. You are entering in to a new lifestyle, not a diet. Before you make a change, ask yourself if what you are doing is going to help you in the long run. Is this something you can stick with for a long time? General recommendations for fat loss are 12 kcal per pound of body weight, 14 kcal per pound for maintenance, and 16 kcal per pound for muscle gain. These numbers are general guidelines, and vary based on activity level, age, gender and metabolism. Calories do matter, no diet plan is effective without tracking them. Use the mirror as your guide, scales can be misguiding as our bodies have the ability to store water and glycogen depending on our diets. Continue to strength train no matter what your goal is. Doing so while attempting to lose weight will spare muscle, and it is obviously necessary while seeking to increase muscle mass.
Oh and one last thing, remember that food is also meant to be enjoyable, and that means occasionally having dessert or a slice of pizza. You have to enjoy the process otherwise there is no purpose to any of it. Have a great week!
Jimmy Pritchard has a B.S. from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is a personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Club and is a fitness professional at ryanrichards.com. Pritchard's passion is to help others meet, and often exceed their goals in all areas of fitness. Contact him at 970-401-0720.
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