Bottom Line Up Front: These are my basics principles of nutrition. They are the product of 20+ years of reading and personal experimentation.
Over the last few decades, I have experimented with low fat, no fat, no carb, high carb, vegetarian, vegan, Paleo, and many specific techniques like intermittent fasting and carb backloading. This is the short list of principles that I have taken away that transcend all of the named “diets” out there. This isn’t meant to be the immutable law of the land – just my experience.
Proper nutrition is arguably the most important thing you can do for your health as it has cascading effects on how you look, feel, perform, sleep, and think. As such, I will expand on this post in the future for greater detail. I reserve the right to learn things and update these too. Sometimes people get bent out of shape when you change your opinion or recommendation. A good sign of maturity is being able to admit when you were off the mark.
1. Everything You Think You Know is Wrong
Fat is bad, cholesterol is bad, and red meat gives you heart disease are all things most Americans believe that do not hold up under examination. The US Government is behind the times on what it is telling its citizens to eat. In the 1950s, the government started to see a rise in diagnosis and death from heart disease. They held hearings to determine what nutritional guidance the citizens should be getting since they had formerly been given none from the government. There were two schools of thought that prevailed at the time (basically sugar is the cause was one group, fat is the cause was the other). The government chose the “fat is bad, cholesterol is causing heart disease” group and thus came the food guide pyramid and official guidance from the federal government. This was the wrong choice. Although modified over the years, this bad information from the highest level plus the abundance of readily available, highly-palatable, engineered processed foods is the reason our country is fatter and more unhealthy than ever.
2. Eat Real Food
Processed and refined foods are unnatural and thus have an unnatural effect on your body. Any food that has a list of ingredients isn’t a real food, i.e. there is only apple in an apple. If it couldn’t be eaten 10,000 years ago, it isn’t real food. It it comes in a bag or box, it usually isn’t real food.
3. Calories Are Not Created Equal
What a refined carbohydrate does to your body is very different from a protein and different from a fat. Thinking in terms of calories is bad business.
4. Quality Matters
Vegetable oil, which is highly processed and inflammatory, is far different from olive oil although both have similar macronutrient composition. Grass-fed beef is not the same as mass-produced grain-fed beef. Choosing foods that are higher in quality will produce superior results.
5. Quantity Matters
Overeating high quality calories will still result in excess body fat. You can’t divorce total calorie intake from your nutrition even if you are eating high quality real foods.
6. Nutrient Timing Is Key
Eating the same thing at 5 AM may have different results inside your body than if you eat it at 8 PM. Your body will use food eaten after strenuous exercise much more efficiently. Eating large meals after a period of fasting will result in a more efficient use of nutrients as well.
7. Skipping Meals is Good For You
Not eating for periods of time (called intermittent fasting) is healthy. It will allow your body to stabilize blood sugar and make it better at using nutrients when they are presented. It will mobilize stored fat as fuel and keep your body mobilizing stored free fatty acids for longer periods of time. Not always appropriate all of the time for everyone but very effective if used properly in my experience.
8. Athletes Have Different Nutrition Requirements
The timing of meals post-workout and the content of meals for athletes (anyone involved in strenous activity/exercise) is different from the regular population. Increased calories, carbohydrates, and protein requirements based on the type of activity are the primary differences. For example, CrossFit athletes will likely require more carbs than Olympic Weightlifters due to different metabolic demands. Contrary to what you think (Refer to #1), endurance athletes need far less carbohydrates than commonly believed. Ever heard about “carb loading” before running 5 miles? The majority of the fuel used by the body in endurance events is stored body fat.
9. Supplement Wisely and Sparingly
There are a handful of supplements that can serve you well even if you are eating a well-balanced diet based on real foods. However, there is no reason you must take any additional supplements as long as are eating a diverse array of good quality whole food. There is no supplement as good for you as simply eating well.
Without putting myself into a specific camp (“I eat Paleo” or “I am a vegan”), these rules above have served me well. While I may tweak particulars of what I am eating for a particular reason such as performance, fat loss, muscle gain, etc., I always keep these in mind.
QUESTION: Is there a nutritional principle that has proven tried and true for you? Post thoughts to comments.