This is a fairly common question I get from athletes, especially those that are interested in learning more about nutrition and fitness. It’s a good question because it shows that you are taking steps to improve yourself. But, I’m afraid you won’t leave after reading this with a clear cut diet choice hand picked for you. Instead, I want to give you a breakdown of what your diet SHOULD include to help you avoid the overwhelming feeling when trying to pick from the hundreds of acronymed fad diets.
First, it’s important if you don’t already know what macronutrients are that you get that down. Carbs, fats, proteins, done. You’ve undoubtedly heard something about one of these if not all. It’s also possible with all the marketing and information out there that you have a negative feeling towards one of them. My best and most valuable piece of info in this blog is this…Stop. Stop feeling like carbs are the enemy and fat makes you fat. This is key. I’ve had to put this fire out more times than I can count. I don’t blame anyone for thinking this either, because marketing and television has blasted this out so consistently that it’s become a fact for some people without even knowing why. I’m glad if you’re reading this because it means that you get to read something different or at least reinforce good principles.
Important things to include in your diet
I think it’s silly seeing an entirely carb deficient diet because carbs play such a pivotal role in the way our body functions. We didn’t choose for our body to need carbs the way that it does, but carbs are our preferred source of energy. Fats also plays a huge role in things like brain function, absorption of vitamins and even is an energy source (although not as efficient as carbs are). If your diet tells you that you don’t need either one, ditch that diet like a hot burrito.
That brings us to protein, ah protein you sweet macronutrient you. No diet ever leaves you behind. Protein is like the favorite child that can do no wrong and I’ll bet fat and carbs don’t like protein very much. But, hey, that’s macros.
Protein is extremely useful for recovering from tough workouts and building muscle. If you’re on track to being athletic again, you’re going to need lots of protein. You don’t necessarily need to run out and grab a huge tub of choc-o-protein. There are plenty of ways to get protein in your diet as long as the specific diet you want to follow isn’t a “meatless” type of methodology. If it is, you are going to have to come up with some creative ways to add protein that won’t really be as easy for the body to absorb.
So, what you are really clicked this post for has come. Let’s breakdown some of the more popular diets and then see which one includes the three important macros most efficiently.
The Paleo Diet
This one is a big one. Very popular diet and only gaining steam. It’s seemingly synonymous with CrossFit too, which doesn’t hurt them considering CrossFit has really continued to grow despite it’s critics. The Paleo Diet is based on eating like the cavemen in the paleolithic era, so you’re basically following the diet of Fred Flintstone and friends. You should know ahead of time following this diet means no processed foods and no dairy, whole grains, salt, or potato. This is a high protein, low carb diet that really is based around meat and veggies with very little carb involved. As we talked about before, carbs are important and need to be involved in your diet. I think one good thing about the Paleo diet is that it emphasizes getting good sources of protein and including lots of vegetables, which I’m definitely going to agree with. However, for our purposes of trying to be more athletic we need to have the energy to perform. That means having the preferred fuel source of the body and not restricting them so much that we are constantly fatigued. Some athletic folks, like CrossFitters, choose to follow this diet about 80% of the time and allow for more flexibility the other 20%. I think the diet itself has some positives, but overall it’s not something you can go all-in on.
The Ketogenic Diet
The keto diet has grown popular, mainly from the daytime television circuit hosting advocates of this diet to kick off the new year. But, it’s important you know the ketogenic part stands for the state of ketosis.
Ketosis is a state where you restrict carb intake to a point where your blood glucose drops. The body then does what it needs to and increases a specific hormone that eventually breaks down your fat into something called ketones. Those ketones can be used for energy, but only if the body goes through an adaptation process. It’s important to note that, again, while ketones may provide some energy they are not providing near as much as carbs would. Also, you really want to watch out that you don’t get into something called “ketoacidosis”. In the initial stages of a workout program when you are still doing low level activity it could be effective in providing some rapid weight loss. But, the uncomfortable feeling while you go into a state of ketosis can be uncomfortable and make you a pretty grumpy person to be around. This diet can also be tough because the carb restriction means your calories need to come from protein and fat. Most people starting a fad diet are doing it to lose fat and therefore have a big issue having so many calories come from fat. Rapid weight loss isn’t always good, if it means putting yourself in a really uncomfortable situation for periods of time. It may be a bio hack type of diet, but I don’t recommend doing this right now in the process.
Intermittent Fasting (5:2 Diet)
Surprisingly, this is the diet I’m asked about both. More specifically, a diet that uses the idea of IF called the “5:2 diet”. This is actually one of the most consistently used methods of dieting by athletes because the schedule of non-eating windows vs eating windows just fits their schedule. Definitely not a general statement towards all athletes, but some of the ones that I work with. Fasting is not necessarily something new, some religious holidays require a fast. But, this is the first diet that I’ve listed that focuses on WHEN to eat instead of WHAT to eat.
Intermittent fasting boils down to eating during windows of times and then not eating at all for long stretches of time. The 5:2 diet mentioned earlier is basically going 2 days with a severe calorie restriction (500 for women, 600 for men) followed by 5 days with no restriction at all. The obvious issue with not eating much for 2 days is that beginners searching for help from diets won’t have much discipline to start with and be more prone to overeat on the other 5 days. This is a diet that could definitely set people up for a rebound of weight gain after a few pounds are lost.
After listing a few of the popular fad diets, I hope the main points that really stick with you is the importance that all three macros have in your diet. Each one has a place and a role in the way your body functions. If a diet tells you that you need to restrict one completely, leave that book on the shelf. Instead, combining some thoughts from several diets could end up giving you a more balanced approach. Eating less processed foods, avoiding sugar, and including lots of veggies are excellent tips. Trying to avoid eating really late at night and occasionally restricting calories for short periods of times can have benefits for more disciplined people. Either way, it’s important to educate yourself on what each diet is really asking of you and how much commitment it will take to follow long-term. Athletes needs a good balance to be able to perform at a high level, plain and simple.
Take home points:
- Carbs, Fats, and Proteins all play an integral role in your body and your ability to perform athletic things. Avoid diets that tell you to avoid one altogether.
- Fad diets that make you restrict calories to very low levels may work initially, but are probably setting you up to regain the weight later on.
- A short-term, fast weight loss program is probably not going to help you be athletic again in the long-term because it’s not helping you build better habits.
- Focusing on principles rather than methods will always win out. If you can follow a few key principles, it’s easier to pick and choose a few methods that work instead of picking a specific all or nothing type of diet.
- Good nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep it simple and make things easy on yourself. Exercise, make smart choices, avoid fast food and processed junk!
If this has been helpful to you, please leave a comment below or share to help someone else. Also, if you want daily workouts to help you reach your goals follow @AthleticAgain on Instagram or @AthletesAgain on twitter.