I found myself explaining the rational behind eating lighter meals throughout the day and shifting most of my calories (especially carb calories) to my evening meal. Listening to myself wax eloquent on the virtues of my nutrition regime, I started to realize just how preachy I was sounding.
Now, let me say, I like the way I eat. I think it's not only healthy and helpful in attaining my short term goals of staying lean and growing muscle, but I also believe it's going to help me maintain that health for the long term. That being said, just because I believe in my own nutrition program does not mean that I think every other person should eat the exact same way as me.
Here are the core concepts of any good nutrition program, boiled down to the basics:
Our bodies work in the currency of calories. When we ingest and digest carbs, fats and proteins our body takes energy from that food and uses it to power our bodily functions. Our body burns an amazing amount of calories just to sustain its core functions.
Cool fact from ScientificAmerican, "Although the average adult human brain weighs about 1.4 kilograms, only 2 percent of total body weight, it demands 20 percent of our resting metabolic rate (RMR)". So it's not just your daily workouts that are burning calories for you, it's all of your sustaining processes. A good diet is going to help you balance out the energy you take in vs the energy you expend.
Depending on your goals you can adjust that balance to be in surplus or deficit. This doesn't have to mean calorie counting, it can be as simple as knowing how many portions of each macro you're going to take in in a day. Use your palm of your hand as a portion size reference and voila.
Good nutrition provides nutrient density:
When we think 'healthy food' most people think fruits, veggies, maybe lean protein, but what really defines a 'healthy food'? When I consider healthy eating I generally like to think of it in terms of both nutrient density and calorie density. Things like sweet potatoes, peppers, salmon, chicken, spinach are all foods high in nutrients -- lots of nutrient content per portion.
You probably can think of some foods that are calorie dense as well: whipped cream, bacon, butter etc. Generally fattier foods are going to be more calorie dense since there are 9 calories per gram of fat compared to 4 calories per carb or protein. Now don't be too judgmental of our calorie laden brethren. Just because these guys are packing the "heat" so to speak, doesn't mean they can't be considered 'healthy options' too.
If your goal is to lose or maintain weight, filling your diet with nutrient rich foods that have a low caloric density is the way to go. If your goal is to better fill out your underwear (I'm talking packing muscle pounds onto that gluteus) your going to want to maintain your nutrient rich foods that are also calorie dense (think almond butter, steak, eggs, etc.).
Using these healthy foods as the base of your nutrition in combination with an energy balance to suit your goals is a 90% solution and works for most peoples fitness and health goals.
Good nutrition helps to achieve health, body composition and performance
A lot of us do it, we gauge our health by our waist line or the number on the weigh scale. It's an easy trap to fall in to, but body composition is not the only metric that we should be considering when determining what a nutritious diet looks like.
Think of Arnold during his Mr. Olympia reign, he was a specimen (slight man-crush rearing it's head here -- pay no mind). The funny thing is that if you ask a bodybuilder about his or her physical state during a competition, they will likely tell you that this is their absolute weakest point. They look like the deities of the Greek pantheon, but all the prep work they do to shed that last ounce of fat, to reach that point of near perfect physique, actually leaves their body in a state of exhaustion.
Just one example of how body composition is not the sole metric that good nutrition should be measured on. The other factors are health and performance.
I get it, you want to look better naked -- just like everyone else, but you also want to have energy to do the things you love and you want to be safeguarding your body against short term and long term health issues. When your nutrition is not only giving you the physique you want, but also ensuring your performance and health you know you are hooked up to the right train.
Nutrient dense foods, that properly balance your energy intake vs output and provide you with the daily macro and micronutrients your body needs to sustain and thrive is a great way to define 'good nutrition'.
The core of these concepts are the foundations of the Precision Nutrition program. Joel and I are currently working through our certification with Precision and we're loving the approach these guys take to prescribing healthy and sustainable nutrition. Though we already incorporate a lot of the ideas that Precision subscribes to in our Elite programs, we're excited to dig deeper into the science of how our bodies function and continue to learn more about the best ways to fuel ourselves so we can share them with you guys! Stay tuned.
Live your best life!