Understanding Proper Nutrition
How Your Diet Affects Your Lifestyle
Updated July 2020. Everyone knows that exercising and eating properly creates a foundation for a lifetime of optimal health and performance. To most people, exercise is seen as the more important part of that equation, in terms of how we live, feel, and perform. Usually, people don’t know, or realize, just how significantly nutrition plays into their overall quality of life. Other times, people know but don’t care about dramatic effect that it can have on their lifestyles, choosing to eat whatever without regard for what their diets are doing to them internally. Often, they believe that they can overcome their diet if they just work out hard enough.
In western societies where food is readily available, nutritional content is often an afterthought. Think about how many calories are in one meal when you go out to dinner. Lots of people don’t bat an eyelash at a 2000 calorie meal, often consuming an appetizer, main course, sugary beverage, and desert. Next time you go through the fast food line, look at the nutritional content in whatever you grab for lunch. I bet you will find 30-40-50g of fat in there and didn’t even know it.
The hard truth is this: A proper diet is more difficult than exercise, when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, but plays a far more impactful role in our lives than exercise ever could.
Nutrition will make or break your overall health. It could push you over a plateau if you are stuck, or destroy the progress you have made. It’s so powerful, that most research points to how inadequate nutrition can lead to everything from low levels of energy and bad sleep, to hormonal imbalances, and even various diseases.
It’s all about choice!
What you consume impacts you throughout the day, which is why professional athletes eat relatively clean during the on season. Since food is what fuels our bodies along our daily journey, including while we at the gym, it’s important to make sure we do what we can to help ensure good performance.
What we eat can affect our mood, energy levels, and even our workouts. Think about how long you are in the gym per day. Probably about an hour or so, give or take, right? While what you do there has an impact on the rest of the day, that one hour is only about 4% of that day.
Outside of that time, what you do in the gym only has a ‘minor’ effect on most of the remaining 23 hours. Now, think about how long you spend around food each day, how much you consume, and how long your body takes to process it.
Like my old wrestling coach used to say, ‘Junk in, Junk out.’ Eating nothing but garbage will give you garbage results. What you see when you look at someone with a good physique is usually 80% diet and 20% exercise.’ Of the 80% revolving around the diet, chances are they follow good nutritional practices about 80% they eat as well.
Case study in nutrition
First, we have Bill, a guy who’s a stereotypical couch potato. He often snacks on Cheetos, potato chips, and other sodium-rich, high-fat snack foods after getting home from work. This becomes his routine as he plops himself in front of the TV.
After a couple months he begins to realize that no matter how much sleep he gets, he still seems to be in a mental fog all day long. He’s been getting sick more and more often; so much so that he feels like he is sick at least once every week or two.
Compare Bill to John, who eats a relatively wholesome diet throughout the week. When he does feel the urge to snack, he makes smarter choices than Bill. He often chooses more natural foods containing a better ratio of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. His usual choices include things like Greek yogurt, beef jerky, and fresh fruit.
Since John is receiving higher quality nutrients and keeping his calories consistent with his energy expenditure throughout the day, he does not put himself at risk of heart disease, insomnia, or low energy levels. John enjoys consistent energy throughout the day, as well as an overall positive mood. He can attribute all these positive outcomes to the fact that he makes smarter food choices throughout the day.
Nutrition plays a significant role in how you recover from your training sessions afterwards as well, which is an often overlooked aspect of health and fitness. Along with proper sleep and hydration, your diet is the primary determinant of just how well you will recover and progress towards your goals.
This begs the question, how can we make sure that our diets are aligned with our training goals? Turns out we just need to remember and understand the fundamentals of nutrition.
‘Processed’ vs ‘Natural’
You might be wondering what this site refers to as ‘clean’ foods. We are referring to those that are minimally processed. Vegetables, fruits, and meats in their ‘natural’ states (or as close as possible) are generally the best choices.
Pretty much the entirety of these types of foods can be found in what some people like to call the ‘Ring of Life’ at the grocery store. That ‘ring’ edges around the outside aisles and edges of grocery stores. Meats, baked goods,and produce are all found in these areas and are, for the most part, all ‘nutrient dense.’ The term ‘nutrient dense’ means that they have a fantastic ratio of nutrients to calories, unlike most processed goods.
As you wander towards the inner aisles of the store you begin to find processed goods such as crackers, potato chips, and soda’s. There is nothing inherently ‘wrong’ with any of those things. They have their uses, and, when eaten in moderation, they can help keep the average person from going crazy or dropping off of their diets.
These foods tend to be heavy on carbohydrates and fat while lacking a good proportion of actual nutrients. You will find some nutrient fortifications, but for the most part they are lacking in nutritional substance and most are generally empty calories that do nothing for your diet.
Finding out what you need to consume each day, calorie wise, and sticking within those limits will go miles in helping you reach your goals.
When you don’t bring in enough calories to make up for what you used throughout the day, your body will generally start to burn it’s fat deposits for extra fuel. Usually, that is what we want and it is completely acceptable to be on calorie deficits of up to 500 calories a day from what we should be eating for maintenance. However, restricting more than that for too long comes with a whole set of problems.
If you start hitting deficits of 1000 or more calories each day your body may go into starvation mode. This will turn your body from a fat burning machine into a survival mechanism, slowing your metabolism in an attempt to survive. That survival instinct might even cause you to start GAINING weight when you under eat!
Other negative effects of under eating include:
- Reproductive issues
- Fluctuating blood sugar levels
- Mood swings
- Loss of lean (muscle) mass
- Skin problems
- Bad overall performance
- Increased injury risk
Alternatively, eating too much may cause you to feel sluggish, lazy, and tired. Feeling bloated can cause anyone to want to skip the gym and take a nap. Compound that lazy feeling with the inevitable weight gain that comes from over eating and the sense of insecurity that comes with it, and you might just become a hermit; afraid to go out in public and face perceived judgements by others. It’s a vicious cycle that’s best not to get caught up in.
Other negative aspects of over eating include:
- Changes to your circadian (sleep) cycle
- Expanded stomach, needing more and more to feel ‘full’
- Skin issues
- Increased risk of disease
- High blood pressure
- Bad overall performance
- Increased injury risk
If you need help figuring out how much you should be consuming daily, you should start by calculating your TDEE, and then comparing to what you have been eating.
For the sake of simplicity, there are two types of nutrients out there: Micronutrients and Macronutrients.
Micronutrients are things like vitamins and minerals. These are the types of nutrients you gather through food and multivitamins that your body uses for various functions. Examples include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B1/12/etc.
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K
Macronutrients are what your body breaks food down into. The three main macronutrient types out there are:
The average western diet is very carbohydrate heavy, which is bad and can lead to weight gain and a whole host of other health issues. Proper balancing of macro and micro nutrients helps increase focus and maintain balance throughout the body.
Hydration is enormously important to your diet. Often it is an afterthought and one of the most overlooked parts of an all around healthy system. Roughly 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. What does the term ‘chronically dehydrated’ mean and how does it play into diet?
- Slower metabolism
- Cramps and Spasms
- Lack of focus
Proper hydration can boost your body’s ability to remove waste from itself, boost your metabolic rate, and help increase focus and clarity, regardless of what you are doing. Additionally, proper hydration may help with recovery times and sleep cycles.
How much you need to drink each day depends on age, sex, activity levels, sweat rates, etc.
Your Goals Matter
Whether your goal is to gain muscle, lose weight, or be more all around functionally fit, you must make sure that you’re eating the proper amount of calories. The keyword here is ‘enough.’ Obviously, what you need to consume will vary depending on different factors such as goal(s), age, and sex.
Whether you’re dieting to lose weight or gain mass, you still have to make sure you’re eating enough calories to reach your goals in a healthy way that maximizes fat loss and maintains (or grows) lean mass.
Lifestyle should be taken into account here. Changing your lifestyle doesn’t have to be quite as dramatic as people believe. Following a proper diet plan will require you to modify your daily routine to some extent, but small steps are easier than cold turkey change all at once.
Some first steps to changing your diet might include:
- Not ordering an appetizer when attending lunch with your co-workers.
- Preparing your meals for the week ahead of time.
- Setting reminders on your phone to drink more water.
What works for you might not work for others. Find what works and what doesn’t. Stick with it. Results will come.
Hard work pays off
The key to understanding proper nutrition is simple:
- Eat within your caloric needs.
- Balance mostly nutrient dense foods with a smaller amount of junk
- Consume plenty of water.
- Supplement at needed
It may seem difficult at first, but once you start to understand proper nutrition and begin to establish some good habits (the average person takes about 2 months), chances are you will succeed.
Create a plan for yourself, make actionable goals, build a habit.
You have 24 hours a day to make good food choices. That is, of course, minus when you are asleep. Make sure they are the right ones.
If you need a push, are looking for accountability, or generally just need some help, check out what we offer to help get you off to a good start.