Here’s Why You Should Avoid Extreme Diets
Everyone starts in the gym wants to get results fast! This urgency can lead us to try some pretty crazy training routines, and it also makes us buy in to extreme diets that promise the quick gains we’re after.
But if you’re looking to stay fit and healty for a lifetime, you should AVOID fad eating plans whenever possible.
You Need Fat
While fad diets had been around for decades beforehand, extreme eating for “health” really got a boost in the 1980s and 1990s when the media jumped all over a couple of reports that indicated a high intake of saturated fat might lead to heart disease.
Never known for our restraint, Americans seized on this idea, and food manufacturers were only too happy to oblige. By the 1990s, our store shelves were full of non-fat “goodies” like cookies, figs, and special dairy products. What we didn’t realize, or care about, at the time was that all that fat had been replaced by sugar. Other products dropped the saturated animal fats in favor of hydrogenated vegetable fats, or the now-dreaded trans fats.
Looking back, it’s not too hard to see why the low-fat craze did little to help us lose weight — loads of sugar and funny chemicals aren’t typically high on the list of health foods.
What was a bit more subtle than our continually expanding waistlines were the thousands of people who began suffering from dry skin, brittle hair and nails, and a general lack of energy. Who knows how many man saw their testosterone levels plummet as they embraced low-fat eating and the aerobics lifestyle!
You NEED fat in order to survive, let alone grow new muscle. In particular, your body cannot manufacture the essential fatty acids linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). These powerhouses not only help keep your skin and hair looking good, they are essential for proper nerve function, optimal energy production, and a strong immune system. Even that villain of the past, saturated fat, is vital to men who want to maintain their testosterone levels.
The upshot is that any diet which has you striving for near-zero fat levels on a daily basis is a road to nowhere as far as your health and muscle growth are concerned.
You Need Carbohydrates
Not to be outdone by the low-fat crowd are the zealots on the low-carb side of the dieting debate. In fact, high-fat eating plans have been trending since at least the early 1970s when the Atkins Diet first hit the scene.
By eliminating most of the carbohydrates from your diet, high-fat plans force you to rely on burning fat and fat byproducts — usually ketone bodies — for your long-term energy sources. The rationale behind these diets is that carbs cause your blood sugar to spike and tank throughout the day, which can leave you feeling tired and hungry most of the time.
While high-fat plans CAN help smooth out your energy curve, they have their problems, too. Beyond issues with constipation, a treacherous first couple of weeks while your body adjusts, and potential complications with your blood lipid profiles, high-fat diets ignore the fact that your body prefers carbohydrates when given the choice.
Unless you have a specific metabolic or other health condition and have been instructed to eat a high-fat diet by your doctor, there is little reason to avoid carbohydrates
You Need Protein
Of course, for bodybuilders, the overarching dietary principle is that you need to take in sufficient protein at each of your meals and over the course of every day. While neither the “traditional” low-fat or low-carb fads specifically ask you to avoid protein, there are plenty of diets that do.
For the majority of lifters, and people in general, there is little benefit to be gained from diets that focus on one or two foods, like the grapefruit diet, or junk-food diets that claim “a calorie is a calorie.”
The guiding principles when it comes to eating for health and new muscle mass are these:
- Make sure you get plenty of lean, quality protein — about a gram per pound of bodyweight per day.
- Eat enough carbs to keep your glycogen stores ready for intense workouts – 100-400 grams per day will work well for most.
- Fill out your caloric requirements with quality fats from foods like nuts, nut butters, fatty fish, lean read meat, eggs, and dairy.
You can fine-tune these recommendations depending on how you feel and your personal tastes, but any plan that takes you very far from this balance should at least cause you to raise your eyebrows.
Work with your doctor or nutritionist to figure out if you DO need a special diet, but, for most lifters, moderation rules, and will make you bigger, stronger, and healthier.
Contributed by Paul Becker Personal Trainer