Having a balanced, clean diet is fundamental in aiding fitness improvement. It can help in muscle building, weight loss and generally feeling better and achieving your personal goals. It is important to determine what "diet" means. Essentially it describes what you consume through eating and drinking, whether this be chicken breasts, steak or water.
When most people hear the word "diet" they have mental images of people starving themselves thin, or eating disgustingly plain foods all the time. Indeed, diet is a buzzword nowadays, with many celebrity style fad diets circulating about. Prime examples of these are the Atkins Diet, South Beach Diet and the Pritikin Weight Loss Breakthrough. All of these diets claim to make weight loss quick and easy, and have you feeling better in a week by targeting and exploiting various aspects of nutrition such as protein, fats and the dreaded carbohydrates. The simple fact is that diets such as these do not work. How many people do you see "on a diet", experiencing no results or looking ill from lack of various nutrients they have cut out? It is also worth looking at the individuals who invent these diets. Do they practice what they preach? Are they all thin, prime physical specimens? In a word, No.
So lets explore what makes up a good, clean, balanced diet. Lets examine the foods you should be eating, and when you should be eating them.
The basic rule is to eat 6 small meals a day. This will keep you feeling full and satisfied all day, instead of snacking every few minutes, filling your face with unhealthy foods such as burgers, chips and soft drinks. Here is a basic guideline as to when you should be eating throughout the day:
11:00- Small, healthy snack
15:00- Small, healthy snack
20:00- Small, healthy snack
Take a look at your current diet and make a list of the things you know you should not really be eating lots of (such as pizza, burgers, chips, fries, hot dogs and other high fat foods). Put this list to one side, we will come back to it later. Now take a look at the things you feel are healthy (meats, dairy products, vegetables, storageables such as pasta or rice). You should be eating these types of things regularly, but in moderation.
Lets analyse some important aspects of nutrition, this will give you a clear overview of the pros and cons of various types of food.
Carbs do not get the respect they deserve. In this day and age, it is like people have been programmed to not eat carbs for fear of becoming obese overnight. While it is true that some carbs can lead to gaining weight, there are others which should be a staple form of your diet. Good Carbs such as brown rice, brown pasta, fruits and wholemeal products should form the bulk of your carbohydrate intake. They allow for the slow release of energy through the day, which will leave you feeling alert. Bad Carbs such as white breads, sugary products, white rice, white flower and so forth should not be consumed much. It is easy to identify bad carbs, essentially if it tastes good its bad. On a serious note, bad carbs can be identified as they almost always lead to an energy high followed by a downer leaving you feeling sleepy and apathetic. This is due to the excessive insulin and other chemicals your body produces to break them down. Identifying good and bad carbs should be the first thing you do when cleaning up your diet.
Pro: Give you energy (more effective through good carbs)
Pro: Make you feel alert and content
Con: Can lead to highs and downers (bad carbs)
Con: Can lead to weight gain if consumed in large amounts
Proteins are essential for the body to build muscle, repair tissues, fight infection and maintain a balance of fluid. They should be consumed regularly. Having protein in your body means your metabolism will be faster and therefore lead to weight loss. Just as there are good and bad carbohydrates there are also good and bad proteins. Examples of good proteins are skinless, boneless chicken breasts, steak, lean pork chops, beans and other pulses, eggs, dairy products and fish. Examples of bad proteins are deli meats, burgers, hot dogs and other sausage meats (use your judgement here, if its covered in fat or has been fried its no good). Generally, the rule is that if more than 30% of your daily calorific intake is protein, your over the limit. However this can change depending on whether you're looking to bulk up and add muscle.
Pro: Can prevent illness
Pro: Helps build muscle
Con: Can lead to weight gain if consumed too much
Fats are not bad for you (in conservative amounts). As with other areas of nutrition, there are good and bad fats. The most unhealthy type of fats are trans fats. These can be found in cookies, crackers, chips, popcorns, margarines, instant noodles and fried foods. Saturated fats, such as those from animal products are also bad for you in large amounts, so don't overdo it on the steak. Good fats such as Omega- 3s are essential for the body, they can reduce heart disease and cancer. These are mainly found in fish, greens and nuts. Monounsaturated fats such as those found in oils are also essential for the body. These enrich the body with vitamin e and other antioxidants. Olive oil is the best form of monounsaturated fat to consume on a regular basis, not only is it good for you, it tastes great too.
Pro: Provides the body with antioxidants
Pro: Helps keep the body healthy
Con: Can lead to weight gain if BAD FATS are consumed in large amounts
Most people cut dairy products out of their diet as soon as they decide to lose weight. This should not be the case. In some respects this is justified, dairy products such as full fat milk, high fat cheeses and full fat creams do lead to gaining weight and should therefore be avoided. However most other dairy products that are low in fat are perfect to eat. Not only do dairy products contain calcium that helps strengthen bones, they also contain high levels of protein. Low fat milks, yoghurts and cottage cheese especially should form the bulk of your dairy product intake for reasons explained above.
Pro: Taste Great
Pro: Contain lots of Calcium and Protein
Con: Can lead to weight gain if full fat products consumed regularly
Most people nowadays do not eat enough fibre or "roughage". Fibre helps our body eliminate waste and sweeps out harmful toxins before they can do any damage. It is therefore essential to include a generous amount of fibre in your diet. Not only does it lower cholesterol, it steadies your blood sugar levels so you don't experience highs and downers. Fibre can be found in foods such as beans, oatmeal, chickpeas and other such pulses. Fruits such as dates and figs are also packed full of natural fibre and should be consumed regularly.
By now you might be thinking "enough already!". Sticking to a clean diet is a tough task to undertake. Even though it is rewarding in that you will start to feel and look great, it is just difficult. It is human nature to want to go off on a tangent and eat something unhealthy like a cheeseburger or a pizza now and again. That is why you should stick to a clean diet apart from 1 day when you can eat anything you want (sunday). Take out that list of unhealthy foods you made earlier and enjoy it. Sit down and order a pizza or have a hotdog or 2. Get all your cravings out of your system on your day off, this will make sticking to a clean diet in the week seem incredibly easy!