In our first two installments of this series we identified the fundamental things that form our nutritional base and some more advanced tweaks that might boost your progress.
Today, we're going to focus on the high-hanging fruit. These are the hardest to implement strategies. In this category you'll find all of the various specialty diets that you might have heard about. From intermittent fasting to keto to paleo we're going to touch on what each of them is and why someone might derive a benefit from them. But first, we're going to discuss why they might not be the best solution for you.
Regardless of what specific methodology they promote, specialty diets have two primary things in common:
They eliminate much of the processed, calorie dense and nutrient poor foods you might otherwise eat.
To be compliant with the diet, you must adhere to a rigid set of rules.
The first point reflects something called dietary displacement, and it's why different people can report amazing results on vastly different diet strategies. Ultimately, switching to a highly restrictive diet means you're going to eliminate excess sugar, highly refined carbs and many processed foods. That equates to a whole lot of empty, unnecessary calories being removed from the diet. It's only natural that weight and fat loss would follow implementation of a specialty diet.
However, the restrictive nature of these diets makes them difficult to adhere to. Absent a solid fundamental base, you're going to struggle implementing them for the long-haul. A fact acknowledged by fitness professional Jordan Syatt:
I'd rather you hit your nutrition 80% than 100%.— Jordan Syatt (@SyattFitness) January 15, 2019
At 80% you can go out, enjoy yourself and not get obsessive with every single calorie.
Your progress will be slower. But it will be more sustainable & enjoyable.
100% on point with nutrition isn't perfect.
Assuming you have no health considerations that require a specialized nutritional intervention, you'd be wise to look critically at the necessity of these types of diets. After all, happiness is a major part of being healthy.
Now, let's take a brief look at 5 popular diet strategies and what each of them entails:
Intermittent fasting is a timing strategy that utilizes eating "windows". The most common variant allows for an 8-hour eating window (e.g. noon-8pm) followed by a 16-hour fasting window.
Some protocols do not place restrictions on what foods you can or cannot have. Others might vary the macronutrient content based upon the exercise volume for the day. Regardless, the underlying theory is that by restricting the number of hours you can eat, you will also restrict overall caloric intake.
Having experimented with intermittent fasting, I have found benefits to energy levels and body composition. However, if you're not careful with how you structure your meals (timing, size, content) you may not realize the highly touted body composition benefits of this strategy. It some cases, hunger might cause you to overconsume calories or choose options that are not nutrient dense. If energy intake exceeds energy output, weight will go up. If you consume low quality calories, body composition will not improve or even worsen.
The Ketogenic (keto) diet is characterized by high protein and fat intake, with a very low carb intake. By replacing your carb intake with fat, your body goes into ketosis. With carbohydrate sources scarce, fat becomes the body's primary energy source, while the brain get its energy from ketones.
A well-executed keto diet will be high in lean protein, healthy oils, nuts and veggies high in fiber. Typically, most fruits and starchy vegetables are a no-go because they will not allow the body to achieve ketosis. Alcohol and refined carbs are off limits as well.
For someone who is pre-diabetic or a Type II diabetic, the ketogenic diet can help to reduce blood glucose levels. Those who are looking for an extreme fat loss strategy (e.g. for competition) may also benefit.
However, this diet may not be the best choice for those who are working out at high intensities, doing a lot of running/sprinting or who do not have competition oriented fat loss goals. Rather, such individuals would be well served to eat healthy carb sources to maintain energy and performance levels.
The paleo diet operates under that theory that our ancestors from the Paleolithic era ate certain foods only obtainable by hunting and gathering. Thus anything that is farmed or processed is off limits.
While we can debate the assumptions about what our ancestors ate, it's fair to acknowledge what Paleo gets right. With an emphasis on lean protein, nuts and veggies, Paleo naturally steers people toward healthier eating habits.
It becomes restrictive when it eliminates ALL processed foods, dairy and the occasional chocolate chip cookie (unless you can find the elusive cookie tree growing in the wild). Processed foods aren't always the enemy, and if you're on the go you'll benefit from having a protein bar or some powdered greens in your bag.
Personally, I don't want to live in a world where cheese, the occasional ice cream and Pappardelle Bolognese are forbidden. I'd much rather make protein and veggies the base of my meals and figure it out from there.
The gluten free diet eliminates any sources of the protein gluten from the diet. About 15% of the population has a diagnosed gluten intolerance. In this population gluten triggers an auto-immune response that leads to inflammation and digestive issues.
Foods high in gluten include wheat, barley, rye and some oats. Grains such as rice, quinoa and corn do not contain gluten. Therefore, the base of a gluten-free diet is protein and veggies, along with the aforementioned gluten-free grains.
Positive results from a gluten-free diet in those who do not have an intolerance can likely be attributed to a reduction is processed and refined grains and an increase in protein and vegetables. However, gluten free doesn’t necessarily mean healthy, as plenty of calorie dense gluten-free snacks and foods exist.
If you don’t have an intolerance, it's not truly necessary to follow a gluten-free diet. Hitting your nutrition fundamentals 80% of the time will suffice.
While several different plant based diet variants exist, at their core these diets eliminate all animal products. Sometimes people choose to a follow a plant-based diet for personal reasons aside from a specific health issue. Others follow a plant-based diet because they're dealing with a health concern, like Type I diabetes, and they've seen improvements versus a traditional diet.
The biggest challenge with a plant-based diet is ensuring that protein, vitamins and nutrients are still consumed. Therefore, you must be strategic in your implementation. For example, to get all of the essential amino acids into your diet it's important to eat complimentary plant sources, like rice and beans.
Just like the other diets, sugar and refined carbs must be kept to a minimum, while meals must be organized to maximize nutrient quality and availability.
As you can see, the most important thing that these diets have in common is their emphasis on healthy, nutrient dense foods. However, without good fundamentals none of these diets will deliver positive long-term results. I should also point out that everyone responds differently. What works for one person may have no impact on another. I encourage you to experiment. Figure out what you respond to and what you don't. Define what you're willing to give up and what you can't live without. In the end you'll have created a sustainable process to follow and you'll be much happier having done so.
Lastly, if you're looking to get 2019 started off on the right foot and would like a bit of direction, then check out our 12-week ReBUILD program. We offer programs for both men and women. It's perfect for someone with some knowledge, skill and experience who'd like to reengage with strength training! If you have questions or would like to learn more about Vitalifit's programs please contact us today.