Nutrition is always a popular topic of discussion. There is a huge volume of information (and misinformation) available on the interwebz, and it can be hard to tell what’s correct, what is applicable to you, and what is patently false. This is where we come in – it’s our job as coaches to help you navigate through that mess. In that spirit, I wanted to take some time to answer two nutrition questions that I’ve been by several members in the last couple of weeks.
1. Should I focus on food quality, or food quantity?
Short answer: yes. Ideally, we should strive to focus on both. Food quality (in other words, minimizing hyperpalatable, overly processed foods) ensures we get adequate micronutrient intake (vitamins, minerals, etc.) in our diet. Focusing on food quantity ensures that our caloric intake is where it needs to be to achieve our goals.
For many people, especially those outside of our gym, it’s unrealistic to weigh and measure everything they eat. And, for most people who take an interest in nutrition, it’s because they want to lose weight. CrossFitters and gym goers may delve into nutrition to boost performance, but we are in the minority. Given how frequently we’re surrounded by each other, it’s easy to lose sight of that and assume that we’re the norm. So, with general population in mind, we start their nutritional journey by focusing on food quality. This is for two reasons:
- Adding foods IN, rather than taking them away, is psychologically easier to manage. We focus on adding in more veggies, more protein, and more water. If clients fill up on these foods first, their less likely to go overboard with the hyperpalatable foods.
- Higher quality foods are less calorically dense than hyperpalatable foods. This means that eating the same volume of food results in fewer calories consumed. One cup of broccoli has far fewer calories than one cup of chocolate, but the space filled in your stomach will be the same.
In other words, we are restricting caloric intake, without starving the client, or focusing on what they CAN’T eat. However, if a general population client already eats a very nutritious diet and still can’t seem to lose weight, the only way to see what is going on is to track food intake by weighing and measuring. One of my favorite examples is a client who would use olive oil as a salad dressing, because it was a “healthy” food. This client would add 6 tablespoons to their massive salads; one for lunch, and one for dinner. It’s salad, it has to be healthy, right? Well, this client certainly got their vitamins in, but what they didn’t account for, was the 1428 calories they were getting DAILY from olive oil alone (1 tbsp. is ~119 calories).
At some point, which is different for everyone based on their goals, it will become important to track and log your food. This is a particularly useful tool, and I encourage everyone to try it for 6-8 weeks. Once you do, you’ll have a better understanding of portion control, and you can go back to estimating portions and focusing on food quality.
Long answer short, both quality and quantity are important. Which we focus on first depends on the individual and their goals. Goals can change, but good health is always important, so maintain a focus on food quality.
2. Does Keto work?
CrossFit Health has been pushing the keto diet, and it’s immensely popular in our society today. Once again, we must get more specific in the question. Who is asking, and what are they trying to achieve? Once again, most people who opt to try Keto are trying to lose weight. In this case, Keto can work, because you remove carbohydrates from your diet. By limiting what foods you can eat, you don’t eat as much.
It’s worth noting that recent studies have shown low carb (keto) and low fat diets, when controlled for total calories, both work effectively. Neither was more effective than the other in a laboratory setting. However, we do not live in a lab (I haven’t since college 😊). Studies don’t consider our daily lives or psychology, and the most important piece that is missing here is compliance. It’s MUCH harder to comply outside of a lab. I would argue that for general population, this is where Keto has an edge. In my experience, most people find it easier to limit their carb intake than their fat intake. And CONSISTENCY is the most important piece of the puzzle.
For gym performance, however, I advise against Keto. The best way I’ve heard it described is that it’s like putting a lawn mower engine in a Ferrari. Sure, it will run, but it won’t perform the way it was designed to. Why? It all comes down to ATP, the fuel source that powers our cells. We produce ATP through various processes I won’t go into, but this is where our macros come in. Carbs, protein, and fat are all broken down to produce ATP. The more ATP we can produce, the higher our power output. We can burn fat all day long to produce ATP, but the process doesn’t yield much. When we’re in ketosis, fat is our primary fuel source. This means we have a long lasting supply of low power energy.
Most of what we do at Viking Athletics requires a high power output. Using fat as our predominant fuel source is therefore a mismatch. Fat is a better fuel source for long duration, low intensity exercise. As soon as you step on the accelerator, however, you need to have carbs available to fuel that boost. For VA members who want to give Keto a shot for weight loss purposes, just be advised that if you see a dip in athletic performance, this is to be expected.
Lastly – sustainability. As we outlined in question 1, it’s easier to add foods IN to a diet than to take them out. That’s not the case with Keto, which makes it harder to sustain long-term. For general population looking to lose weight, it can be an effective intervention, after which I would have them transition to focusing on food quality. For athletes, I would advise against it. But, at the end of the day, it’s about you and your goals, and what will work for you. Hopefully, this post provides some helpful information to aid in your decisions. See you in the gym.