Back to the first question I asked in, “Good Nutrition: Why it Matters?”
“What is good nutrition?”
What was your definition? Is it complete, feel like it is lacking or maybe completely misguided? With so much information, misinformation, fad diets and human variability it’s easy to get lost. We’ve all been exposed to outrageous, oversimplify, and flat-out incorrect information.
Here is a complete picture of what a good nutrition plan will include:
- Good nutrition properly controls energy balance.
- Good nutrition provides nutrient density.
- Good nutrition achieves health, performance and body composition goals.
- Good nutrition is honest and outcome-based.
- Good nutrition is sustainable for both us and the planet.[i]
Let’s dive in and discuss these in greater detail.
1. Good Nutrition Properly Controls Energy Balance.
The term “energy balance” refers to energy intake and energy expenditure of the body.
This is commonly referred to as “energy in” and “energy out.”
“Energy in” – All food and drinks have potential energy. We consume them and once digested and absorbed they provide us with energy usually measured in Calories. (a Calorie or Kcal is a standard unit to measure the amount of potential energy stored in food.)
“Energy out” –
Resting metabolic rate (RMR)
Daily activities, intentional exercise (Physical activity and NEAT)
Thermic effect of feeding [(TEF) processing food for use and storage]
All the physical and chemical processes that occur to sustain life, also known as metabolism.
As you can see there are two parts of this equation. There are then three possible outcomes:
Neutral energy balance: Calories in = Calories out which results in a stable weight
Positive energy balance: Calories in > Calories out = weight gain
Negative energy balance: Calories in < Calories out resulting in weight loss
These principles are governed by the laws of thermodynamics and cannot be violated.
Energy balance goes beyond the scope of simple weight change and affects you metabolically, on a cellular level, influences your hormonal balance, mood and more.
Good nutrition helps to adequately control energy balance, preventing drastic swings in either direction (crash dieting anyone?) so that the body can lose fat or gain muscle in healthy and sustainable ways.
2. Good Nutrition Provides Nutrient Density.
Simply put, all foods contain:
Calories – potential energy to be turned into kinetic energy and used by the body) and
Nutrients – vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc.
Nutrient density refers to how many nutrients are in a food relative to its Calorie content.
High nutrient foods provide plenty of key nutrients per 100 Calories.
They tend to be low in Calories and high in nutrients, while some are high in Calories and nutrients.
Lower nutrient dense foods are higher in Calories and (you guessed it) lower in nutrients.
High nutrient density foods – lean meats, vibrant colored fruits and vegetables, and unprocessed high fiber grains.
Low nutrient density foods – soda, sugar, ice cream and white flour (unless enriched, then it’s sooo much better for you!)
Foods also have calorie density which refers to how many calories they have compared to their weight.
High calorie foods – chocolate, cheese, butter, bacon, cookies, nuts and nut butters etc.
Low calorie foods – fruits and vegetables, spinach, broccoli, broths, chicken breast
A diet that combines both high nutrient-dense foods and low calorie-dense foods will improve health, promote fat loss and have the additional benefits:
-Easy to control energy intake (without counting calories)
-Hard to overeat
-Leave you feeling fuller longer (protein and fiber provide more satiety) satiation
-Provide more essential nutrients
If looking to build muscle a high-nutrient-dense, high-calorie-dense diet would be utilized as both are paramount for gaining muscle and increasing weight.
3. Good Nutrition Improves Body Composition, Health, and Performance.
Said another way, good nutrition improves the way you look, feel, and perform.
You can sacrifice one for the other and in the short-term this may pay off, but nutrition is a skill that we can practice for life and want to take a long view approach to.
Some diet plans can cause rapid weight-loss but will drastically impede performance and health. e.g. modern day cleanses and crash diets.
Good nutrition supports and combines all three goals.
4. Good Nutrition is Honest and Outcome-Based.
If someone told you that they ate a healthy diet that was “perfect” yet they were overweight, out of shape, had low energy, high blood pressure, and type II diabetes you would probably be suspicious of following their plan.
Is it possible to have some ailments while actually eating healthy, yes, is it likely, no.
In practicing Good Nutrition we must be honest with the results it produces.
If you have good a plan that you follow there should be positive outcomes that happen. If these outcomes are lacking, then either you aren’t compliant enough with the plan or the plan could use some work.
This is just one way that people may not be honest about their nutrition or lack the knowledge to assess intake properly.
In “outcome-based decision making” theory is useless and what matters is results.
We cannot control the outcomes but we can control the HABITS that lead to your desired outcomes.
5. Good Nutrition is Sustainable for Both Us and The Planet.
The good news is that what is best for us is also what is best for our planet. By being mindful of buying locally, minimally processed foods, not over consuming or letting food and water go to waste you can do your part in sustaining yourself and the planet properly.
Good Nutrition is a Lifelong Journey
Too many people get lost in the quick and easy route, 90 days to your ultimate Greek God or Goddess body. Nothing that’s going to produces real results is going to be “easy” but it doesn’t have to be boot camp hard.
Choose consistency over intensity instead.
If you wanted to master an instrument or learn a new language you wouldn’t expect to attain mastery in 6-12 weeks so why not take the same approach to nutrition. Every day you get to practice, sharpen your skills, learn new things and invest in your fitness, health, body, planet and life.
Learning what Good Nutrition is can be a great thing, but applying it is even better.
(Part 3! Good Nutrition: Triage)
[i] Berardi, John et al.,The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, Precision Nutrition, Second Edition, 2013.
[ii] Basiotis, P. P., “Consumption of Food Group Servings: People’s Perceptions vs. Reality,” Nutrition Insights, Oct. 2000.