07 Mar What is Good Nutrition? Part III
What is Good Nutrition For?
But what is it all for? What is the point of good nutrition?
Is it just to please some arbitrary commandments set forth by your Grandmama, your trainer, healthcare professional, or government regulations?
When people think about good nutrition, they tend to think of “healthy” bodies that just look and feel… good.
Many of us have a hard time specifically describing good nutrition, so it can be equally hard for us to measure, or even describe, the healthy bodies it produces.
We just kind of know it when we see it or feel it.
Let’s shine some light on what it means to look and feel good.
Principle III: Good Nutrition accomplishes health, body composition, and performance goals.
When making changes to improve our nutrition, we usually want specific outcomes. We want to feel better, to look better, and to live fulfilling lives without physical limitation.
AT LEAST YOU’VE GOT YOUR HEALTH
When everything seems to fall apart, “at least you’ve got your health,” they say.
Your health is your foundation.
But the common pursuit of health is often ambiguous, much like the nutrition habits on which it’s determined.
What does it mean to “get healthier?” How do we do it, and how do we know if it’s working?
I’ve worked with plenty of people whose goals were no more descriptive than “I just want to be healthy / healthier.”
Even using the same words, each person meant something slightly different!
So let’s get down to it.
How’s your digestive system?
Your immune system?
Your cardiovascular system?
And how’s that reproductive system?
You could objectively measure the well-being of these systems and more through interpretations of your resting heart rate, blood pressure, blood panels, etc.
This is where your doctor comes in to help you interpret these data.
But as I learned from Scott Abel, “not everything that matters can be measured.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I like numbers as much as the next data-driven lunatic, but subjective measures can also provide useful information.
Are you having any symptoms?
Low energy, poor sleep quality, being sleepy at the “wrong times,” headaches, excessive fatigue in and out of the gym, and many other possible symptoms might just be your body trying to tell you something.
On a simple 5-point scale, you might try rating:
- the quality of your sleep
- your overall energy
- the general appearance of your skin
- and yes, even your sex drive
Sex drive? Really??
Listen, if a body wants to reproduce, you can be fairly certain it’s well-nourished and healthy enough to think it’s a good idea to create more of them.
Good nutrition accomplishes these health goals by bringing you closer to each of these ideals of healthy human function.
- If you’re eating too little, you’re starving and your health will suffer
- If you’re eating too much, your body is flooded and your health will suffer.
- If you’re deficient in a particular micronutrient, many of the reactions in your body that depend on that nutrient are slowed down or don’t happen at all… and your health will suffer.
- If your nutrition is fine but you’re eating foods you’re allergic to, you’re triggering an immune response every time you eat… and your health will suffer.
- If your nutrition is not managing inflammation, it’s likely contributing to the problem, and your health will suffer.
- If your nutrition isn’t supporting the healthy bacteria in your gut, then your digestive and immune systems might not function as they well as they could be, so your health could suffer.
WHAT ARE YOU MADE OF
For many people “fitness” means just one thing – “How much do I weigh?”
That’s bodyweight only. You know, how much mass they have, irrespective of whether it’s boney, jiggly, or contracting powerfully against 600lbs of iron.
Surely we can do better.
Far more important than our total weight is our body composition, or how much of our weight is made of muscle tissue vs fat tissue. It’s a better marker of health and whether or not your nutrition (and training) is actually doing a body good.
The amount of muscle on your body directly influences your metabolic rate. The more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate and the more food (including carbohydrates!) you get to eat. This means you have more opportunities to feed your body nutrient-dense foods and resist metabolic disorders like diabetes.
Muscle mass is also correlated with greater health and wellbeing in the elderly, particularly as they’re one of the most susceptible populations to losing muscle tissue.
The more muscle you have, the more armor your bones have to protect you from collision.
The more muscle you have, the more stable your body will be. Muscle will help to absorb the collision forces so your bony skeleton or ACL doesn’t have to.
If you play contact sports, a little extra muscle could save you from a concussion or broken bone.
If you happen to slip and fall, your meaty armor will protect your bones from fracturing on the impact.
Or, God forbid you ever get into a car accident, that armor could mean the difference between suffering a life-threatening injury or walking away with a few bumps and bruises.
The more muscle you have, the better you look. “Curves” are an attractive trait for both men and women, but unlike fat, muscle tissue doesn’t conform to the forces of gravity.
With more muscle and less fat, your muscles will better resemble this basketball… and less of this melted-ice-cream-lookin’ mess of a basketball.
Now have a look at these animals. Some have lots of fat, some have lots of muscle (and no fat at all).
Which would you rather look like?
Building muscle isn’t just for competitive bodybuilders.
Okay so you’re a regular person with no aspirations to oil yourself up and pose for an audience of meat-admirers (like I sometimes do), but you’re also frustrated that you don’t have very much muscle tissue.
Guess what – the same methods that helped Mr. Olympia (or Batman) build his 200lbs of muscle up to 250lbs are the same methods you can use to take your 75lbs of lean tissue up to 100lbs.
The direction is the same, it’s just a matter of degree.
And if you “accidentally” get too jacked (good luck.), the solution is simple. Bed rest and ice cream!
So either your body becomes a super sexy machine that’s impervious to injury and devoid of limitation…or you get to chill out and eat ice cream in bed.
…Can you really lose here?
Good nutrition accomplishes body composition goals by supporting the growth and retention of muscle tissue, the burning of excess body fat, and improving the density of our bones.
So instead of bodyweight, chase the improvement of your body composition.
You’ll be healthy and sexy.
Finally, good nutrition accomplishes your performance goals.
On the light end, we’re talking about getting through the day with all of the errands and chores you might usually perform (sitting, standing, driving, bringing the groceries home, etc.).
We’re talking about having the energy to spring out of bed, go through a full work day, sitting through board meetings with a high degree of focus, and finish out a long day with enough gas in the tank to want to shoot some hoops with the young guys.
Can you get through the day?
Once baseline health is accounted for and daily activities pose no problem, your nutrition must support the heavy training you use to continually upgrade your body and its capabilities.
Competitive Sport vs Recreational Sport
Towards the heavier end of the performance spectrum exists high-level sport performance.
Do you like playing dodgeball in rec leagues, going surfing, rock climbing, or skiing?
This isn’t just about playing professional hockey or semi-pro football. All of these activities require higher levels of performance, and if you’re going to be skiing double black diamonds all day, you better have the nutrition to match.
Good nutrition feeds your ability to perform – to play, to train hard, to recover properly, and to create the adaptations that make your body stronger for the next time.
- prioritizing a vague and immeasurable vision of “health”
- neglecting body composition: 9 times out of 10, just getting leaner will make you healthier
- neglecting performance: if your body comp and health are doing well or “within normal range” but your performance is suffering (getting weaker, you can’t recover as well) then your nutrition is not good enough
- not viewing the body holistically: a healthy body performs well, recovers well, feels energetic, and looks the part
By having an immeasurable vision of “health,” it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that your nutrition is good and healthy.
By chasing the wrong goal (like scale weight over body composition) you might also be inadvertently chasing the wrong solutions. If you’re losing weight, but you’re not getting leaner, is your nutrition taking you in the right direction?
Finally, make sure your performance is improving or at least staying the same within your training.
Good nutrition accomplishes all of these goals, and they can all be measured.
Whatever your personal goal for training and nutrition, it’s important to have some way to quantify your progress. This is the only way you’ll know whether your approach is bringing you closer to your goal or being a complete waste of time.