A four-letter word many health-seekers commonly associate with deprivation and sacrifice, a ‘diet’ (ideally, a healthy eating plan) should instead be embraced as a key consideration when wanting to look, feel and perform at our best.
So entrenched has become the notion that we will invariably struggle to stay on track when dieting that many newbie dieters brace themselves and expect the worst when committing to a given nutrition plan. However, despite any negative connotations to the contrary, dieting, done right, is something to be anticipated and ultimately enjoyed, rather than dreaded for its assumed drawbacks.
For a sound diet is an undisputed key to good health and vitality. It’s the single most important way in which to enhance the performance of both mind and body and crucial when seeking to build and maintain an aesthetically-pleasing physique.
A diet can be defined as the beneficial foods a person, animal or community habitually eats for optimal wellbeing or a special course of food to which a person restricts themselves, either to lose weight or for medical reasons. Of these two main definitions, the former more accurately conveys how best to structure our nutrition for long-term adherence. Indeed, it’s the ‘special’ and ‘restrictive’ nature of many ‘diets’ that makes them extremely difficult to sustain and, in certain cases, harmful to the body.
Sadly, many diets, though well-meaning in their intentions, eliminate whole food groups and, in so doing, encourage the restriction of important nutrients. Such approaches, not surprisingly, tend not to work as intended – at least in the long run and for most populations.
Such diets can promote nutrient deficiencies, which may lead to various health problems, are often non-sustainable, or may result in a loss of energy or muscle mass (usually both). Invariably, any weight lost through such protocols is regained and, more deleteriously, the dieter may be primed, via negative metabolic adaptations, to add even more adipose.
A well-balanced diet which takes into account nutritional variety will always be the best way to maximize health and vitality. If sustained weight loss is the goal, simply adjust caloric intake to accommodate energy demands and continue to adjust as required (a good nutritionist can assist). The key to effective eating will always be sustainability and the degree to which we look, feel and perform at our best as a result.
Perhaps the most effective way to encourage a person to stick to a good eating plan is to point out the immediate physical and psychological benefits of healthy eating, rather than fixate on how this person may look and feel over the longer term. While favorable body composition benefits, for example, are a key selling point for most diets, it’s the general day-to-day improvements that really make such approaches sustainable and more attractive than might otherwise be the case.
So, without further delay, I present several of the more immediate health benefits of healthy eating, and provide a way forward for those wanting to improve their nutritional status to enhance physical and mental wellbeing.
One of the biggest selling points for healthy eating is the immediate energy to be gained by switching processed fare (and foods that are otherwise high in sugars, concentrated fats and starches) for a larger (or ideally, exclusive) intake of nutrient dense foods.
Rather than focusing on how the body looks (a process that can take many weeks before any real results become apparent), concentrate instead on how you feel and perform following a nutritious meal, and continue this line of thinking even when more tangible progress has occurred. The results of health eating can be instant. And surprising.
If, for example, you have an important task to complete (writing an article like this one, or less sedentarily, blasting through six sets of heavy squats with perfect form), a meal containing a good balance of vital nutrients can provide more energy in general and more specifically, a greater degree of focus and drive.
Good nutrition can make all the difference when it comes to energizing the body pre-workout (and this is why the right supplements can make or break a good training session). For example, a good mix of complex carbohydrates and clean proteins an hour out from training (50% carbs and 30% proteins with healthy fats comprising the balance) can both enhance mental clarity and provide the fuel for sustained anerobic output. The benefits of healthy eating extend beyond training. Indeed, it has also been found by consistently eating well, general productivity can be increased by up to 20%.13
Here I can draw from my own experience when it comes to training. Upon beginning intermittent fasting 1-2 days a week, I noticed that my performance in the gym was far less effective without a sufficient intake of carbs. For me it was amazing the difference a less than desirable intake of healthy carbs made to overall performance: a reduction in training poundage and less energy to get through the entire workout were experienced on all low-carb days. Thus, intermittent fasting is now reserved exclusively for non-training days. Bottom line: for readily usable energy, increase your carb intake on training days.
Many specific mental health benefits can be gained by tidying up one’s diet. While a diet high in the wrong types of calories can promote mental sluggishness and, in some instances, a depressed outlook on life within hours of eating a meal, sound nutrition is, on the other hand, known to change brain function for the better.
The connection between the gut and the brain is profoundly important when assessing a wide range of markers of good health – none more so than psychological health and wellbeing.
Foods high in simple sugars, for example, are known to have an inflammatory effect on the brain, which slows brain function and may increase the likelihood of depression (there is growing evidence that such inflammation can give rise to or exacerbate depressive symptoms).4, 10, 13, 14
However, by switching high sugar foods for more microbial accessible carbs (specifically, resistant starch, which escapes digestion in the small intestine, and non-starchy vegetables, which contain generous amounts of fiber) such inflammation is less likely to occur, and better mental health outcomes are, within mere hours, more likely to be experienced.
Specific nutrients associated with immediate mental health benefits include: Omega 3 essential fatty acids (in particular, those found in freshwater fish, chia seeds and flax oils), vitamin B-12 (from lean red meat, tuna and milk), and folate (from asparagus, lentils and chickpeas).
On average, within 2-3 days of healthy eating, hormone stabilization is also more likely when nutrition is optimal.8, 9, 21 Here, cortisol and insulin levels may be normalized, which can lead to more energy and greater mood stability.
Sleep difficulties can often be traced to nutritional deficiencies and stress (which itself is often caused, or exacerbated by poor nutritional choices).5, 7 What we eat in the hours before bed (and, less problematically, throughout the day) can greatly affect the quality and quantity of our sleep, which, in turn, may adversely affect most other areas of our lives: including energy, productivity, mood, hormone production and mental wellbeing, to name but a few.15
Simple sugars, which digest quickly and leave us unfulfilled can, for example, severely disrupt the sleep cycle and subsequently, due to the rapid onset of hunger that may result, cause wakefulness throughout the night. Processed foods and drinks which contain the stimulant caffeine can also interfere with quality sleep due to their stimulatory effects on the central nervous system. These are therefore to be avoided within 5-6 hours of bedtime.
Solution: the perfect night-time meal is one that’s light and composed primarily of clean proteins, remembering that carbs can be stored as fat if consumed late in the evening and may also have stimulatory effects of their own (this is not a hard and fast rule, but is nevertheless applicable to most people). Here, a serving of ALLMAX Casein-FX, slowly digested and ultra-high in essential amino acids, will sustain us while we sleep and lead to more restful slumber (not to mention greater muscle anabolism and more muscle gains).
In our gut live specialized bacteria which divide every 20 minutes and flourish depending on the kinds of foods we feed them. This is an important process because such bacteria, often referred to as our second brain to underscore their importance to physiological functioning, can either promote health or signal disease; whichever occurs can be traced to the ways we fertilize them (a minute-by-minute process that never stops).6, 19
A varied diet with a sufficient intake of plant-based nutrients, including a hefty complement of fermented foods such as kimchi, kombucha and sauerkraut, is especially beneficial for the gut microbiome (the collective bacteria of the gut).
Besides being of importance to the proper digestion and ultimate absorption of beneficial nutrients, the microbiome forms a protective barrier across the intestinal mucosa (collectively, the cells lining the intestine) to keep pathogens at bay and thus to enhance immunity, among other functions.
Simply put, a diversity of healthy nutrients produces a diversity of beneficial gut bacteria. The extent to which these gut bacteria thrive may have an immediate impact on whether we fall victim to disease or enjoy good health and vitality.
Closely related to the health of the microbiome, appetite reduction can, to belie the supposedly satiating effects of carb and fat-heavy fare, be more readily achieved on a diet of healthy foods. Firstly, healthy eating, as mentioned, positively changes the nature of the microbiome. This, by itself, can lower cravings for off-limits foods.1, 2, 3, 22
Secondly, consuming a wide-variety of foods as part of a well-balanced diet can also reduce food cravings through the stabilization of blood sugars and by supplying a superior source of life-sustaining nutrients, rather than those found in an inefficient diet comprised primarily of empty carbs (which are rapidly assimilated and prompt hunger shortly following consumption).
Remember: the calories contained in poor food choices are fast depleted and, as such, cause the body to crave something more substantial. Conversely, a diet comprised of healthy foods tends to be more sustaining and satiating.
While the major body composition benefits of more muscle and less bodyfat can take several weeks or months to achieve, there are nevertheless a range of more immediate aesthetic advantages to be gained by maintaining a diet of healthful whole foods.
First, easily digestible foods do not create the bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort we would expect from processed, empty-calorie laden fare. Less bloating and discomfort produce better posture and a smaller waistline. As such, clothes may feel looser and you’ll walk taller and with more confidence and vitality.
In addition, it is well-known that high sodium processed foods may greatly contribute to subcutaneous water retention, which conveys the illusion that one is carrying more bodyfat than is desirable or necessary.11, 16
By eliminating processed foods in favor of nutrient-dense whole foods, excess water retention can be addressed without resorting to potentially harmful diuretics and other dubious practices. By eliminating excess water, and provided obvious bodyfat levels are also addressed, muscle definition may no longer be obscured and we may more readily enjoy the benefits of a better-looking physique.
Of course, healthy foods are only healthy to the extent that each provides a full complement of health-promoting compounds (including essential fats, micronutrients, and amino acids). Unfortunately, many of the foods consumed today are lacking in these valuable nutrients (due to soil depletion, cooking and preservation methods, and other factors).
In addition, to fully benefit from healthy fare, the specific nutrient content of these foods must be sufficient. This may require consuming more of a certain food than is desirable from a caloric standpoint (for example, achieving the upper end of the recommended minimum daily intake of 500mg of omega 3 fatty acids (combined EPA and DHA) may require an excessive amount of fish and/or other high calorie foods).
Therefore, it’s smart practice to top up one’s intake of specific nutrients with the isolated and highly concentrated ingredients found in superior supplements.
ALLMAX Nutrition VitaStack
Electrolyte balance, joint support, mental functioning, cardiovascular efficiency, digestion, immune function and muscle activation and growth can all be vastly improved with the right combination of nutrients. Each VitaStack 9-pill pack provides hundreds of individual nutrients of importance to improving health and vitality. It’s the perfect complement to any optimal healthy eating plan.
ALLMAX Nutrition Taurine
Along with many other benefits, Taurine optimizes the cellular uptake and assimilation of nutrients along with regulating electrolytes to enhance performance and mental focus. In addition, Taurine draws water into muscle cells, thereby acting as a volumizer to improve muscle functioning and to increase muscle size.
ALLMAX Nutrition Omega 3
Known mostly for improving brain functioning and cardiovascular health, the Omega 3s (comprised of the highly bioavailable EPA and DHA fatty acids) can also improve muscle functioning (via enhanced nerve conduction) and increase fat loss.20 Consume 1-2 servings a day along with a variety of whole food sources.
ALLMAX Nutrition L-Carnitine
Most famous for their ability to transport long chain fats into the cellular mitochondria to produce energy (and thus enhance fat loss), L-Carnitine can also improve exercise capacity and enhance recovery after intense training. ALLMAX L-Carnitine also comes in a great-tasting liquid form for ease of digestion and palatability. At 1500mg per serving, the full benefits of this key amino can be achieved in the most efficient way possible.
To gain more immediate benefits from healthy eating, do the following:
A few of the more important immediate benefits to be gained by dropping processed foods include: clearer thinking, more energy, enhanced mood and improved blood sugar stability (increased insulin sensitivity).
Processed foods often take the form of “cheat meals” comprised of simple sugars, sodium, hydrogenated/saturated fats, and various additives/preservatives, and do far more harm than good.17, 18 These kinds of foods are consumed more for their comfort and enjoyment, rather than nutritional, value and are to be avoided (or limited to ’special’ occasions).
Before picking up that slice of pizza or pumpkin pie, delicious as they may be, think about what these foods will ultimately do to your body. For bodybuilders specifically, such foods severely compromise recovery and decrease energy. By eating healthy, nutrient-dense meals, rather than snacking on processed fare, you’ll be placing your body in a growth state (the state nature intended). By having vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and clean proteins comprise the bulk of your diet, there will be little room for highly processed foods, and their damaging effects.
The first thing I advise my clients to do when cleaning up their diets is to remove all high sugar drinks – including alcohol, fizzy drinks, pre-packaged fruit juices and sugary milk drinks (even the supposedly high-protein variety).
The big problem with processed drinks is their the ‘hidden’ sugars and calories. While sitting down to a couple slices of cake may take time and provide feeling of fullness rather quickly, chugging a couple of glasses of processed, sugar-fortified fruit juice can be done in mere seconds if one is thirsty. Doing this each day (or a couple of times a day!) can add many grams of sugar and a substantial number of calories to one’s diet.
One cannot cease to be amazed me how many health-conscious people continue to consume sports drinks, buoyed by their supposed health benefits and tantalizing taste. As with processed fruit juices, such ‘sports drinks’ are, in reality, loaded with concentrated sugars and preservatives. The token inclusion of a negligible complement of electrolytes does not make such drinks a better choice for the serious athlete.
Instead, drink only pure water. Better yet, consume the great-tasting CARBION+ in place of your typical sports drink, and have pure water make up the balance of your daily fluid intake. Made up of a selection of high-performance, sustained-release carbs and a full potency array of key electrolytes, CARBION+ is perfect for those who train intensely and would like to boost performance and enhance recovery.
While counting calories is good practice for those wanting to dial down to a respectable bodyfat percentage, most people would be well advised to instead focus primarily on their macronutrient intake.12
By all means count those calories if you must or are specifically advised to, but also be sure to base your caloric content around the consumption of healthy whole foods rather than adhere to a specific caloric intake regardless of its macronutrient composition.
Needless to say, 100 grams of chocolate will provide vastly fewer health benefits than 100 grams of green beans. For protein, 100 grams of fatty pork chops will provide fewer muscle building benefits compared to 100 grams of pure egg whites.
Because these less-desirable options are more concentrated in their caloric payload, less of each is to be consumed to achieve the desired 100 grams. Thus, those subsisting on such foods, despite counting calories, will gain fewer overall nutritional benefits by consuming more in the way of undesirable nutrients (respectively, simple sugars and saturated fats).
- Alcock, J. et al. (2014). Is eating behavior manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms. Bioessays. Oct; 36(10): 940–949.
- Alexander, D., Miras. et al. (2015). Food Preferences and Underlying Mechanisms after Bariatric Surgery. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 74, no. 4 November 419–25.
- Alcock, Joe. et al. (2014). Is Eating Behavior Manipulated by the Gastrointestinal Microbiota? Evolutionary Pressures and Potential Mechanisms. Bioessays 36, no. 10 October 940–49.
- Azab, M. The Brain on Fire: Depression and Inflammation. [Online] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/neuroscience-in-everyday-life/201810/the-brain-fire-depression-and-inflammation – retrieved on 5.1.20
- Crispim, C. A., et al. (2011). Relationship between Food Intake and Sleep Pattern in Healthy Individuals J Clin Sleep Med 7(6):659-664.
- Conlon, M. A., et al. (2015). The Impact of Diet and Lifestyle on Gut Microbiota and Human Health. Nutrients. Jan; 7(1): 17–44.
- Davis, N. Junk food cravings linked to lack of sleep, study suggests. [online] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/dec/17/lack-of-sleep-linked-junk-food-cravings-study-suggests – retrieved on 5.1.20
- Duong, M. et al. (2012). High cortisol levels are associated with low quality food choice in Type 2 Diabetes. Endocrine. Feb; 41(1): 76–81.
- Fletcher, J. Which foods help stabilize insulin and blood sugar?[Online] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323529.php – retrieved on 5.1.20
- Felger, J. C. (2019). Role of Inflammation in Depression and Treatment Implications. Handb Exp Pharmacol. 250:255-286.
- Godoy, M. It’s Not Just Salt, Sugar, Fat: Study Finds Ultra-Processed Foods Drive Weight Gain. [Online] https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/05/16/723693839/its-not-just-salt-sugar-fat-study-finds-ultra-processed-foods-drive-weight-gain – retrieved on 5.1.20
- Hewings-Martin, Y. Processed foods lead to weight gain, but it’s about more than calories. [Online] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325194.php#1 – retrieved on 6.1.20
- Inserro, A. Depression: Not an Inflammatory Disease, but Inflammation Plays a Huge Role. [Online] https://www.ajmc.com/conferences/psychcongress2018/depression-not-an-inflammatory-disease-but-inflammation-plays-a-huge-role – retrieved on 5.1.20
- Lee, C. H., et al. (2019). The Role of Inflammation in Depression and Fatigue. Front Immunol. 10: 1696.
- Marie-Pierre, S. O., et al. (2016). Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Adv Nutr. Sep; 7(5): 938–949.
- Rico-Campa, A. et al. (2019). Association between consumption of ultra-processed foods and all-cause mortality: SUN prospective cohort study. BMJ 365:l1949
- Rippe, J. m., et al. (2016). Relationship between Added Sugars Consumption and Chronic Disease Risk Factors: Current Understanding. Nutrients. Nov; 8(11): 697.
- Srour, B. et al. (2019). Ultra-processed food intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: prospective cohort study (NutriNet-Santé) BMJ 365:l1451
- Singh, R. K., et al. (2017). Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health. J Transl Med.15: 73.
- Swanson, D. et al. (2012). Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA: Health Benefits Throughout Life. Adv Nutr. Jan; 3(1): 1–7.
- Te-Morenga, L. et al. (2017). The Effect of a Diet Moderately High in Protein and Fiber on Insulin Sensitivity Measured Using the Dynamic Insulin Sensitivity and Secretion Test (DISST). Nutrients. Dec; 9(12): 1291.
- Temko, J. E., et al. (20170. The Microbiota, the Gut and the Brain in Eating and Alcohol Use Disorders: A ‘Ménage à Trois’? Alcohol and Alcoholism 52. July 403–13.