Whether you want to start off on the right foot or break through a plateau, pairing your exercise routine with the right nutritional approach can add literal fuel to your fitness fire.
But if you’ve spent even a second scouring the internet for info about the health benefits of certain foods, the sheer volume of (often conflicting) information about how to build a diet that suits your exercise goals can be overwhelming. That makes it all too easy to fall back on conventional wisdom and old adages. After all, if enough people repeat certain bits of dietary advice for long enough, they must be true, right?
Not always. Just like any other scientific discipline, nutritional science is constantly working towards a better understanding of how food affects us. What once appeared true two decades ago might not hold up as new evidence-based research comes to light. That’s why even though the information you’ll find here is a useful starting point, consulting a professional dietitian will always be the best way to get up-to-date advice that’s relevant to your specific nutritional needs.
But no matter your fitness goals or dietary restrictions, it’s worth busting a few of the most common nutritional myths that might be holding you back. It’s time to break down these outdated assumptions and replace them with a more solid foundation that gets your diet and exercise regimen both moving in the right direction.
Yes, burning more calories than you eat is generally the right idea when trying to lose weight. And the opposite is true if gains are your goal. But don’t get the impression that controlling your weight and eating right is nothing more than a math problem.
The nutritional quality of what you eat is just as crucial as the caloric quantity. Choose nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods with a high level of bioavailability (which determines how much of the good stuff your body actually absorbs). Just as crucially, make sure those foods work for you and your lifestyle. There’s no better way to burn out on burning calories than a monotonous diet full of foods you hate.
There are other personal factors to consider that can also complicate the relationship between numerical calories and dietary results. Those include your genetics, hormone levels, and medications you might be taking. Your metabolism also controls how efficiently your body burns calories as a fuel source. The good news is that you can augment your metabolic rate for the better through a focused weight training plan, and a dietitian or nutritionist can help you manage some of those other concerns.
From the Atkins diet heyday of the 2000’s right up to today’s keto craze, carbohydrates sure do get a bad rep. The truth is that carbs are an important macronutrient to keep in the mix. They’re a major source of the energy you need to not only give a workout your all, but even to just make it through a busy day.
What might be responsible for some of the confusion is the fact that not all carbs are created equal. Added sugars, refined grains, and other processed foods can do more harm than good, so don’t build your meal plan around a loaf of white bread and a two-liter bottle of soda. Instead, opt for whole grains, natural produce, and legumes, each a nutritious way to fuel up that combines carbs with high concentrations of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Just as with your calories, keep an eye out for these and other natural, unprocessed sources of carbs (like fresh fruits and vegetables), and you’ll be on the right track.
A good rule of thumb in life is that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Many food and drink products explicitly marketed as “diet” and “low-fat” fit that bill. Choosing them might feel like you’re eating healthy, but nutritionally speaking, you could be trading something bad for something worse.
To avoid getting seduced by the siren song of “diet” marketing, read the fine print by checking nutrition labels closely. Is there a long list of artificial-sounding ingredients and additives? Are you seeing a high concentration of sugar and sodium that the front of the box conveniently overlooks? Does the absence of fat come at the cost of key vitamins and minerals? If so, you might be better served putting that processed item down and heading to the produce section.
Another major reason to be skeptical of “low-fat” labels? Fat isn’t always the enemy. In fact, it’s an essential macronutrient that fuels the body, protects your organs, and keeps your cells in tip-top shape. Just like with calories and carbs, fats are a case where quality matters as much as quantity. Fats from whole, unmodified, and unprocessed foods have a legitimate place in a healthy diet — no matter what the marketing department says.
So now that you know some nutritional misconceptions to avoid, what should you believe in? When it comes to eating right and fueling up for both exercise and recovery, the answer will be a little bit different for everyone. Generally speaking, opting for unprocessed foods is a good place to start. There are plenty of natural, nutritional powerhouses that can slide seamlessly into most diets without blowing a hole in your budget or sending you scampering across town to a specialty market. And whether you have a particular set of dietary restrictions or just want the peace of mind that expert advice provides, turning to a dietitian is never a bad idea.
If you’re in the market for a personal trainer who can get both your exercise and eating habits moving in the right direction, working with a Future coach is your secret ingredient. They take the time to learn your schedule and your tastes (both in the gym and in the kitchen), creating a customized, actionable plan that skips the myths and takes the guesswork out of achieving your goals. Your Future coach can’t cook for you, but the blend of accountability, motivation, and flexibility they provide will keep every week’s routine from feeling bland or stale — and it all happens via the same smartphone you use to order takeout.
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