Weight Loss Wednesday: Fueling for Specific Goals- Aesthetics versus Athletics
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Namely, it was lunchtime. As I opened my plain baked chicken (exactly 4oz.), my plain baked sweet potato (exactly 3oz.), and my half a cup of broccoli, I was uninspired. As a dietitian, a lifter and a runner, I am acutely aware of the effect that my diet has on my life on a daily basis. As such, I usually eat a pretty clean diet and don’t mind it one bit, as it fuels me better and gives me the energy I need for my level of activity.
However, since I am also a fan of first person knowledge (namely learning about diet through experience) I had decided to try a bodybuilder-style cutting diet that was supposed to strip fat from my body- a common goal around this time of year. The diet broke down into three phases, each with less calories and carbs than the preceding phase. The explanation accompanying the diet insisted that by keeping my protein high and dropping only carbs and fat, I would force my body to burn fat, leaving me lean and mean. In theory, this all seems possible. In real life, it was much more difficult.
The first week was boring, as my food choices were severely limited to prevent excess carb intake (even from fruits and veggies). This also means that the range and amount of micronutrients I was getting from my diet was also limited. At this point, I felt tired, but nothing major. By the time I got into phase two, my slight fatigue had more than doubled and my two-mile interval runs felt like six. As well, I was starting to have weird cravings for things I usually don’t care for- like cake and snickerdoodle cookies. After consulting someone who does a cut of this nature on a yearly basis, I was assured that these cravings meant that my cut diet was “working”, so I kept on. I also noticed at this point that I was super grouchy- more so than normal.
The last week of phase two, I was forced to throw in the towel. Might I also add that this was not a controlled and conscious decision, but more like a string of obscenities yelled at yet another plate of chicken and broccoli while simultaneously ordering a large pizza on my phone. I was done.
The take home message here kids, is that this sort of restrictive diet is not a great idea if you are looking for lasting change or a healthy nutritional counterpart to your training routine (I mean, even bodybuilders don’t stay on that diet year round).
When you restrict, not only are you missing a ton of vitamins and minerals that you could be getting from eating a variety of healthy and delicious foods, extreme carbohydrate restriction can leave you feeling depressed and anxious. If you already suffer from these conditions, this effect can be even more pronounced.
In short, you are fueling for aesthetics and not athletics, a distinction that cannot be made clear enough. A healthy and diverse diet containing sufficient carbohydrates and fats is necessary for just about every sport there is, especially if your sport requires endurance. A natural add-on to this is the fact that being “cut” is not synonymous with being a stellar athlete, despite what the media says. So please remember this fact as we approach summer, and divorce yourself from any kind of relationship with the number on the scale as anything more than a bench marker. Concentrating on how you feel, and the progress you are making in your sport is usually a much better indicator of progress. Oftentimes, if this is your focus, you will find that the aesthetics you want follow closely behind.