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You Are What You Eat: Internal Health Through Nutrition

Eating for good health is not a new concept to most people, but it never seems to be a very popular reason. Instead, most people are driven by cosmetic results. You do not see many nutrition programs marketed to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, manage diabetes, or promise health and longevity. Most programs are marketed for fat loss, muscle building, and performance. People like to be able to measure short-term changes; seeing the body physically change over time is very motivating. In contrast, changing your eating habits to prolong life and for preventative measures is just not glamorous enough, especially considering nutrition related health issues are not a current reality for many. We usually wait until something has gone wrong before making any changes. Although dieting for the purpose of fat loss will make you healthier, it’s also possible to overlook some key nutritional aspects that can potentially cause you harm down the road.

A nutrition program can be easily geared for both cosmetic and health goals. Don’t try to prioritize your aesthetics over other nutritional aspects of internal health. Digestion, inflammation, serum cholesterol, blood pressure, food intolerances, and glycemic control can all be impacted by nutrition and negatively affect our internal health. For example, it is very easy to just focus on the macronutrients (carbs, fats, protein) and overlook other missing components of a balanced diet. Time and time again I see bodybuilding diets that focus too much on the basics and not enough on fiber, micronutrients, healthy fats, and prebiotic rich foods. Prebiotics are essential for healthy gut flora. A healthy gut plays a huge role in regulating the immune system. If affected negatively, it can lead to digestive diseases, depression, and various autoimmune disorders.

Many bodybuilders commonly have compromised digestion. That is no coincidence. Most bodybuilding diets lack balance and do not include a variety of fruits, vegetables, and enough prebiotic rich foods. Their diet is composed primarily of white rice, chicken, beef, and egg whites. These diets, based on convenience, usually focus on the macro goal and ease of consumption. In their defense, many bodybuilders are just not taught correctly and are stuck in the “bodybuilding diet” dogma.

Improving your diet for internal health is not hard nor will it be extremely time consuming. It just takes the know how along with a bit of effort and creativity. Below is a list of a few ways to improve your diet’s nutrient density. Just be aware that you should make changes to your diet slowly over time, especially when introducing new foods that are very high in fiber. Going from 10g of fiber per day to 50g can be problematic since the body needs a chance to adapt. Goal fiber intake should be around 30-40g per day. Adding two new foods to your diet every 3-5 days is a good way to start, and will allow you to assess any possible intolerances. Please note that these are only a few of many ways to improve your diet.

NOTE: The tips below can be worked into virtually any diet for any purpose. I can attest to that from following these tips in both off-season and contest prep with success.

  • Include 1-2 pasteurized whole eggs per day and reduce fats from other sources to make up the calorie difference.
  • Use 90-93% lean ground beef instead of 80-85%. Also avoid grilling red meat as much as possible due to the carcinogens created by browning/charring the meat.
  • Use a variety of vegetables. Choose two different veggies per day. After 3 days, change up those vegetables to something different and repeat the cycle.
  • Include vegetables in at least 2-3 meals per day (more if desired).
  • Include fruits, such as citrus fruits, berries, bananas, and kiwi, as a part of your carbohydrate intake. 10-15% of your carbohydrate intake can be from fruits.
  • Consume less animal fat overall by choosing leaner cuts and increase sources of healthier fats rich in monounsaturated fat such as olive oil, avocado oil, avocado, macadamia nut oil, almonds, and various other nuts. If you do not like oils, try infused olive oils. They make great flavors and are more tolerable to most.
  • Include some prebiotic rich foods in the diet in small amounts such as potatoes, oatmeal, oat bran, banana, cabbage, onions, and garlic to name a few. These foods can be gas forming, so start slowly when introducing them. Consuming in large amounts can be problematic.
  • Use fresh herbs such as basil, cilantro, and parsley.
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