A quick recap: Good nutrition is the foundation for both general health and fitness, nothing new there. Central to good nutrition is controlling blood sugar levels. That dictates our state of metabolism and therefore levels of insulin. Hyperinsulinemia is the root cause of atherogenesis and therefore coronary heart disease. We primarily manage blood sugar levels by the types and amounts of CHO we consume but the consumption of the other macronutrients, fat and protein, also plays a role. To avoid hyperinsulinemia and it’s effects we should base our diet on meat and veges, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar, and we should keep intake to levels that support exercise but not body fat.
Is controlling blood sugar and therefore energy for the fuel and recovery of exercise, and body fat levels that simple, though? No.
For a start, the glycemic index (GI) of a food doesn’t entirely tell us about that food’s propensity to raise blood sugar levels because it doesn’t take portion size into account. Two types of CHO could have the same GI, but one might require consumption of twice the amount than the other to elicit the same blood sugar response. That’s where the glycemic load comes in, but let’s keep it simple!
Low glycemic also doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. You can find premium ice-cream that has a lower GI and glycemic load than an apple, and it could give you the same amount of calories, but that doesn’t mean it’s better for you. So you have to consider what a food has to offer you in terms of nutrition and in the context of your diet as a whole.
And we can’t overlook individuality. Everyone is different from the cellular level out, so we’re all going to respond differently to various stimuli.
This is why you need a base, a framework, on which to build your dietary approach. A framework isn’t a quick fix like a port-a-loo. It’s something that is sustainable – you can adhere to it at least 80% of the time forever and it will keep on giving you results. The results we are referring to here are intake levels that support exercise but not body fat and provide the nutrients needed for health, while still ensuring that you’re enjoying life and food.
If that base includes meat and veges, nuts and seeds, and some fruit, you’re getting your micronutrients in and it will largely take care of the exercise side of the equation. But if you’d like to get the most out of exercise while controlling body fat efficiently, you’re going to need to refine your macronutrient intake. That means calculating a CHO, protein and fat intake that’s relevant to your activity levels, body composition and lifestyle goals.
So, in my opinion, both food quality and quantity matter in the big picture of long term health and fitness. There’s little space to debate what constitutes quality food, whereas there are an array of measuring quantities. Most of them work, but beware the energy balance methods. Those methods are based on the calories in vs. calories out approach that simply looks to balance your (supposed) caloric expenditure and intake. A calorie is not a calorie, and more on that next time.