If you want to improve your health, body composition and performance, you have to look not just at how much you eat but what you eat. Eating "clean" or natural is something that everyone has heard yet few people do. While it is a great concept for everyone trying to improve their health, body composition and performance, it is particularly helpful for two contexts.
The first is athletes or active individuals who need to get leaner. As I talked about in my previous post "Leanness and Athletic Performance", athletes who can safely move themselves down to a more "athletic" body composition range perform better. However, for most of the year, athletes cannot drop calories without sacrificing performance (note: for more information, see my post on "Nutrition Periodization"). So what do you do? Eat clean. This is also helpful for non-athletes who have physically demanding jobs and lifestyles.
The second context is muscle building. Traditionally, bodybuilders would have bulking and cutting phases. During the bulking phase, they would go on the "see food" diet - whatever food you see, put in your mouth. While this does work for gaining muscle and is a ton of fun, it is unhealthy and results in a lot of fat gain. This fat gain hides muscle and it difficult to strip off afterwards without losing most of that hard-earned muscle. While this is not a problem for a bodybuilder using drugs, it is a problem for those who are natural. A final note: trying to get or stay totally ripped is too far to the other ineffective extreme.
The Clean & Lean Eating Solution
So how do you get leaner while being super active or stay fairly lean while gaining muscle? While there are a few important things, one of the biggest ones is eating clean.
Sample vegetable sources:
- Tomatoes (technically a fruit)
- Endless options here. We all need to eat more vegetables and increase our variety of vegetable choices.
Sample fruit sources:
- Bananas: best for muscle gain or pre/post training
- Note: also a lot of options here. Also, do not go overboard on fruit. While I would not blame it for the North American obesity epidemic, I also wouldn't over-do it. Also, best to save sugary fruits (e.g. dates, raisins) to after a hard training session.
Sample protein sources:
- Wild game
- Cottage cheese or greek yogurt (if you are lucky enough to tolerate dairy well)
- Plain protein powders (i.e. no weight gainers, pre-workouts or meal replacements) (can be used sparingly for convenience in whole-food power shakes) or after training.
Sample starchy carb sources:
- Yams/sweet potatoes
- Rolled/steel-cut oats
- Rice (generally brown & wild but some people tolerate white better which is great post-training)
- Potatoes (best used for muscle building, not fat loss)
- Note: some people don't do well on grains. Also, this area is great for energy, but can lead to fat gain if you eat too much for you.
Sample clean fat sources:
- Wild salmon
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Raw nuts (be careful with food allergy and intolerance issues)
- Ground flax seeds
- Pharmaceutical grade fish oil supplement
- Tea (no cream or sugar)
While I'm no chef, I'll try to give some more menu ideas based on these clean foods in future posts. In the mean time, you can use these lists as a shopping list to guide you in your food selections. While this list is not exhaustive, it is a great start. If you are wondering about a particular food, pop over to my Facebook Page and drop me a message or post a comment below.
Eat natural. These two works sum up one of the most important things to understand about proper nutrition. Apply this and your health, body composition and performance will all benefit!