A tale of 2 Athletes:
Athlete 1: Eats a very nutrient rich diet, high in micronutrients while meeting his caloric needs for the day.
His meals are full of extra lean sources of protein like chicken and egg whites and his carb choices are dark green leafy vegetables with some quality fats to meet those needs as well. His plates are full, he’s stuffed at the end of the day, with low cravings, and he is satisfied.
Athlete 2: Eats a very nutrient poor diet, low in micronutrients but he still meets his caloric needs for the day.
His meals meet his protein needs, albeit not necessarily the greatest choices, he has some decent carbohydrates on his plates for the various meals, but 40% of his diet is made of “fun” food. Hey, if it fits your macros, why not right? Some call it flexible dieting.
You can see where my bias lies. Lets’ go back to Athlete 1:
- He will perform better. His body has the nutrients it needs for performance.
- His natural hunger levels will be down as well, and the volume of food helps to squash those hunger levels.
- The big drawback is the pyschological component. The man wants his pop tarts. To brush these pychological cravings off is a MAJOR MISTAKE.
I see this all the time, young “superstars” brag about IIFYM . I might have been the same way when I was in my early 20’s. Back then, I could also get away with eating more calories. That’s not the case anymore at my age. I used to be able to eat 3500 calories and remain lean. Now I’m at 2300 cals to do the same thing. Of course you could fit in more cheat foods. Of course, through sheer volume you had more nutrients in your system. The question for younger athletes is; Do you want to follow the IIFYM model or do you really want to OPTIMIZE your performance?
Older athlete’s, you just don’t have the luxury that the young athlete has. Play around with IIFYM’s long enough and you will burn out quickly.
Younger athletes, build a nutrition plan strategically, and it could be lights out for your competitors.
Is there a best of both worlds?
Maybe. My advice:
- 60% of your diet would be high volume, micronutrient packed quality foods.
- 20% of your diet would be quality foods that, while they might not have the greatest micronutrient profile, you still enjoy these foods and they make each meal more worthwhile.
- 20% of your diet remains flexible. If you are counting calories and you can strategically fit in something fun, even if it has a low nutrient profile, then do it if means you are more likely to stay on plan long term.
What about getting shredded?
The moment you venture into getting shredded, 9 people out of 10, unless they are genetic marvels, will gain weight shortly after reaching this peak state. Watch competitive bodybuilders 6-8 weeks after a contest. They cannot maintain anywhere near that elusive peak look.
In this case, I would switch my percentages slightly from the advice I gave above. There is no set formula as everyone is different, but perhaps it might mean moving to a model where:
- 70% of your food choices are high micronutrient value and high volume
- 20% is moderate value
- 10% remains designated to “fun” foods that don’t really contain a lot of nutritional value.
With that said, when done properly, in a situation where one has a healthy metabolism and a lean enough body, REFUEL meals may serve you well and meet your psychological needs for fun foods, a couple of times per week. Again, this is where I would hire an expert in the field who knows you well to assist you as I know too many athletes who don’t truly understand the science behind these meals and how to use them strategically.
The illustration I shared serves as a guiding principle. Obviously the topic is much more complex. However, staying withing the parameters of making healthier micronutrient dense foods will serve you long term. The rest is a matter of negotiating the fun foods into a plan to optimize your performance levels and in some cases the aesthetic part of ones physique. There’s a fine line, believe me.
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