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Gym myths: The fitness foods stalling your progress.

Eating for your goals.


We all know what fitness people eat. If you are at all interested in sport or fitness you are undoubtedly being bombarded with adverts for "performance foods". Shakes, bars, teas, all kinds of stuff.

And you could be totally forgiven for thinking that including these in your diet means faster fat loss, better performance etc. So it's very disappointing when this doesn't happen.

Why are some foods and supplements, like protein shakes, so cool, when others, like a tin of fish are completely overlooked?

Let's break down my top overrated fitness foods....

Peanut butter.


Peanut butter in itself isn't a terrible food choice. The decent ones aren't heavily processed (go for the ones that are just nuts, no sugar and oil added). But there is one thing about peanut butter which is overlooked....

PEANUTS ARE A FAT RICH FOOD, NOT A PROTEIN RICH FOOD.

Bodybuilders and some strength athletes eat a lot of peanut butter *when bulking*. Its purpose is to provide an easy to eat, easy to digest, CALORIE DENSE food option. If you are a naturally skinny guy and you want to put on some serious mass, you need to consume some serious calories (check this video to see how Alan Thrall does it). This involves eating until you're pretty uncomfortable, so any way to make that easier by consuming lots of calories in small mouthfuls, as liquid/paste etc is a good call.

Bodybuilders look lean and ripped on stage, but what you don't see is that in their off season, they are a little fluffier. You need to eat excess calories to build new muscle, an inevitable consequence of this is that you gain fat. That's cool, because part of the training cycle of a body builder is to lose that fat in the run up to a competition. But if you aren't a physique competitor, this kind of bulk-cut cycle is a psychological and physical strain you don't need.

If you are training to be healthy, fitter, gain a bit more muscle, maybe lose some weight, you have no need to shovel down max calories, and consuming a large amount of calories as fat, in a foodstuff which your body will barely notice isn't going to help you reach your goals.

A 10g serving of peanut butter contains 5g of fat, 2.5g of protein and about 60 calories.

To get a full "serving" of protein you are going to need to eat 100g of peanut butter, which is about 600 calories and a very cloying mouth feel.

Alternate: Eat a small portion (1-2 thumbs) of mixed nuts.


Energy gels 


I popped into a bike shop last week and saw an enormous display of energy gels. I'm seeing them turn up more and more lately.

Energy gels are basically sugar in an easy to consume form. They were intended for endurance athletes like long distance cyclists and marathon runners, because eating during a race is tricky and racing without eating is also tricky.

But you'll get through zumba just fine without them.

In their place gels are probably very useful, but they are heavily marketed to "general population", because the market is small when you restrict it to just the elite athletes they were created for.

In fact many endurance athletes are spurning them for alternates, because they cause stomach upsets and they are finding better options to keep them going.

Not everyone needs to eat during a workout. If you are training for more than 90 minutes straight, you might consider it. There's a lot of cheaper, easier digestible options. Learning to eat while exercising is also a skill, so if you are training for endurance, expect it to feel a bit odd at first.

Sports drinks are also made for this purpose, but you can mix your own electrolyte/sugar combo with less additives.

If you are training for strength, you may find yourself needing a hit of sugar during your heaviest sets. I'm talking singles and doubles close to your max - this is because the hit of adrenaline from intense effort can mess with your blood sugar and make you feel faint. In the 2 weeks when I am peaking for competition, I do eat between sets, but I tend to go for a jelly baby - because I like them and the little row of jelly babies awaiting their fate amuses me. Again a sports drink is a reasonable option.

Take home message - unless you are training very long or very hard, you can probably wait until after your workout for a snack.

Alternative: Have a banana


BCAAs/EEAs


When protein shakes aren't extra enough for you.

BCAAs and EEAs are basically very refined protein. They contain just the stuff you most need. As you might imagine this involves a fair amount of processing and they cost money to buy.

But... here's the kicker... there is little valid evidence that they have any effect on performance. 

There is nothing in them which you cannot get by eating an appropriate amount of complete proteins from healthy food sources. And if you aren't doing that, you need to look at your diet, not your supps dealer. 

There may be some times that these are relevant for a small population, but most of the time you're just making your pee more expensive.

Alternative: Eat 1-2 palms of a protein rich food source with every meal. If you are a vegetarian be sure to include complete or complementary proteins.

Smoothies


I love a smoothie, but you'd feel more satisfied from your breakfast and get slightly better nutrition/fibre content if you just ate the fruit and veg.

Unless it's kale, in which case blend ahead. No one wants to eat that.

Smoothies are often marketed as a healthy drink, check out all those vitamins and stuff... and it's green! And it's got goji berries and we all know that anything with goji berries is magic!

But a  smoothie isn't a drink. It's a snack, or even a meal. An easy and convenient way to consume a lot of easily digested sugar with not-so-much of the stuff that nature usually packages them in.

That said, I am a massive fan of the Super Shake, for anyone who struggles to get a decent, balanced breakfast in, or who needs a substantial snack. This will provide you with a portion of protein, a portion of veg and about 400 calories. I like them for "first breakfast" when I know I won't be able to prepare or eat anything substantial until later. Or as a pre-workout meal in the car if I am going straight from work to the gym.

Alternative: Eat the fruit, mixed into the yoghurt. Delicious.

Protein candy bars.


Who doesn't love a protein Snickers? No one. Except people with nut allergies.

How smug does it feel to eat a chocolate bar and be all like "ooh, but this is a *protein* bar, I can feel the gains".

Hang on there sunshine. You are eating a chocolate bar. Albeit one with a bit of extra protein which may well help you hit your macro goals.

You are still consuming the calories of a regular chocolate bar, and you are still consuming a highly processed foodstuff. Stop pretending it's a celery stick.

If you were planning on eating a chocolate bar anyway, then there's nothing wrong with choosing a high protein alternative, especially if you are trying to raise your protein levels. Just don't kid yourself that it's a "healthy snack", or that it's going to help you manage your weight. 

I coach my nutrition clients to start where they are at, and look for small, positive changes. A supershake instead of a large premade smoothie, or a protein bar instead of a chocolate bar may well be that small change. And that's just cool, so long as we are mindful of the reality of the situation.

Alternative: There's lots of options for high protein snacks, like jerky, boiled eggs, a tin of fish, a protein shake....

So much of the stuff athletes eat...


I do my best deadlift sessions on coffee and doughnuts. Does this mean doughnuts are an excellent health choice for even pursuer of fitness. Clearly not.

I would expect most people who saw me eating a doughnut outside the gym to ask "why are you eating that, does that actually help?"

And I would say "why yes, imaginary and curious stranger, it is providing me with a fast hit of carbs which I am going to need to stop me passing out between these stupidly heavy lifts with which I am about to abuse my central nervous system".

I'm not doing it for "health", a lot of the things athletes do for performance are contrary to good health. I'm certainly not doing it for weight management!

Be curious. Don't just accept that something is a healthy choice *for you* because you see healthy people consuming them, or because someone tells you so. Ask why. What is it that this foodstuff is offering me, and does that align with what *I* want out of my nutrition? Will it support *my* training? And most of all, Is there a better, cheaper, healthier or easier alternative?


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