What is Good Nutrition?

Well, it's official - spring has sprung!  Of course, if you live in the New England area, the 6 inches of snow/sleet/rain/cold miserable mess that we received yesterday doesn't exactly lend itself to feel like a new season.

But, in the fitness industry, the beginning of spring also marks the time of year where everyone tries to get in "bathing suit" shape.  Now, besides working hard at the gym (which, of course, I'm all about), the more important aspect is a proper diet....and that's where it all gets interesting.  All day long, we're bombarded by health claims, new diet trends, and we're left alone to try and make sense of it all.  So, what actually is "eating well" and how does one define "good nutrition?"

My favorite definition of "good nutrition" comes from Dr. John Berardi over at Precision Nutrition.  His definition is covered in these 5 principles:

  1. Good nutrition properly controls energy balance.
  2. Good nutrition provides nutrient density.
  3. Good nutrition achieves health, body composition, and performance goals.
  4. Good nutrition is honest and outcome-based.
  5. Good nutrition is sustainable.

Seem pretty much like common sense?  Well, it is.  But that doesn't mean it's easy.

If we dive into these principles, the first statement certainly makes sense.  Energy balance simply means that you're not out-of-whack when it comes to the calories you consume and the calories you burn on a daily basis.  Now, this doesn't mean that if you're looking to drop some weight that you should immediately start consuming only 1,200 calories a day. Far from it!  Yet, you should be looking to eat less if you're overweight, and eat more if you're looking to gain.

Next, all foods can be classified on where they rank in regards to nutrient density.  This principle is pretty easy to figure out as you can tell that kale has more nutrients than potato chips, and an apple would be a better choice than a bagel.  As our culture seems to be always focused on macronutients (fats, carbs, protein), many of us forget that the vitamins and nutrients in foods are actually just as important to living a healthy life. 

You could try eating a glorified sponge, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't go very far in advancing your health or your performance in the gym.

You could try eating a glorified sponge, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't go very far in advancing your health or your performance in the gym.

Moving on to the third principle, good nutrition achieves health, body composition and performance goals.  Now, it's may be easy to hit one or two of these goals, but it becomes a lot tougher when you have all three to consider.  For example, with crash diets, you may be getting good results in regards to body composition, but when it comes to health or performance, you're probably failing.  By contrast, athletes are often focused on performance, so health and body composition sometimes take a back seat.  The right foods can accomplish all three goals....and taste good too!

Good nutrition also needs to be honest and outcome-based.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard an overweight client say that they "eat healthy," but they may simply "just eat too much."  Now, is it possible that someone is 30 pounds overweight and eats well?  Sure, but it's not likely.  Most likely, that person isn't executing their game plan to lose weight, or their plan just isn't very good.  Either way, you need to hold yourself accountable to see if what you're doing is actually making an impact.

Lastly, and this is the most important point, good nutrition needs to be sustainable in both senses of the word.  First off, good nutrition needs to be something you will be able to continue for years.  Diets, wars on carbs, swearing off certain foods, and other strategies are not sustainable for long periods of time.  Eating well doesn't have to be a chore, it can become a normal part of life.

So, there you have it.  While you may have wanted a magic bullet for good nutrition, the only advice I can offer is that there aren't any shortcuts.  What tips do you have to help you eat well?