Good nutrition and adequate sleep are two of the most important things you can be doing outside of the gym to support your fitness goals, especially if weight loss is one of them. If you’re not eating right or resting enough, it will be much harder to make good progress.
Unfortunately, there is probably more needless confusion surrounding what good nutrition means than over any other aspect of health and fitness. It’s needless and unfortunate, because the basic principles are not that hard to grasp or use, and very few people need more than that.
In fact, experience has taught me that if the average person can learn the basics and apply them properly and consistently, then they will usually be able to achieve what they want and maintain it.
There are several reasons most people don’t learn or practice good nutrition, but the two biggest tend to be money and laziness.
By that I mean that there is a lot of money to be made by convincing people that nutrition is complicated, but that your product or service can make it easy. Additionally, there are a lot of people who want to believe that there is an easy way to get the results they want, without having to do the work it takes to eat properly.
Here is a simple truth though; good nutrition is just a matter of understanding two basic principles and doing the work it takes to use them daily.
The first thing to understand about nutrition is why human beings must eat food to begin with, which is simply to provide our bodies with all the nutrients they need. Nutrients are the chemical compounds our bodies extract from food to supply the raw materials and energy needed to build and rebuild all our tissues and fuel the processes necessary to support life and movement.
Now, the science of determining exactly how much of each nutrient a person needs under various circumstances can get complicated. It turns out however, that it is unnecessary for most people to know any of it, because our bodies are generally quite good at taking what they need and discarding the rest or storing it for future use.
In fact, as long you consume a diet that supplies enough of a broad variety of high-quality (nutritious) foods, you can be reasonably sure you will get enough of every nutrient you need throughout your life.
That is why, eating a mix of many different foods is the best and simplest strategy to ensure a good diet. People who (for whatever reason) eat a restricted diet are at risk of developing nutritional deficiencies, which can eventually cause their bodies to malfunction and fail.
Although the human body can in many cases discard unneeded nutrients or store them without any negative effects, nutrients that are used to provide energy are stored as bodyfat if there is an overabundance in the diet, and that can have negative and unwanted effects.
This brings us to the second principle of good nutrition, which is that of energy balance.
Essentially, achieving energy balance is a matter of learning how much food you can eat in an average day without it being too little or too much. Too much food energy over time will lead to excess bodyfat, while too little will lead to excessive starvation.
Although there are many methods for estimating how much food energy (measured in Calories or Kcal) a person needs, none are completely accurate, and experience is usually the best guide. Fortunately, you do not need to be completely accurate with energy balance any more than with overall nutrient intake as long as you’re reasonably close.
If your average daily Calorie intake is within a reasonable range, with some days being a little high and others a little low, then your body will achieve balance overall. In that case you will neither gain nor lose a noticeable amount of weight over time.
If you do wish to gain weight, simply increase your daily food intake and to lose it decrease the amount you eat. When you have reached your goal re-establish Caloric balance to maintain your new weight. If you continue to abide by the first principle and include enough of a variety of nutritious foods, you can do either in a healthy way.
Where people run into trouble most often though, is when they restrict their food intake too much because they are trying to lose weight too quickly. There is a minimum amount of food you need to eat to provide all the nutrients your body needs, regardless of food quality and variety. Below that threshold, you just cannot get enough nutrients to stay healthy.
Having said that, if you make the effort to eat a varied diet made up of high quality foods and manage the amount you eat in order to maintain or change your bodyweight in a sensible way, that’s really all it takes to maintain good nutrition.