There are so many options out there, each with their cult-like followers proclaiming that their approach cures cancer and turns you into a semi-bionic super god that breathes fire and shits awesomeness; however, once you get past the surface marketing hype you will often find that these diets have more in common than they have apart. Here are just a few of the popular methods being touted as the holy grail of nutrition for physique:
- Carb cycling
- Carb backloading
- If it fits your macros (IIFYM) aka flexible dieting
- Intermittent fasting
- Zone diets
- Hand measuring
- “eating clean”
- “calorie is a calorie”
First let’s tackle the “eating clean” diet; it’s not really a diet at all. Eating clean will mean something different to everyone, and from what I and many others have observed, usually involves some pretty heavy self bargaining and willingness to succumb to shady food marketing. “cheese is good as long as it’s natural right?” “I’ll get frozen yogurt instead of ice-cream”, “these chips are baked, so i’ll just have the whole bag, it’s not that bad”, “chocolate has bioflavonoids that are supposed to be good for your heart” etc. Read on and you’ll see that “eating clean” doesn’t adhere to the basic tenants that the other diets in the list have been built around, with the largest shortcoming being that it makes no attempt to control the amounts of food being consumed.
There are a still a few that still believe that a calorie is a calorie and that someone eating 1500 calories of swedish berries, Mcdonald’s cheeseburgers, with a multivitamin, and some one eating 1500 calories lean meats, fruits, nuts and vegetables will have the same physique. The problem is that this idea arose from studies didn’t involve moderate to intense physical exercise, more specifically a periodized resistance training program, or have a study period long enough to truly show the cumulative effects on the slower acting hormonal systems. However if you truly believe in this approach I highly suggest you talk to your doctor about conducting your own study for at least 1 year and report back with your results.
Other’s suggest that you can eat infinite amounts of food, as long as you eat the right types at the right time, pointing to research on insulin sensitivity, activity of micronutrients, intestinal flora, growth hormone output, leptin, thermic effects, nutrient partitioning etc. This is where the bulk of nutritional research is being focused nowadays (about time), but if you’re thinking that you’re going to be able to eat 8000 calories of avocado, grapefruit, and chicken breast without gaining any fat, then you’re in for a rude awakening. Most of these diets revolve around the fact that it’s pretty damn hard to shove 9000 calories of lettuce and carrots down your throat (although if you try please make sure you film a fast motion video of your attempt, also don’t try this). This leads me to the point that most popular diets from our list up top still left standing, although they have greatly different approaches have these points in common:
- They control total amount of food consumed
- They provide adequate to high amounts of protein
- They provide adequate intake of essential fats
- They attempt to control insulin levels
So which one is the best?
The best style of eating is the one that you can realistically adhere to for the longest amount of time.
Adherence to a nutrition program is the #1 determinant of success when it comes to nutrition for physique improvements. If you’re a vegan, chances are that you aren’t going to adhere to a strict ketogenic diet even if some new research comes out showing that high protein, high fat is the key to looking like the spawn child of Aphrodite and Hercules (it could be done, but your food choices would become severely limited). Likewise if you can’t bear the idea of measuring/weighing your food or inputting everything you eat into a calculator/app, you probably won’t do very well with the zip-zag approach (high/low caloric cycling with the same ratios of protein, carbs, and fat), these people will probably do better with a food list and approximating portion sizes with their hands like precision nutrition recommends. Hate portion control altogether? Maybe modified intermittent fasting is for you, after all you can only get so many calories into your stomach at one time, again a food list will greatly increase your chances of success with this approach. Maybe you hate planning your own food, so pay someone else to do it for you.
The most important thing when evaluating a diet is actually to evaluate your personal preferences and tendencies and figure out which one will suit your lifestyle the best. Once you have chosen a method, you can tweak and adjust to achieve your desired effect. Try sticking to one style of eating for at least 4 months. If you’ve adhered to the style, made revisions, and still have the itch to try an new method, by all means give it a shot. Yes there are individual differences and you may respond to one slightly better than the other, but if you do find that one style of eating works better for you, don’t become one of those irritating fans that claims that they’ve found the holy grail of turn-you-into-arnold-schwarzenegger-in-a-week diets, and that everyone else might as well be eating paint chips; we have enough of those in the nutrition world already.