The “Best diet” would be a bold claim. But I’d like to offer some suggestions on how to improve yours. As an industry, we obsess over percentages of protein, carbohydrate and fat. And in doing so, lose sight of the bigger picture. Rather than repeating inaccurate nutrition dogma, I’ll refer to the Diet Quality Index (International).
The cornerstones of a healthy diet are:
- Adequate intake of key nutrients
- Moderation of foods that contribute to chronic disease
- Variety of food groups and protein sources
- Balance of protein, carbohydrate and fat and the omega 6/omega 3 fatty acid ratio
To prevent undernutrition, ensure your diet contains enough vitamins and minerals. Eat foods rich in iron, calcium, Vitamin C and other essential nutrients. Consume plenty of vegetables, fibre and protein. Good sources of iron include red meat (such as beef and lamb), shellfish (such as oysters, mussels and shrimp), leafy green vegetables (such as spinach, kale and watercress), lentils, oats, kidney beans plus cashew and pine nuts. Calcium options include whey protein, whole yogurt, almonds and leafy green vegetables. And the best sources of omega 3 are salmon, tuna steak, whole eggs and walnuts..
Limit consumption of trans fat, sodium, sugar, alcohol and other empty-calorie foods. There are three tiers of these foods, categorised according to their health implications. When consumed in excess, those in the top tier can contribute towards chronic disease. Empty-calorie foods include soft drinks, high-fat dressings and alcohol.
Eating boiled chicken and broccoli on repeat may serve a purpose in the short-term. But it falls short of being an optimal diet. Consume a variety of different foods from the five food groups. These include meat/poultry/fish/eggs, dairy/beans, grain, fruit and vegetables. Each of these food groups provide essential nutrients, such as fatty acids from fish or phytochemicals from beans. Aim to eat three different protein sources per day from meat, poultry, fish, dairy, beans or eggs. This may prove to be a challenging task for some restrictive, conscience-led diets.
Highly individual and adjusted according to training goals and calorie balance. Protein intake should be set between 1.6-2.7g per kg of bodyweight (Schoenfeld et al., 2018; Helms et al., 2014). As mentioned before, protein should come from multiple sources. Dietary fat should be set between 15-40% of total calories depending on goal, gender and age (Volek et al., 1997; Reed et al., 1987). Reduce the omega 6/omega 3 fatty acid ratio by increasing consumption of disease-suppressing, omega 3-rich foods. The much-maligned macronutrient carbohydrate is essential in fuelling training sessions. An excessive reduction in carbohydrate would result in reduced muscle glycogen levels. This will impair performance, and thus the ability to gain muscle (Walberg et al., 1988).
With these four qualities in mind, where can you make the most improvement to your diet? If you’re overweight, you may need to moderate your intake of empty-calorie foods. Or if you’re a “clean eater”, question whether your diet is diverse enough. Are you consuming enough essential nutrients? And are you varying your protein sources?
Helms, E.R., Aragon, A.A. and Fitschen, P.J., 2014. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), p.1.
Kim, S., Haines, P.S., Siega-Riz, A.M. and Popkin, B.M., 2003. The Diet Quality Index-International (DQI-I) provides an effective tool for cross-national comparison of diet quality as illustrated by China and the United States. The Journal of nutrition, 133(11), pp.3476-3484.
Reed, M.J., Cheng, R.W., Simmonds, M., Richmond, W. and James, V.H.T., 1987. Dietary lipids: an additional regulator of plasma levels of sex hormone binding globulin. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 64(5), pp.1083-1085.
Schoenfeld, B.J. and Aragon, A.A., 2018. How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1), p.10.
Simopoulos, A.P., 2008. The importance of the omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio in cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases. Experimental biology and medicine, 233(6), pp.674-688.
Volek, J.S., Kraemer, W.J., Bush, J.A., Incledon, T. and Boetes, M., 1997. Testosterone and cortisol in relationship to dietary nutrients and resistance exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 82(1), pp.49-54.
Walberg, J.L., Leidy, M.K., Sturgill, D.J., Hinkle, D.E., Ritchey, S.J. and Sebolt, D.R., 1988. Macronutrient content of a hypoenergy diet affects nitrogen retention and muscle function in weight lifters. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 9(04), pp.261-266.