I do not black and white statements like, “don’t eat this” or “make sure you eat that.” I try to avoid them whenever possible. Nevertheless, there are some instances when bad information is proliferated so widely as the truth that some black and white statements become necessary. Such is the case with the foods listed below.
Please note that this is not an indictment of flexible dieting, standard bodybuilding dieting, or any other diet that currently exists. This is simply a statement of consideration for the inflammatory effects of food that go beyond the simple counting of calories and macro nutrients. Chronic inflammation is the single greatest obstacle to our health, fitness, and ability to build muscle and burn fat. It reduces our sensitivity to the hormone insulin, which reduces the efficiency of our ability to store nutrients in our muscles, obliging our body to shuttle nutrients into our fat cells (see Hyman 2012, Perlmutter 2013). Inflammation will not only affect your ability to burn fat and build muscle: it could also lead to diseases like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Athletes are not exempt from this. In fact, a recent article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine asserts that up to 40% of athletes express symptoms of health problems symptomatic of obesity even though they have normal body mass indexes (BMI) (Maholtra et al. 2015). The lesson is that even athletes, who train everyday, cannot outrun a bad diet.
Take these recommendations for what they are. Everyone is different, and blanket statements will not apply to everyone. Nevertheless, I only ask that you consider health implications of what you eat beyond your own aesthetics. Paying attention to your chronic inflammation levels may allow you to become even more successful, and allow you to pursue your fitness goals for a longer period of time.
- Tilapia and Farm Raised Fish – Tilapia is an old favorite of most bodybuilders because of its high protein and low fat content. It is inexpensive, easy to cook, and neutral in flavor – which makes it easy to eat six times a day. Nevertheless, Tilapia and farm raised fish are sourced in a manner that makes them extremely nutritionally deficient. In fact scientists have found that Tilapia actually contains a fatty acid ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3s that make it worse for you than eating a hamburger, or bacon. This is due, not to its calories, but the level of inflammation that this fatty acid ratio causes in the body (Weaver et al. 2008). This does not mean that fish is bad in general, but that you should opt for wild caught fish whenever possible.
- Gluten – Gluten free has become a diet cliche. It seems like everyone has celiac disease or gluten intolerance these days. Nevertheless, many of the concerns are well founded. Studies demonstrate that nearly 40% of people could have an inflammatory response to gluten without actually demonstrating immediate symptoms (Perlmutter 2013). Such low level inflammatory response could consistently raise levels of insulin resistance and increase fat storage while systematically debilitating digestive health. My advice is to experiment with a gluten free diet for 3 to 4 weeks to see how it makes you feel. If it makes you feel better, it’s a good sign that gluten free might be a good choice for you.
- Overly High Carbohydrate Diets – If you want to be big, eat more. We hear it over and over again. But this black and white statement ignores a simple fact. The more you eat, the more insulin you release. The more insulin you release the less sensitive you become to the hormone and the higher your levels of inflammation rise. As this happens, less nutrients go to your muscle cells and more go to your fat cells. Carbohydrates are not an evil nutrient, but they have diminishing returns. Eat enough to recover from your workouts and build muscle, but not so much that they build fat, or you could be shooting yourself in the foot.
For more tips on how to build muscle and burn fat through battling inflammation, check this blog regularly or apply for my VIP online coaching here. You can also check out my online training group for a more affordable option, which gives you 24 workouts a month and exclusive access to my private video collection including my 10 part series on setting up your own diet.
Maholtra et al. “Its Time to Bust the Myth of Physical Inactivity and Obesity: You Cannot Outrun a Bad Diet” British Journal of Sports Medicine
Perlmutter, David (2013) Grain Brain
Hyman, Mark (2012) The Blood Sugar Solution