I have written about the weaknesses of these shows before so won’t go into that here. Please see my previous post on Bad Science here for more on the usual suspects of N=1 studies, correlation not causation, lack of scientific controls etc etc. Instead what I am going to do today is address the topics at the heart of these shows, that is, what you should be eating to be healthy and high performing. I have split this advice into a few different categories below to show that there isn’t a perfect diet for all at any one time. However there are some themes that develop which I will summarise at the end. See if you can spot them…
Disclaimer – Usual stuff here. I’m not a Dr and don’t play one on the internet, if you are considering changing your diet do consult with your healthcare provider for support and guidance. This blog is for informational purposes. Please see my full disclaimer on the home page of this site. Thanks.
Average Office Worker
If you are fairly sedentary then you don’t have a particular demand for glycogen (carbohydrate) and you will be better off using fat as the dominant fuel source. This has the benefits of managing hunger, maintaining consistent energy levels and taking care of the waist line. You can enhance this further by delaying your breakfast to encourage your body into a ketogenic (fat fuelled) state. A typical day might be a low carb egg muffin and a coffee at mid-morning, a beef and kale stir fry with a glug of olive oil at lunch, dinner of salmon and veggies and some small snacks of mixed nuts and deli meat. You may add to this approach by having some carbs with your meals a couple of times a week which is easily done with some potatoes or white rice.
If you have a lifestyle similar to our office worker above but you like to play a bit of sport, go cycling or maybe to a few gym classes then you can follow the advice above but just match your carb intake to how active you have been. If you’ve really worked hard then having a meal afterwards of meat and carbs, such as tuna and rice, will aid your recovery and replenish your muscle glycogen without storing any fat. If you have a lighter session you may want to just focus on starchier veg with your meat, such as carrots and parsnips.
Hard Charging Athlete
If you train full time or train around work but very intensely then the advice changes again. The basic approach is the same - you want to eat quality protein and fat from real food sources, however the complexity comes in matching your carbohydrate intake to your activity and there is plenty that can be played with here dependant on when you train and what that training entails. The bottom line however is that you want to provide fuel and recovery agents to your muscles when they need it most. The advice is therefore to eat medium protein and high fat before training and then high protein and high carb straight after training. This approach will give you the performance and recovery elements you need to be successful whilst also ticking the health boxes you need to stay that way over the longer term.
Metabolic Issues (Obesity, Diabetes etc)
If we take a look at all metabolic issues there is a common factor – insulin resistance. Insulin is the hormone produced when you ingest carbohydrate, and to a lesser extent amino acids. If you have issues with insulin then the obvious solution is to minimise carbohydrate. So again we are in the situation described above for our office worker – eat real food, mainly protein fat and veggies. The slight complexity comes due to the metabolic dysregulation, whilst introducing a more fasted approach may be helpful for the office worker we aren’t ready for that yet here. Instead focus on 3 meals a day of the components described above. A nice tweak to this which can give some of the benefits of the delayed breakfast above is an intermittent fasting approach called 16:8 – that is you eat all your meals within an 8hr window. This is very achievable for most, helping to normalise the metabolism whilst simultaneously encouraging fat adaption and allowing the cell repair and clean out process called autophagy which conveys further health benefits. So for example you may have breakfast at 9, lunch at 1 and dinner at 5.
What you’ve probably gathered by now is that we should all be eating a variation of a real food diet. That is foods with no ingredient lists. This is enhanced further if you can source local food that has been raised naturally. A further tweak is to match your carbohydrate intake to your activity. If you are fairly sedentary then you should focus on protein and fat with plenty of veggies. If you are very active then up the carbs and replace some of the fat. I don’t think that, as a prescription goes, it is particularly complicated, however it is evidence based (from research, not TV shows) and has been shown to be effective in the real world numerous times. That being said if any TV company would like me to wear a white coat and pad that out for an hour of screen time my email address is on the contacts page.