Monday, March 7, 2016

Context Is King, And The King Of All Context Is...

The thing about social media is that ... well, in real life we all know that one guy or girl who thinks they're an expert on EVERYTHING, right? Done nothing, knows everything. Maybe you work with them or something and you get to hear all about how EVERY thing works all day every day from someone who has the same job as you and doesn't even do it as well as you...

That's EVERYONE on social media. Or... that's how it feels at times anyway, am I right?

Therefore on social media you have 9 thousand million unqualified opinions all telling you a bunch of stuff about health and nutrition and quite specifically what YOU aren't doing right and what you need to be doing. And they don't know a god damn thing about you, and for that matter they don't know a god damn thing about a god damn thing.

Listen. When it comes to nutrition advice, context is king.
Context is king and the king of all context is in how that relates to YOU and your unique individual requirements and circumstances.

Individual requirements. 

These are determined in part by your height, your age, sex but even more so by the type, amount and "level" of activity you're in the habit of engaging in. By level I mean, there's a difference in the energy requirements of an advanced level athlete training for an hour a day compared to a beginner training for the same amount of time with a similar approach.

Random fkn know it alls don't get this stuff. They just think some catch phrase or slogan they heard will work for everyone.

Just Eat Clean.

"Just eat clean" is one such slogan. It's nonsense. What does "eat clean" even mean in the first place? I try to remember to wash my hands before a snack just in case they have other people's germs on them some how but I don't think that's what they're getting at.

Just eat clean, or paleo, or... whatever else. In no way does following this advice suggest you'll meet and not exceed your energy requirements. As an active person, the more restrictions you apply arbitrarily to your meal choices, the more likely you are to fall short of an adequate provision and potentially end up under nourished.

IIFYM: Best Macronutrient Ratio.

In IIFYM groups you'll often see ridiculous arguments going on between people espousing a different macronutrient ratio as what's "best". Again, "best for whom?" is the question. In the first place, what is of chief importance is in establishing a consistent total energy provision that is at least adequate, and preferably more optimal. Again this range will be influenced by the type, level and amount of training being performed and these factors will also influence the optimal ratio of macronutrients, and these would be fine tuned on an individual basis subject to assessing the results. To argue for a particular percentage split outside of the context of an individuals total energy requirements is demonstrate a complete and utter lack of understanding of sports nutrition.

Eat Less, Move More.

"Eat less, move more" is another common slogan. It assumes a lot about whoever this helpful piece of advice is directed at. While it would seem appropriate for someone who actually is largely inactive and has eating habits that are extra indulgent... it is hardly helpful to those who are participating in some form of training or other activity and who are paying some (or perhaps too much) attention to their diet. If a client is training for a half marathon and would like to drop 10kg in the process, is it really likely that she needs to "move more"? If a client is "eating clean" or following some other restrictive approach to dieting, is it really likely that she needs to "eat less"?

Eat More To Lose Weight.

However, that's not to say "eat more to lose weight" is necessarily any better advice, and this is another one that keeps popping up lately.

Context is king. If a person is not very active, not very consistent at making it to training, paying little attention to diet... it's extremely unlikely that eating more is going to result in anything other than further weight gain. However, for clients who are already training consistently and following some low calorie, low carb, or otherwise restrictive eating regime, eating more to reach an adequate total energy and macronutrient provision is likely to be exactly what they need.

It's a helpful message to get people away from that "add an hour of cardio and slash 200 calories per day" mentality when they see a stall in fat loss progress, but again... context is king. 

Calorific Deficit.

I used to really loathe what seemed like being needlessly pendantic and quibbling over terms, but the past half a decade or so has made me realise that language & choice of wording can be highly problematic. The intention can be good, the advice generally speaking can be sound... but if there is room for someone to misinterpret it and have it exacerbate already destructive behaviour then this is a problem that we must avoid.

So to clarify the issue surrounding "calorific deficit". It is correct to say "you cannot lose weight or lose fat while in calorie surplus". You do have to be in deficit to lose fat. However, this is not the same as saying "if you are not losing weight, you are not in calorific deficit and so long as you are in deficit you will see progress". 

As people are more consistently active and especially as their performance at training improves, they will require a higher total energy provision in order to perform, to recover, and to maintain lean mass at the expense of fat stores as an adaptation to training. This amount is still "in deficit" of a surplus amount which by definition is in excess of requirements and would lead to fat gain (or failure to lose fat), but again... it is very important that we do not further propagate that "add an hour of cardio and slash 200 calories" mentality especially with clients who may already be over training, underfueling and displaying signs of disordered & destructive behaviour around food and exercise.

Bottom line.

Type, amount and level of activity are determining factors in each individual's total energy requirement and optimal macronutrient profile. All other advice must be within the context of meeting at least an adequate level of intake, and preferably closer to optimal. Those who train quite consistently at beyond a beginner's level of performance and proficiency will have much higher requirements (even when weight loss is a goal) than an inactive person. 

When giving specific individual advice, these requirements must be assessed and taken into account. When giving general advice, we must specify to what circumstances or client profile they apply to. What is good advice to one may be detrimental, destructive or harmful to another.