The fitness industry is caught in this endless loop of selling you what you want to hear rather than what you need. The basic assumption goes like this: you eat horrible, you don’t eat many whole foods, and if you avoid “these five foods” you will reach fitness nirvana (double 8 pack abs with unicorns tattooed on each muscle).
Well, that’s a bunch of bullshit. In this list I will explain to you why most of that talk is uninformed and pretty much just reinforcing what you think you want to hear.
Rice Krispy Treats
We have a social group attached to Eat To Perform – it’s full of people posting PRs and in general having a good time. There is also a fair amount of food porn, and among the most popular is Rice Krispy Treats. I always tell new people that you have to sort of imagine a lie you’ve been told and believed for a long time only to find out that not only was it not true, it couldn’t be more false. That’s the genesis of the RKT pics; it’s like being free from food prison only to find out there were thousands just like you (now with Pinterest pages full of RKT recipes). Now I am going to give you the disclaimer I often give: I haven’t had a Rice Krispy Treat in years, not because I am a food purist but because I just enjoy different foods that I can also use to reach my goals. That said (as the title of this article implies) you are much more likely to develop protruding abdominal muscles from RKTs than you will from eating more Kale. Let me explain why.
The effectiveness of eating a mostly whole foods diet is that meats and veggies don’t tend to add up to a whole lot of Calories. This sounds like a good thing and in fact, if you’ve been eating like a moron for the last twenty years (like I was) that’s probably a great place to start. Certainly, having abs at that point wasn’t my biggest concern so follow me here: you weren’t eating all that great and you started eating more meats and veggies. It’s hard to argue against that being a good thing. Once the results slowed, you did what most people do and you added some activity while eating roughly the same amount of food. Your body simply adjusted to that as well. So you again did what most people do: you started eating even less because it seems like the next logical course of action. This is the wrong way to approach things and you can really get caught up in it. If you want some real good examples of what I’m talking about, check out these pictures of me in this article. Actually in the first picture I WAS eating a fair amount of food I was just doing too much cardio. That brings me to my next point and the reason why RKT’s make abs.
Calories by themselves aren’t all that useful. I mean sure, you need them to function but what I mean is they aren’t necessarily going to add up to “less calories equals magazine cover ab shot”. In fact almost the exact opposite is what allows for muscle to be built. Unless you are new to resistance training (either weight lifting or body weight movements) it’s going to take a real smart approach to maintain and build muscle. It’s really this constant focus on fat that is keeping people stalled.
The primary ingredient in RKTs is rice. Rice is a great food! Hell, even the sugar serves a purpose but when you add it all up you have about 350 Calories a square (just as an example). So if you have bought into the “as low as possible” dogma and you go I only eat 950 calories a day, there is no way you can fit in 350 for just a snack…and that is sort of the point. It’s this focus on “less less less” all of the time that is killing your metabolism and potentially causing all kinds of health issues.
Certainly I am not making a cause for JUST eating RKTs. Another title this article might be “How To Use Rice Krispy Treats & Kale To Make Abs”. Look I get it, if you have been eating meats and veggies doing the “naughty” and “nice” list approach to food you might feel imprisoned and let’s be clear, YOU ABSOLUTELY CAN do this without Rice Krispy Treats. I know because I do it. What I am saying though is that you have to get your Calories higher and SOME energy dense foods are required to do that.
I had to add this one because it’s always the banana that they pick on. I’m calling BS on the thought that the banana doesn’t really provide all that much nutrition. Once again, we have the focus more on what you can take out rather than what you can add in. Bananas can be a great addition to anyone’s diet. The riper your banana, the more “starchy” value it has. Similar to my point above, you want starches because they’re a near unbeatable source of glucose, your body’s preferred fuel source. Check out this article on which fuel source your body prefers: fat or carbohydrates.
Sodium is an extremely misunderstood nutrient. You’re probably doing yourself a disservice by reducing it unless you have a specific condition that demands a lower intake. This is especially true if you’re an active person. Why? For one, sodium plays a vital role in regulating fluid balance and hydration. Combined with potassium from the banana above (along with calcium) you have electrolytes required for proper muscular function. Depletion of sodium via sweating and urination can literally crush your performance. Additionally, sodium intake can increase the rate at which your intestines absorb nutrients and it pumps up your blood volume as well. If you’ve ever wondered why your muscles look more full and your veins pop out after a pizza date, now you know.
That’s all a bit of a simplistic way of showing you that salt isn’t the enemy most would have you believe. Now, I guess I’m supposed to throw up some qualifier here and talk about eating processed vs. unprocessed foods. Let me say it this way: if you are eating McDonald’s more than a couple times a week, you know that the processed foods in your diet need to be mitigated. I am talking to the rest of us, the folks that make eating real food a priority. If you eat a lot of unprocessed foods and keep the sodium out, you are missing out on an essential nutrient, so throw some salt on that banana and let’s get those abs popping.
This deserves its own article. Luckily, we have one so check it out. The long and short is taking alcohol out completely is a bad plan if you plan on drinking in the future. Alcohol is calorically dense and let’s face it, unless you have an issue with alcohol, wine and beer are probably coming back at some future point. YOUR PLAN NEEDS TO INCLUDE WINE AND BEER…it just needs to be moderated like any other food.
If you’re an alcoholic and this suggestion bothers you, I need you to know that I’m writing this from the perspective of an alcoholic; I have been sober for more than 28 years. Our problems were never the problems of people that can consume alcohol responsibly. For everyone else, the term “beer belly” exists for a reason. If your big “diet plan” is to remove the 6 pack of Bud you drink almost daily, that’s probably a good thing for your physique but not because you are or aren’t drinking to excess – it’s because those Calories add up over time and don’t really contribute a whole lot to your system. So some sort of plan related to alcohol has to be in place otherwise you will always struggle to see the results you want.
An Argument for Sanity
If there is one thing that I’m learning with Eat To Perform is that there are two camps that really stand out. “The Clean Eaters” and the folks that enjoy most of the foods above, sometimes responsibly and sometimes not. The simple fact of the matter is this, both could benefit from knowing the approach of the other and why it does or does not work. It’s this polarizing point of view on food that leaves people feeling judged and frankly doesn’t lead to whole lot of enlightenment.
If you are a health professional (trainer, dietitian or even a doctor) if you aren’t teaching your folks some level of flexibility, are you really helping them? Let me put that differently: if you tell someone their life will be better if they do the Tour De France every 4 months, that’s not all that sustainable is it? The reason I am using the Tour De France as an example is because it represents the type of extreme you are prescribing and it’s leaving everyone obese.
Do you honestly think these folks have never dieted or tried reducing their intake of processed foods? Admit it, you haven’t spent a whole lot of time doing the research and what you are offering as the solution is ACTUALLY the problem for a lot of people. Painting your clients in a corner like that isn’t helping and if you are fit you know that you don’t eat like that and if you do eat like that you’re missing out on a lot of genetic potential.
I am not arguing for processed foods or even alcohol. I am arguing for sanity and understanding. and if the first thing we are starting with is an approach that doesn’t foster building and maintaining muscle then we are really missing the boat. Muscle is the main driver for metabolism and expanding your metabolic rate. Teaching people a way that makes their body more inflexible shouldn’t be the goal. This is why demonizing foods misses the real point and the real point is that you shouldn’t be dieting all of the damn time. That way when you do it will be more effective especially when you do it with a more enlightened approach.