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Chapter 6 - Diet: Becoming Food Savvy


There are two main goals of most popular diet books:

  • Changing body composition.


  • Increasing performance.

All diet books fall into one of these two categories, or both. My goal in the next section is not to add to the growing list of end-all, be-all diets, but to give you the basic knowledge and understanding, along with the ability to ask the right questions, so that you can wade through the sea of information and put together a food plan that accommodates your goals, taste buds, and lifestyle.

How and Why Most People Eat

Reactionary Eating

Survival or Entertainment diets are reactionary food intake behaviors. I’m hungry, so I eat. I am bored or under emotional stress, so I eat. The Survival diet is the most common and Entertainment is the most abused and detrimental. The purposes of food intake for these eating patterns are:

  • Pleasure (Taste, entertainment, mood enhance)
  • Satiety Response (Feeling full)
  • Performance (Giving the body the nutrients it needs)

Is this you?

Rational Eating

Body Composition and Optimal Performance diets are goal-focused, food-intake behaviors. The goal for these types of diets is to change either the body composition (fat-to-lean body mass ratio), the blood chemistry of the body, or both. Optimal Performance diets strive to maintain high levels of mental and physical energy, while maintaining healthy blood chemistry. Examples of eating for optimal performance include an athlete’s eating to maintain high levels of physical energy and a diabetic’s managing blood glucose levels through food intake. Many Optimal Performance diets also have positive effects in maintaining or creating desired body composition. Body Composition diets strive to do one thing: change the way you look. Since many Body Composition diets fall short in giving the body the essential nutrients it needs, an individual’s performance and health can suffer on these diets if proper precautions are not taken.

The reasons for food intake with the Body Composition and Optimal Performance diets are:

  • Performance or Goal (Caloric addition, restriction, or some performance goal)    
  • Satiety Response (Feeling full)          
  • Pleasure (Taste, entertainment, mood enhance)

It is the food decisions that you make the majority of the time that determine your food intake priorities, not the occasional slip to the dark side. Remember the 80/20 guideline.    

Most people hear the word “diet” and begin to think of being forced to eat things they do not like, or to eat in a way that does not fit their lifestyle.My goal is to help you create a menu that meets your performance and goal needs, in addition to satisfying your taste buds and lifestyle.You can do this by empowering yourself with food and nutrition knowledge that will have you making savvy food choices, not superstitious guesses.

Why Eat?

Food intake provides the essential nutrients* the body needs to function efficiently and properly on a day-to-day basis.

They are: 1) Water 2) Vitamins and Minerals 3) Protein 4) Carbohydrates and 5) Fat.

In summary:

  • Water: Makes up to 50-70% of your body’s weight and is responsible for regulating body temperature, removing waste, and transporting other nutrients to the body’s cells.

 Caloric value = 0

  • Vitamins, Minerals, and Phytochemicals: Play key roles in a number of metabolic functions such as energy production and muscle contraction, along with growth and repair of cells. Caloric value = 0
  • Protein: The building blocks of the body. Protein is made up of amino acids which build and repair brain, skin, hair, muscle, and connective tissue, as well as enzymes and hormones. Caloric value = 4 calories per gram
  • Carbohydrates: Provide the body with a quick and clean burning energy supply. Non-refined sources also provide many vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, protein, water, and fiber. Caloric value = 4 calories per gram
  • Fat: Source of energy and essential fatty acids that are needed to make cell membranes and hormones, along with transporting fat-soluble vitamins. Caloric value = 9 calories per gram
*Essential Nutrients: The body needs these for normal growth and development, but is unable to manufacture them, so they must be taken in through the diet.

2) Protein: The great debate!!

Protein is made up of individual amino-acids, which can be thought of as “building blocks.” There are 20 individual amino acids. These individual amino acids are chained together by chemical peptide bonds in a number of different ways to build and repair tissue, enzymes, and hormones. There are 9 essential amino acids that your body needs and cannot produce on its own, so these must come from your food intake. When you eat protein, your body breaks it up into the individual amino acids and they are stored in amino acid pools in your blood, liver, and muscles. These amino acid pools are like building block supply stores for your body. Your body comes to your supply stores to get the amino acids that it needs to build and repair the body.

If your supply stores do not have enough amino acids in inventory, your body goes to its second source: Your Muscle! A diet with insufficient protein intake will cause the body to go into a catabolic state. As we learned earlier, catabolic means breaking down. Your body begins breaking down protein tissue from one area for protein needs in another. However, this is not a license to go protein crazy.

In order for protein to be used as a building block, sufficient total calories that meet energy demands must be met from other sources. If the total number of calories taken in is insufficient, protein will be used to meet energy demands instead of building block needs.

Down sides and Risks with Excessive Protein Intake:

  • Potential long-term kidney and liver damage from processing and excreting an abundance of unused amino acids. (To date, no studies have shown this to be true in healthy adults in the short-term).
  • Leeching of calcium from the body. (High protein foods cause the kidneys to excrete acid. The body releases calcium from the bones to buffer the high acid influx. It is hypothesized that this “acidic” reaction caused by many foods, including high protein diets, could be a cause for osteoporosis. It is believed also that foods high in phosphate can have the same buffering effect without the loss of bone density. However, most high protein diets lack foods high in phosphate).
  • Some protein sources supplemented with iron can cause levels of toxicity if taken in excess over an extended period of time.
  • An unbalanced diet with limited food choices creates a risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies and the inability to replenish muscle glycogen stores after bouts of exercise.

A performance diet will provide enough protein throughout the day, through meals and snacks, to meet the body’s demands for repair and growth by keeping the amino acid pools full and energy stores up. It will also provide enough total calories through fat and carbohydrate intake to spare protein from being used as a fuel source.

How much is enough and when?

Your need for protein is dependent on your LBM and activity level. A 300 lb football player with 250 lbs of LBM who trains four hours a day is going to have a higher demand for protein because he is going to be doing a lot more breaking down and building up of tissue than a 135 lb man with 100 lbs of LBM who types at a computer all day.

The American Dietetic Association (ADA), taking into account the protein need differences between a sedentary population and an athletic population and reviewing the research in this area, came up with the following guidelines for protein requirements (34):

American Dietetic Association Protein Recommendations

Activity Level Grams of protein 
per lb of total body weight
Adult recreational exerciser 0.5 - 0.75
Adult competitive athlete 0.6 – 0.9
Adult building lean body mass 0.7 – 0.9
Adult athlete restricted caloric intake 0.7 – 1.0
Growing teenage athlete 0.9 – 1.0
Adapted from (1).

What I like about the ADA’s recommendations is that they take into account the different activity levels of individuals and their goals. They also make a point of noting that people restricting their overall caloric intake need additional protein. What I do not particularly like is that the recommendations are given using total body weight and not lean body mass. This is not the fault of the ADA. All of the available research in this area uses a gram-to-body-weight ratio, but there is a big difference between a 200 lb athlete with 7% body fat and a 200 lb couch potato with 25% body fat, about 34 lbs of lean body mass difference.

In his best-selling diet book, Enter the Zone, Dr. Barry Sears takes into account both activity level and lean body mass when giving his protein recommendation. I am not going to get into the 40/30/30, 60/20/20, or any other carbohydrate, protein, fat breakups now; that will be addressed in a future section. Dr. Sears’ protein requirement formula is a simple one: Lean body mass x Activity Factor = Daily Protein Requirement (35). The important point I think we can learn from this is to take into account both activity levels and the amount of lean body mass when it comes to determining protein needs.

Zone Protein Recommendations

Activity Protein Requirement grams per lb of Lean body mass
Sedentary 0.5
Light (i.e., walking) 0.6
Moderate (30 minutes per day, 3 times per week) 0.7
Active (1 hour per day, 5 times per week) 0.8
Very Active (2 hours per day, 5 times per week) 0.9
Heavy weight training or twice-a-day exercise (5 x per week) 1.0
 Adapted from (35).

The Zone diet’s protein recommendations have taken a lot of hits by some nutritionists and the ADA, calling it a high protein diet. However, before we pass judgment lets take make a quick comparison between the two recommendations.

ADA and Zone Guidelines Comparison 200 lbs. Athletes

  Athletes #1 Athletes #2
200 lbs. Competitive Athlete 7% body fat
186lbs of lean body mass
17% body fat
166lbs of lean body mass
ADA Protein Recommendation 120 -180 grams per day 120 – 180 grams per day
The Zone Recommendation 167.5 grams per day 150 grams per day

ADA and Zone Guidelines Comparison 120 lbs Athletes

  Athlete #1 Athlete #2
120 lbs. Recreational Athlete (Regular Exerciser 3-5 x week) 22% body fat
93.5lbs of lean body mass
35% body fat
78lbs of lean body mass
ADA Protein Recommendation 60-90 grams per day 60-90 grams per day
The Zone Recommendation 75 grams per day 62.5 grams per day

The comparison shows us very quickly, I think, that there is no reason to be alarmed by the Zone’s recommendations. They fall well within the ADA guidelines and generally fall closer to the lower recommendation. The Zone also gives a much more precise starting point, which can be extremely important as we look into the potential fattening ramifications of the ADA’s guidelines.

If we look closer at the comparison of the 200 lb athletes, it shows that the ADA recommendation has 60 grams of play. That recommendation can add up to extra calories very quickly, and we know what happens to extra energy by now, right? Extra energy = stored energy = fat! We are talking about a potential 1,200 calorie daily difference between the 120 gram and 180 gram recommendations. As illustrated below, if an individual uses the 120 gram protein recommendation as 20% of his caloric intake, he will be looking at a total intake of 2400 calories. If he uses the 180 gram recommendation as 20% of his caloric intake, he will have a caloric intake of 3,600 calories, a difference of 1,200 calories each day. Taking lean body mass into account can give us a more accurate starting point.

How much protein you actually need depends on lean body mass and activity levels, but it also depends on how efficiently your body uses the protein it is given and the type of protein it is given. As we will learn in the next section, not all protein is created equal, and in the “Finding the right %” section we learn that the Sunburn Principle of individual response can affect how our bodies utilize the protein it is given.

The protein calculator on the companion CR-ROM
takes into account lean body mass and activity.