I was having dinner with the charming and witty Phil Caravaggio the other day, and naturally, as happens with gym nerds, the conversation turned to training and nutrition. We talked about this research and that research, and the challenges of working with clients who come in with a variety of half-baked nutritional theories.
“The funny thing is,” said Phil, “all the scientific research goes to the same place. No matter what angle the researchers take, it all ends up at the same destination: eat your fruits and vegetables and get off your ass.”
That destination, in other words, is frequent, regular activity and good nutrition. Yep, the same stuff you’ve been reading all over this site, and the same stuff that your grandma probably told you that you should be doing.
Monty Python fans in the reading audience may recall the final scene of the film The Meaning of Life, when the meaning of life is revealed in all its glorious banality: “Uh, try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations…” Research into fitness and nutrition is more or less the same thing.
People often feel confused by the plethora of well-meaning advice available. Scientific studies, when popularized, are often inflated and their results applied inappropriately. I mean, who wants to read a moderate, cautious recommendation? Who wants to read that the food or program studied is but a small piece of the puzzle? Who wants to read that wellness and health come from a lifestyle and a commitment to ongoing maintenance and improvement, not a bottle or a pill or a special piece of exercise equipment?
We want the next miracle drug, workout regimen, or food! And we want it to be easy, cheap, and not involve too much commitment on our part. We want it to be something that we can do in our La-Z-Boy between a ciggie and a beer. We want to pretend that our physiology and our metabolisms are unique, special things that defy the laws of nature and thermodynamics, and require some fancy combination of foods eaten while standing on our heads and then, only then will we have the thin thighs we dream of.
Well tough shit. It doesn’t work that way.
However, here are some basic rules to live by that are supported by just about every piece of scientific evidence from the last 20 years.
- lots of fruit and vegetables, preferably colourful ones
- whole, unrefined grains
- good fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, oily fish
- plenty of soluble and insoluble fibre
- adequate lean protein that is low in saturated fat
- regularly, preferably daily, as part of an active lifestyle
- choose activity wherever possible in everyday life: walk to the store rather than drive, take the stairs rather than the elevator
- with a variety of activities including resistance training and a cardiovascular fitness component
- to be well, happy, and healthy (mentally, emotionally, and physically)
- to have fun
- to keep learning
- to care for yourself and for others
You’ll notice that none of this advice contains crap about eating right for your blood type, eating only cabbage soup or no carbs after 8 pm, training to harness the cosmic vibrations so that your fat vibrates away magically, or any other dumb ideas.
But there is one little piece of research that you might enjoy. Antioxidant consumption is a major component of good nutrition. And one of the foods that is highest in antioxidants? Dark chocolate. See, science isn’t so bad after all, is it?