Is Nutrition Really that Hard to Get Right?

Almost on a daily basis I get questions about diets, dieting, athletes and nutrition or the like. I am not a nutritionist but when we apply some simple logic – you do not have to be in order to observe where we go wrong and what we need to do. We can blame packaged foods, eating out, fast food restaurants and being “busy” for not getting proper nutrition. The same culprits can be blamed for weight gain.

We’re fatter than ever. One stat from the USDA indicated that 90% of 50 year old males take in 2,865 calories compared with the recommended in-take of 2,300 calories. Americans are now consuming more food and several hundred more calories per person per day than in the 1950s. Other data suggest that average daily calorie intake in- creased by 24.5 percent, or about 530 calories, between 1970 and 2000 (Economic Research Service, USDA). Another study by a gentleman named Dr. Church shows a decrease in American daily activity levels by 58% from 1960-2008. That by the way he says means about 140 calories per day not expended today, that were expended 50 years ago just in the daily stuff we do.

Do some math on that last stat. In one week 980 calories are not spent that used to be. That is over 51,000 calories in a year. That is more than 13 pounds per year we would add to our bodies – if we only maintained the amount of activity we have today and ate like we did then. Or we would have to run about a mile and half MORE than we do today, everyday, to just stay even and not gain weight.

Runners love to make comparisons to Kenyans and their training (mostly misquoting or representing it as mega-mile training – which it isn’t). Isn’t it interesting that when it comes to food we don’t seem to contrast their diets to ours in an effort to improve performance or maintain weight? (No, instead we believe the billions-of-dollars supplement company claims; “Take this gel to run faster!” “Take this shake to lose weight!”.) Kenyan diets are 71-79% carbohydrates; 9-15% protein; and 10-15% fat. So much for those low-carbohydrate advocates to maintain the right body weight. And so much for all those carbs “causing” diabetes (It is an unheard of disease in Kenya).

Kenyan food is basic: small amounts of roasted meat, cooked greens, fruit, milk and, always, ugali, a thick, polenta-style cornmeal porridge made from water and maize (corn).

Instead we turn to quick fixes. Instead of regular simple food we turn to protein shakes, supplements, energy drinks, gels and the like. And when we don’t have those we eat portions that could feed a family! You aren’t going to see many Kenyans turning to gels to fuel their efforts. I regularly see runners of all capabilities turning to gels and the like before 5K or 10K races. It makes no sense. Then I see them chowing down after that 5K like they earned some feast. Look – people – you only burned about 300 calories in that 5K!

So, you don’t have to be a nutritionist just use some logic and stop hiding behind myths.

  • Busy or stressed all day doesn’t mean burning calories. Busy does not equal “active”. No, you are not as active as you would like to think.
  • Our activity levels are not only less than what we think they are we also do not burn as many calories working out that we think either.
  • Supplements, energy drinks, protein shakes etc. do not improve our shoddy diets. But, other than most pill form supplements they sure do add calories (go ahead read the labels – and take note of how many servings in that bottle while you’re at it)! And most people do not add these calories into their daily caloric allowance.
  • Running does not afford the vast majority of us extra calories each day – not even on race day. You aren’t burning what you think you are.
  • Stop blaming processed food and restaurants – eat simple and you’ll probably end up with the better deal. You control what goes past your lips – no one else.
  • Most of us would benefit simply from exercising judgment on portion control. We eat too much. Period. Share meals eating out or box it and make another meal out of it. Just because you ordered it doesn’t mean you have to fill your face!

My bottom line when I read dietary research reinforces something I’ve long believed – if we are victims – then we are only victims of our own naïveté in believing slick advertising and endorsements, our lack of self-control, our logic and our choices. Putting it all on our shoulders is a tough one to swallow (pun intended) isn’t it?


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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4 Responses to Is Nutrition Really that Hard to Get Right?

  1. Chuck Abbe says:

    Good ‘food’ for thought here. Amazing to see the high percentage of carbohydrates that the Kenyans consume. Of course, the carbohydrate they consume are pretty healthy overall. The major difference in their diet and ours may be an almost total lack of sugar.

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Actually, a HUGE portion of their diet is sugar! I will need to get the figures from Dr. Owen Anderson who has studied and lived with them but it is on the order of 30%!!!!!!!! How? They load their tea with straight sugar. I’m not sure the exact form of it but that is irrelevant – it is a simple sugar.

  2. Aric Keith says:

    Not sure why it’s surprising. In large parts of the world the basic diet is rice, beans, and sugar!

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