The other day, a good friend asked me to write about the validity of "eating clean" and if all food is equal when it comes to fitness. The reason for his question is you always hear about fit people who only eat oatmeal and broccoli but on the other hand have stories of elite athletes eating burgers or chicken nuggets while training.
What's the deal?
First, we have to define what "clean eating" even means. For the purposes of this post, we'll just go with only eating whole foods with no artificial ingredients or added sugar (this includes no supplements of any kind). I'm not saying you have to do that to be considered a "clean eater," it's just an example.
And let's say when you're eating clean, you're also tracking your macros (how much you have of carbs, protein, and fat). So, for example, let's pretend I'm eating about 150 grams of carbs, 100 grams of protein, and 50 grams of fat every day. I'm making sure I got my lean meats, fruits, veggies, and nuts, everything is good.
For the most part, I don't have any issue with eating this way, aside from the tendency for people to waste time being overly precise with counting the calories.
What gets in the way of this for many people is when something like ice cream, cookies, or drinks comes into the picture. None of those fall neatly into our clean eating criteria, but we want to enjoy life!
This is where the "flexible dieting" or "If It Fits Your Macros" (IIFYM from now on) style of eating comes in. There is plenty more about this you can read elsewhere, I'll sum it up here. Using the same example as before, if I'm eating 150 grams of carbs a day, under IIFYM, I could get away with eating my carbs in the form of Pop Tarts or cookies instead of fruit and brown rice if I wanted to. As long as everything you eat fits within the macro guidelines you set, you're pretty much golden.
I say "pretty much" because although for weight gain/loss purposes, eating a controlled amount of ice cream should probably work fine, that doesn't account for all the other benefits of choosing whole, unprocessed foods. Namely, you might be more likely to fall short on micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes if you've decided IIFYM is the way to go and you never look at fruit again. In this way, not all food should count equally toward your overall diet.
This is where personal preference comes in and you might start looking into vitamins and supplements as well as accounting for your daily routine and what you have time to prepare for meals and all that.
My suggestion? Go for whole "clean" foods as much as you can, get good at eyeballing your macros, and leave some wiggle room for when your friends surprise you with a plate of brownies.
Hope that clears a few things up, and as always let me know if you have a question you want me to write about!