Whether you're an aspiring Olympian or a newbie gym goer, fueling your body the right way means much more than balancing your caloric intake with expenditures. Eating the right foods - and knowing which foods to avoid - is key to building and maintaining an elite, well-conditioned, aesthetic physique. Certain foods increase muscle growth, boost your energy, and aid in muscle repair while others . . . well, they're pretty good for sabotaging your gains and that's about it.
Listen, I love a cheat meal just as much as the next guy. That said, there are certain foods even I won't touch. Here are 4 foods that you should never, EVER put into your body if you're serious about getting results.
1. Diet Soda
Many people see diet soda as a no-harm-no-foul drink option. Sure, it's not the best source of hydration, contains zero nutrients, and isn't great for your teeth. But it's also got zero calories, so what's the worst it could do? In reality, the scales aren't exactly neutral when it comes to that Diet Coke.
Artificially sweetened foods (particularly when consumed on the daily) can dramatically increase your risk of cardiovascular and other health problems. Moreover, when you consume artificial sweeteners, your body thinks it's taking in real food - real food that's 100+ times sweeter than normal. As a result, your body begins generating insulin, a hormone that promotes fat storage. (For more on the adverse health effects of diet soda, check out this Health.com piece.)
To avoid this parade of horribles, believe it or not, you're actually better off saving soda for your cheat meal and drinking the real thing. Just don't go crazy by grabbing that Big Gulp.
2. Canned Soup
It's fall time, and that means you're going to have those days when nothing sounds better than a can of warm tomato or chicken noodle soup. Warning bells should go off, though, when you take a peek at that nutrition label. There's a reason canned soups have such long shelf lives - all the highly processed ingredients and ridiculous sodium content. Too much sodium can lead to excess water retention, which will absolutely wreck your gains. (More about that to come in a future post.)
3. Microwave Popcorn
Whether you pop it at home or plunk down a week's salary for a tub at the movie theater, microwave popcorn is definitely one of the foods to avoid. This dietary deadbeat is filled with crazy amounts of sodium and absolutely zero nutrients. (Also, beware of the chemicals. The lining of most microwave popcorn bags contains perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA, which is also present in Teflon cookware.)
That said, here's the funny thing about popcorn. If you air pop it or pop kernels on the stove with a tad of coconut oil, your otherwise gains-wrecking snack magically turns into a superfood. Cooked this way, popcorn contains high levels of antioxidants and dietary fiber, both of which aid in training performance and recovery.
This item makes the "foods to avoid" blacklist primarily because it's too much of a good thing. Yes, granola has fibrous oats as a base, which are a perfect carb source for the breakfast and post-workout meals. Granola's downfall is that most versions come loaded up with sugar, unnecessary fats, and a fairly high calorie count.
For many people, granola also falls into what I call the "pita chip trap" (i.e., in moderate amounts, it's fine, but no one can ever have just a few). Seriously, who stops at 1/4 - 1/2 cup of granola?! Save the granola for a cheat meal and instead slam down some regular oats with 3-4 egg whites or a protein shake.
Any so-called "healthy" foods you're curious about? Simply drop me an e-mail or Facebook message and I'll be glad to point you in the right direction!