Although triathletes are a very diverse bunch, common amongst us is the desire to be healthy. This usually extends beyond physical activity and includes multiple aspects of everyday living, not the least of which is what we eat. Whether the goal is best performance, overall healthy living, or weight loss, triathletes are drawn to considerations of what goes in our bodies.
For an overall healthy diet, best scientific evidence suggests a well-balanced diet with reasonable portion sizes. These recommendations from Health Canada include practical and relatively common advice such as limiting sugar and salt, quenching thirst with water versus high-calorie beverages, limiting alcohol, and considering lean meats or alternatives. This well-rounded diet will support needs for various vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
Where things quickly get more complex is when there are other nutritional targets in place, such as living with a chronic illness like diabetes or reducing the recurrence of kidney stones. Yet the biggest muddle is in diets with the goal of weight loss. There are Bernstein and Atkins, the keto diet or Weight Watchers, fruitarians and pescetarians, all with promises of success and many at a cost. Fascinatingly, dieting research shows that all diets work (on average), and the focus of the diet makes no statistically significant difference. All in one way or another encourage quality of food and reasonable portion sizes. Following the saying “what gets measured, gets managed”, focusing intentionally on what you eat leads to weight loss regardless of the particularities.
Now, that said, there are a number of straight up lies, inaccuracies, hocus pocus, and rip-offs out there. The dieting industry in the U.S. is over $65 billion a year, and rest assured not all of it is evidence based. I was struck, for example, by this article on the keto diet:
As above, there is nothing in particular wrong with the keto diet, and in fact the article unpacks some of the considerations and risks, however, it also opens with some clear scientific inaccuracies. For example, it states that “Ketosis…is a sought-after state for people who want to blitz body fat.” This isn’t entirely true as ketosis isn’t just caused by a carbohydrate restricted diet, but also from straight calorie restriction of any variety. A ketogenic state represents pushing the body beyond natural levels of circulating glucose and can very quickly become harmful. For example, the ‘diabetic coma’ is caused by ketoacidosis. Therefore, this isn’t necessarily a sought-after state as body fat reduction can be achieved by calorie restriction without the severity of ketoacidosis.
The article goes on to state that shifting the body into a ketogenic state is a difficult process and can take from two weeks to six months (for which they quote notorious pseudo-scientist and purveyor of questionably useful supplements Ben Greenfield). This is simply categorically false. Ketosis can be achieved in a highly unrecommended one night alcohol binge (which explains the fruity breath smell noticeable the day after someone has binged, that’s ketone bodies), or equally unrecommended fast. He also states that this leads to fat burning for life, which again is categorically false. Ketosis is entirely and immediately reversible by increasing blood glucose. That the article explores some of the controversy of this particular diet while simultaneously repeating false claims is concerning.
So, in conclusion, as you are drawn to considering food as a part of an overall healthy lifestyle be encouraged that focusing on what you eat and how much will improve your health including or excluding weight loss. However, do be aware that false claims are rampant within discussions of diet and be an informed consumer, particularly if choosing to pay for products or support.