Body Building Resources

Body Building and Nutrition: What
Is "Eating Clean"?
By Jean Lam

Many body builders talk about eating "clean" when preparing for a competition or simply as a lifestyle choice. In its broadest definition, eating clean refers to eating for maximum health benefits. This is a big departure from the common attitude towards food as a source of pleasure.

Eating clean can require considerable discipline-you'll have to avoid junk and processed foods, and you'll need to set aside enough time each day to cook fresh meals rather than relying on fast food. If you're considering a clean diet, here's what it will mean.

Lean protein. If you're eating clean, you'll need to get plenty of protein. But high-fat meats such as pork and fatty steaks, as well as high-sodium bacon and ham, shouldn't be on your menu. Instead, you'll need to eat lean, healthy protein such as chicken and turkey breast, lean beef, salmon, and tuna. Turkey bacon can generally be substituted for high-fat pork bacon, and leaner cuts of steak for the richer cuts that are higher in fat. When cooking poultry, be sure to take the skin off-it's loaded with saturated fat.

No unnatural additives. Clean eating involves staying away from processed foods such as canned food, frozen dinners, boxed mixes, concentrated and unconcentrated fruit juices, pre-cooked meals, packaged foods, and processed meats such as bologna, hot dogs, and most luncheon meats. Processed foods usually contain excess sodium, sugar, trans fats, calories, and other unhealthy chemicals used as preservatives, sweeteners, flavor-enhancers, or dyes. Clean eating usually involves choosing foods as close to their natural states as possible-fresh fruits and vegetables as well as fresh, non-processed meats and fish.

No refined sugar. Refined and simple sugars get absorbed in the blood very quickly, causing an insulin flood and making your energy level spike and then crash. When eating clean, body builders avoid the sugars found in jams, candy bars, cakes, pies, soda, chocolate, ice cream, pastries, and other junk foods. Some sugars are safe, however; these include the natural sugars found in most fruits, as well as those found in green vegetables, mushrooms, nuts, and lentils.

The right carbs. Carbs might be the preferred method of getting energy to your working body-they're considered more healthy than sugar. However, some carbs can be as bad as refined sugars-they're digested quickly and cause a spike in insulin, raising and dropping your energy levels. However, some carbohydrates are digested more slowly, releasing sugars into your bloodstream at a more even rate. These won't cause heavy insulin release or an energy boost followed by a crash.

"Bad" carbs include white breads and rice, white pasta, potatoes, refined cereals, honey, corn and corn chips, and carrots. If you're eating clean, stick to the carbs found in nuts, beans, fruits, brown rice, yams, whole grain oats, wholemeal bread, and whole wheat pastas.

"Good" fats-not "bad." Contrary to popular belief, you actually need fat in order to stay healthy. But not all fats are created equally. The idea of "good" and "bad" fats can cause confusion, so here's a relatively simple breakdown.

"Bad" fats include trans fats and saturated fats. Saturated fats are the types usually found in meat-the fat in steak, bacon, cheese, milk, egg yolk, and chicken skin. Trans fats are also known as "hydrogenated"-and they are made artificially by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil. These fats are often used for processed food, because they don't go bad as quickly as more natural saturated fats. Trans fats are often found in crackers, cookies, donuts, and other sweet and buttery-tasting snacks. Both of these fats can hurt your health by causing cardiovascular disease and diabetes, increasing cholesterol, and, in the case of trans fats, increasing your risk of stroke. They're also more readily stored as fat in your body than "good" fats.

"Good" fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are found naturally in olive oil, avocados, nuts, corn oil, grape seed oil, and canola oil. Polyunsaturated fats are usually found in sunflower, vegetable and cottonseed oils. These fats are usually considered to be best for cooking, and some types-particularly olive oil-promote cardiovascular health. You'll gain weight if you eat these fats in excess, but they are healthy when taken in moderation. You can also get your polyunsaturated fats intake from oily fishes like salmon, herring, sardine, trout and mackerel.

When in doubt about fat, remember that if it's solid at room temperature, it's probably bad for you. If it's liquid at room temperature, it's probably fine.

No alcohol. Some nutritional studies have indicated that alcohol in moderation can be good for you. If you're body building, however, you're generally advised to avoid it. Alcohol packs a caloric punch, with almost twice as many calories per gram as carbs or protein. It's almost as fattening as actual fat, and it supplies no nutritional value along with its calories. Most mixed drinks contain high sugars and fats, while wine and beer contain carbs. When you consume alcohol, you'll also reduce the amount of testosterone your body produces. Since testosterone helps your body burn fat and build muscle, any reduction is bad for your body building efforts.

In addition, alcohol harms you in other ways-from decreasing your motivation to damaging your liver if used in excess. Although it's usually considered a staple of the Western diet, those following a clean diet avoid it as a general rule.

Eating clean does involve some sacrifices; you'll need to make healthy eating choices on a consistent basis. But the rewards of eating clean are numerous. You'll look and feel better, and you'll see more consistent results with your body building routine.

About the author

Jean Lam is the webmaster of Body Building Resource which provides articles on weight training, nutrition and fitness, body building book and DVDs.

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