The recommended daily intake of calories for a man in the UK is 2,500 calories per day and for a woman it’s 2,000. These figures are of course wholly unreliable when dealing with athletes or fitness competitors as the calorie deficit created by extreme exercise activities means that bodybuilders should be consuming more than our relatively sedentary office-dwelling counterparts.
Why then is it that so many competitors are paying trainers to put them on diets that are sub-800 calories per day, are made up of white fish and rabbit food, and that give absolutely no consideration for the athletes long-term physical, mental or emotional well-being?
Essentially, WHY ARE WE PAYING TO STARVE?
The answer is simple: we are told that bodybuilding is meant to be hard, which it is, but we are also often told (incorrectly) that our food should be bland, boring, dry, and served in hamster sized portions out of a Tupperware, and that in order to be a bodybuilder you must also be starving hungry…
Not only is this premise wrong but it is also fundamentally unhealthy and can lead to metabolic shut down, brittle bones / osteoporosis, stomach ulcers, tooth and gum problems, skin disorders and anemia to name but a few.
The below is not a bible and it is not a fail safe, catch all guide, but it is aimed at raising awareness amongst competitors and those new to the sport.
You should not be cutting your calories below around 1,400calories a day – diets of under 1,500calories per day are considered “low calorie diets” by the medical council and anything under 800 calories per day is medically termed a ‘VLCD’ or very low calorie diet, and medical guidance is issued that only people with a BMI of 30 or more should ever engage in a VLCD diet.
Side effects of low calorie diets include fatigue, constipation, nausea, and diarrhea, as well as dizziness, forgetfulness, mood-swings, cravings and irritability.
The lower you cut your calories the less responsive your body becomes as your metabolism grinds to a halt. This is because your body is smart enough to react quickly to the knowledge that it is getting less food for the foreseeable future and thus must hold on to and store what little fat reserves it has left.
Wherever possible create a deficit through additional exercise and training as opposed to withholding food.
It is easier to cut food out than it is to force yourself to sit on a bike for an extra 15 minutes or to push through an additional 30 minutes of HIIT training first thing in the morning, but the effect on your body is incredible. If you have the energy in the first place it is easier to burn it off and the positive effect of more calories and micro-nutrients on the body is unparalleled.
There are a vast number of diets out there and people often follow a diet because other people are doing it or because they read 1 article about it in the newspapers healthy lifestyle section on the way to work, or because their mothers-cousins-best-friends-niece tried it once and they heard it was good…
The problem with this sort of diet application is that it is often poorly researched, based on hear-say or “bro-science” and only loosely follows the original scientific or medical parameters set out for the purposes of the diet.
For example: ketogenic diets. Very simply a ketogenic diet is the principle of cutting out all carbohydrates (from which we gain energy via the breakdown of carbohydrate via insulin), and replacing these carbs with HIGH amounts of fats. From these fats (and our own body fat) we utilize energy via the use of enzymes. This process of fat / energy breakdown is known as: ketosis, hence ketogenic diet.
Now, a ketogenic diet utilizes GOOD fats such as avocado, oily fish, nut oils, virgin olive oils etc. However, many people just hear the words “fat for energy” and start using any old fat, heighten their risk of cholesterol, fill themselves up with saturated fats and become very unwell.
Likewise other people grossly underestimate the AMOUNT of fat you need to run a body and end up massively depriving themselves of calories.
Side-effects of ketogenic diets include halitosis, kidneys problems and a dry mouth.
In summary, learn your diets, don’t pick and choose parts of a diet to suit you, and if you cannot understand a diet, do not try to utilize it as it can do more harm than good.
The number of fitness people who say the words “I’m on a low carb or a zero carb diet” is slowly making it an industry-wide, accepted phenomena. The question that no-one is asking these people is: so where DO you plan to get your energy from if you’re not eating carbs?
Carbohydrates are not the enemy: they are utilized by the body for fuel and to allow it to use it’s protein sources to repair itself. It is the type of carbohydrates that need to be monitored and reduced, not ALL carbohydrates.
Many competitors put themselves on restrictive diets either imposed by themselves or by the trainers that they are paying for advice and follow them blindly without questioning what they are being told to eat.
Many “competition” diets are so restrictive that the athletes taking them often find themselves with iron deficiencies, vitamin B deficiencies or other micro-nutrient problems.
Many micro-nutrient vitamins and minerals can be sourced easily from vegetable or other protein sources which will barely effect your calorie, protein or carbohydrate intake but which will hugely effect your overall health and wellbeing.
If you rattle when you walk and if someone shook you upside down you’d spit tablets all over the place like a pez dispenser then you are probably taking too many supplements. Supplements should be just that: supplements. They should not be used in place of real food or to fix a poor diet.
Many synthetic supplements can’t even be utilized by the body effectively!
For example: has anyone ever noticed having fluorescent green urine after drinking berroca supplements? This is because your body cannot synthesize the synthetic riboflavin (vitamin b) that Berroca is packed with and so it is filtered out in your urine by your kidneys and you don’t utilize it at all.
Are you blindly following the instructions of somebody else even when you know deep down that it’s wrong, you feel unwell and have no energy? Then stop! Although there are many good trainers out there there are also many who don’t know what they’re doing and who can really cause you long-term damage.
If you are unable to get in to condition HEALTHILY within the parameters you have set yourself then you are not ready to be in that condition full stop. Look at yourself objectively, set healthy achievable goals and work towards them by using a balanced, healthy diet that allows you to come in to condition slowly and with maximum health and vitality.
Written by: Georgia Simmon UKBFF