THE PYRAMID OF NUTRITION PRIORITIES
WHAT YOU SHOULD BE PRIORITIZING WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR NUTRITION
WHERE THE FOOD PYRAMID WENT WRONG
We all remember the old school food pyramid from 90s–an overstuffed breadbasket at its base and sweets and desserts at the top–Luckily, the ADA realized how flawed this nutritional approach was. The food pyramid underemphasized the importance of lean protein in the diet, suggesting only 2-3 servings a day. Also, with pasta, cereal, bread, and rice at the base of the pyramid, people were definitely OVER EATING grains with a recommendation of 6-11 servings a day, which is way too much for the average American. Not to mention starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, were grouped together with non-starchy vegetables such as your usual leafy greens. A diet with the bulk of its sources coming from grains and starches and very little emphasis on lean protein or healthy fats, it’s no wonder Americans continue to gain weight!
WHAT OUR NUTRITION SHOULD LOOK LIKE
This is the pyramid to nutrition priorities when it comes to your diet (credit to Eric Helms). The base of the pyramid contains calories and energy balance. The energy balance of calories in versus calories out ultimately determines whether weight will be gained or lost. Sadly, this is one of the most frequently ignored pieces to the puzzle. You can’t just ignore calories, even if you’re eating a “clean” diet. If your eating 3,000 calories a day in just veggies but your body has a Total Daily Energy Expenditure of 2,000 calories, you will gain weight–FACT!
The second most important component to your diet is macronutrients. You may have heard that while energy balance determines whether weight is gained or lost, macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fats) determine whether the majority will come from fat or muscle mass. Although that is EXTREMELY oversimplified, a proper macro distribution does play a vital role and needs to be considered.
Then, after macronutrients, you will find micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and water). Long-term micronutrient deficiencies will impact your health and torpedo your weight-loss and training efforts. You need to eat your greens, expand the variety of foods you’re consuming and even supplement in areas where you are deficient.
The third level is nutrient timing and meal frequency. However, the industry has really swung from one extreme to the other with this concept. Many old school bodybuilders used to believe in the “eat big, lift big, get big” mindset, which put an emphasis on larger less frequent meals. Today, the standard has become “eat many small meals throughout the day.” Unfortunately there’re now misconceptions out there stating that “meal timing doesn’t matter” or that “calories don’t count as long as you eat within an 8 hour window”—a natural consequence of people jumping on the intermittent fasting bandwagon without understanding or even caring about the science. As with the case of most things, the truth is somewhere in the middle, and it’s finding the frequency that works best for you and your schedule.
And right at the top of the pyramid are supplements, which are still very useful and beneficial in adding that little edge to a well-structured diet. You have probably heard the saying, “you can’t out supplement a bad diet,” which is one statement I’ve found to be very spot on. Supplements can benefit a good nutrition plan, but they cannot make up for a poor one. Once you have your nutrition in check, the addition of supplements to your diet can be very beneficial and further drive your results! Protein powders are very convenient. BCAAS are great for preserving muscle mass and aiding in recovery and caffeine gives you the kick you need to make a more effective workout.
So, when it comes to your nutrition, I recommend to implement it in this order. Add the least amount of complication to process when starting out. Focus on calories first, then macros, and so on. Get the base of the pyramid down first and move up to improve the next as you progress!
Rachel Scheer is a Certified Nutritionist who received her degree from Baylor University in Nutrition Science and Dietetics. Rachel has her own private nutrition and counseling practice located in McKinney, Texas. Rachel has helped clients with a wide range of nutritional needs enhance their athletic performance, improve their physical and mental health, and make positive lifelong eating and exercise behavior changes.