“fad diet” can be considered a diet that often eliminates at least one essential food group, may recommend a type of food or food group in excess, and is intended to produce
results more quickly than a traditional dietary program. People tend to flock toward fad diets because they provide “rules” that seem easy to follow and they provide structure to a person’s unstructured daily nutrition pattern. These diets often show results, but the results may be too large and too fast based on the extreme nature and the lifestyle change that is being promoted. However, in order to have a healthy and lasting nutritional program, the “rules” should not be restrictive and the “results” should come slowly and gradually (9). This article will discuss
the negatives of fad diets, discuss potential pitfalls, and provide realistic dietary guidelines.
Not all diets are appropriate for every population and this is especially true of an athlete who is expected to train and perform at a high level. The performance aspect is the reason “magazine cover diets” and the hottest trends in weight loss do not generally apply to athletes. Models, actresses, and the general population do not have higher nutritional needs like athletes, and do not have to worry about performance as a factor. Therefore, athletes should not follow the nutrition trends of celebrities or the general
population. The higher needs and greater demands on an athlete’s body include:
- Protein intake
- Fluids and electrolytes
- Carbohydrates (amount dependent on training period)
- Caloric needs due to training period and higher amount of lean mass
- Frequent fueling before training and post-workout recovery nutrition
» Importance on timing for replenishing and repair muscles for optimal energy and performance (6,8).
The following sections will address and discuss some of the negative aspects associated with fad diets, provide a breakdown of some common diets (Table 1), list a few performance pitfalls that often accompany fad diets, and finally provide realistic dietary rules for optimal energy including an example meal plan (Table 2).
NEGATIVES OF FAD DIETS
- Fad diets may eliminate one or more essential food groups or nutrients. Common food groups eliminated include grains and dairy.
» Grains: Source of carbohydrates, especially complex carbohydrates for slow and sustained release of energy. Great sources of vitamin B, fiber, iron, magnesium, and selenium (6,8).
» Dairy: All dairy foods provide benefits to most people, especially athletes. Dairy products provide calcium, vitamin D, and protein, all of which support strong bones (6,8).
» Red meat: Red meats provide protein, vitamin B, iron, zinc, amino acids, and is a natural source of creatine (6,8).
- Rate of weight loss is too rapid. This could be from:
» Loss of water weight: For every gram of glycogen stored, three grams of water are retained. If depletion of glycogen stores occur due to a restricted calorie and carbohydrate intake, a loss of glycogen and water can create the appearance of a fast “weight loss.” This “weight” is also quickly regained once dietary patterns normalize (6).
» Restriction of nutrients: If the body is being provided minimal fuel overall, or even minimal carbohydrates, most of the weight loss will be due to muscle loss. In this scenario, performance may suffer and injury risk may increase. When reverting back to allowing more nutrients in their diet, there is also a risk for weight regain in the form of fat (6,8).
- Dietary pattern is not sustainable and/or extreme in
» An overconsumption of one type of food to replace others: This may lead to deficiencies of some nutrients and excessive intake of others, depending on what food(s) is being discouraged from consumption.
» Periods of fasting: The body will adapt to function on the minimal and inconsistent fuel being provided, which may cause the body to slow its resting metabolism. When the fast is stopped or calorie intake increases slightly, the person is at risk for weight regain.
» Restriction of nutrients: The body will eventually feel deprived and crave more fuel, which may lead to overconsumption or binge eating, thereby resulting in regaining weight (6). Weight regain is due to both
overconsumption and a decrease in resting metabolism.
POTENTIAL PERFORMANCE PITFALLS (2,6):
- Inadequate vitamin and mineral intake:
» Iron: Low iron status is typically seen with insufficient fueling and impairs oxygen delivery to the muscle, causing fatigue and performance issues.
» Calcium: Intake of this primary bone maintenance nutrient may be inadequate if dairy is removed. Other foods provide calcium (e.g., dark and leafy greens, broccoli, legumes,
and salmon), but dairy foods contain the highest amount. Low calcium intake may lead to an increased risk of stress fractures if bone cell turnover is not optimal.
» Sodium: Sodium intake may be insufficient, which increases risk of cramping due to a decrease in water retention and poor sodium replenishment. An inadequate balance of sodium and potassium may also cause impaired muscle function.
- Low carbohydrate consumption:
» Poor energy levels during activity.
» Increased risk of cramping due to inability to retain water, and insufficient calorie intake.
» Depletion of glycogen stores over time, leading to worsening fatigue and increased risk of injury.
» Poor focus, mood, and cognition related to the brain not being properly fueled.
- The brain and central nervous system relies solely on carbohydrates for fuel, and requires about 150 g of carbohydrates, making this an absolute minimum amount for a non-athlete to consume daily. An athlete needing
to fuel for their brain, activities of daily living, and training are going to require much more than 150 g of carbohydrates (2).
- Fasting periods:
» Poor focus, mood, and cognition.
» Lean tissue breakdown can occur during periods of fasting.
» Training with low energy levels during fasting periods.
» Depletion of glycogen stores over time if the muscles do not receive adequate recovery nutrition.
» Inadequate calories during shorter feeding windows, which may lead to weight and/or lean tissue loss.
» Body adapts to burn fewer calories by slowing resting metabolism and storing fat, which sets the body up for failure in losing weight or maintaining weight loss.
One of the aspects of fad diets that make them “easy” and appealing is the “rules” or guidelines that they provide. Below are basic guidelines for anyone, but especially athletes, to follow to help them fuel for optimal energy:
- Eat breakfast within one hour of waking up: This gets the metabolism started and helps to ensure that the body does not start the day with an energy deficit. If athletes have morning practice or workouts and do not want to or cannot eat a full meal, then a snack that has carbohydrates and protein will suffice until they get a full recovery breakfast.
- Fuel frequently (every 3 – 4 hours): This ensures the muscles have energy to use, spares some glycogen stores, prevents muscle from being broken down for energy, and minimizes unwanted fat storage. If the dietary pattern promotes inconsistent fueling, the body will think it needs to store body fat for periods of famine.
- Recover, with carbohydrates and protein, within 30 – 60 minutes of completing a workout: Proper recovery will prevent injury and fatigue over the course of a season and help keep energy levels high during
Carbohydrates replenish energy stores and protein repairs the muscle damage done during the athletic event (8).
- Aim for half an ounce of fluid per pound of bodyweight (1): Adequate hydration practices will help performance overall, but can also help prevent overconsumption at meals or in between meals (1). Sometimes the body can mistake thirst for hunger (1).
- Balance performance plate: Have the following three components:
» Color (e.g., fruit and non-starchy vegetables).
» Lean proteins (e.g., lean beef or pork, fish, chicken, turkey, and low-fat dairy products).
» Complex carbohydrates (e.g., whole wheat bread, bagels, pasta, rice, oatmeal, potatoes, and beans).
All three components should be present, but portion sizes should vary with any nutrition goals or training load for that particular sport, season, and individual. For examples, higher intensity training requires more carbohydrates (6,8). As another example, if an individual is attempting to lose weight or in a period of low- intensity training, having more vegetables instead of fruit may
be beneficial for addressing the “color” aspect while reducing caloric intake.
- American College of Sports Medicine, Sawka, MN, Burke, LM, Eichner, ER, Maughan, RJ, Montain, SJ, and Stachenfeld,
American College of Sports Medicine position stand: Exercise and fluid replacement. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 39(2): 377-390, 2007.
- Bier, DM, Brosnan, JT, Flatt, JP, Hanson, RW, Heird, W, Hellerstein, MK, et al. Report of the IDECG Working Group on lower and upper limits of carbohydrate and fat European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 53(suppl): S177-178, 1995.
- Canadian Medical Intermittent fasting: The next big weight loss fad. Canadian Medical Association Journal 185(8): E321-E322, 2013.
- Escott-Stump, Nutrition and Diagnosis-Related Care (7th ed.) Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins; 2012.
TABLE 1. BREAKDOWN OF COMMON DIETS
- Maughan, Fasting and sport: An introduction. British Journal of Sports Medicine 44(7): 473-474, 2010.
- McArdle, WD, Katch, FI, and Katch Sports and Exercise Nutrition (3rd ed.) Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins; 2009.
- Pitt, Cutting through the Paleo hype: The evidence for the Paleolithic diet. Australian Family Physician 45(1-2): 2016.
- Position of Dietitians of Canada, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the American College of Sports Medicine. Nutrition and Athletic Performance: 501-528,
- Saltzman, E, Thomason, P, and Roberts, SB. Fad diets: A review for the primary care Nutrition in Clinical Care 4(5): 235-242, 2001.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Poppleton joined the North Carolina State University Athletics Department staff in July of 2014. Her current title is the Assistant Director of Sports Nutrition, where she oversees the nutritional needs of the men’s basketball, baseball, softball, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, swimming/diving, cross country, track, volleyball, gymnastics, and rifle teams. She focuses the most on the men’s basketball team, as she manages their day-to-day nutrition, including at home and on the road. Additionally, she has also held the Sports Nutrition Assistant position at both the University of Georgia and the University of Florida. Poppleton received her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, TN. She earned her Master’s degree in Food and Nutrition from Bowling Green State University. Poppleton was one of 12 nominated invitees to the first annual Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSDA) Advanced Practice Workshop for upcoming Sports Registered Dietitians (RD) in 2014.
|PALEO DIET (7)||GLUTEN FREE DIET (4)||INTERMITTENT FASTING (3,5)|
Mimics foods eaten by “hunter-gather” ancestors.
|Medical nutrition diet used to treat Celiac disease. This should only be used if a gluten allergy is present.||Periodic fasting aiming to curve hunger which ultimately restricts calories from the shortened feeding window.|
Low carbohydrates: non-starchy fruits and vegetables making up 35 – 45% of daily calories.
Higher protein and potassium intake, and lower sodium intake.
Moderate to higher fat intake (mostly Omega-3 and Omega-6).
Those with Celiac disease must avoid gluten-containing foods such as: bread, pasta, cereals, soups, sauces, baked goods, malt, etc.
Rice products do not contain gluten. This is to protect the small intestine from the damaging autoimmune response that occurs with ingestion of gluten in those that are diagnosed.
Includes different variations of fasting. Drawing out the overnight fast for a specified period of time (e.g., 16 – 36 hours) and narrowing the
feeding window to 4 – 12 hours.
TABLE 1. BREAKDOWN OF COMMON DIETS (CONTINUED)
Potential Benefits for the Athlete
Promotes healthy fats, increases cognitive function, and decreases inflammation.
Promotes fruit and vegetable consumption including an increase in overall nutrient quality
(e.g., vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals).
May decrease in bodyweight and/or body fat percentage.
Able to alleviate symptoms of those with Celiac disease. This should only be used if a medical diagnosis of Celiac disease is confirmed.
May decrease in bodyweight and/or body fat percentage.
Elimination of many refined grains, and flour-based sweets (e.g., cookies, cakes, etc.).
May decrease body weight and/or body fat percentage.
TABLE 2. EXAMPLE MEAL PLAN DAY (ABOUT 3,000 CALORIES, 432 G OF CARBOHYDRATES, AND 166 G OF PROTEIN)
Breakfast (7:30 am)
1 cup of oatmeal
2 tbsp of brown sugar
¾ cups of blueberries 3 scrambled eggs
1 slice of wheat bread 1 tbsp of peanut butter
750 calories, 86 g of carbohydrates, and 35 g of protein
Lunch (1:30 pm)
6” turkey/ham and cheese sub with lettuce, tomato, and light mayo
1 oz of Sun Chips
635 calories, 96 g of carbohydrates, and 36 g of protein
Post-Practice Recovery (5:30 pm) Recovery shake 280 calories, 45 g of carbohydrates,
and 20 g of protein
Snack (10:00 pm)
2 tbsp of peanut butter
300 calories, 35 g of carbohydrates, 9 g of protein