One of the most common questions I get once someone finds out I’m a full-time online physique coach is undoubtedly, “is (enter food) bad for me?” Although I realize by asking that, people mean in terms of either being high in calories and/or lacking nutrients, the idea of any particular food being good or bad to consume is an idea of extremes that has caused more than it’s fair share of damage to perceptions of a balanced diet.

Nearly just as bad is the idea that “all calories are the same.” If social media “fitness advocates” aren’t preaching the importance of avoiding junk food, they’re telling everyone as long as they’re hitting the right macronutrient goals each day (protein, carbs and fat), food choice doesn’t matter. Thinking in either extreme can hinder long-term body composition, training performance, and even general health. Not to mention overall peace of mind with day-to-day food choices. As with most things in the nutrition and exercise realm, using scientific principles to form the basis of your strategy, along with a moderate approach, tends to support the best longevity in reaching ideal physique and health goals.

That being said, it’s important to highlight the various situations where the idea of balancing “good” and “bad” foods are turned on their heads for more comfortable, effective progress throughout a lifetime. Through the rest of this article, I'll be referring to “health bases” in relation to dietary approaches. This is just a broad term I use for getting in sufficient nutrients for general health and performance and helping ensure a nice variety of important micronutrients. Below is an outline of what I mean by that phrase, and highlight as nutritional “minimums” with my clients.

Health Bases
  • 2-3 serving each, various fruits and vegetables
  • 1/3-1/2 total fat intake from unsaturated fats 
  • 1/2 carbohydrate from whole grain sources
  • 14g fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed

When "Bad" Foods Are Good

Those “bad” foods that pack a caloric punch but aren’t necessarily nutrient dense (think cookies, pizza, cereal etc.) are quick to be demonized by fitness elitists. Which is ironic given the circumstances these foods can actually help long-term physique development. 

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Let’s take a naturally thin man or woman working extremely hard to gain weight (i.e mostly muscle tissue). Those often called “hard gainers” have to make eating like a 2nd job to gain any appreciable weight. Anyone that’s experienced this situation knows just how uncomfortable it can be to consume several thousand calories each day through solely “clean” foods. Overall food volume and dietary fiber that tends to accompany it quickly leaves one feeling more balloon than buff.

Although it’s a logical move to focus on nutrient dense foods, there comes a point where more nutrients aren’t necessarily beneficial. Even those without difficulty gaining weight consistently can have similar issues when not dieting. “Point of diminishing returns” would be the technical phrase. After covering those health bases with the majority of your food, turning to more calorie dense, lower volume “bad” foods can make it a hell of a lot easier to meet those additional calorie needs to fuel training and support goal weight gain. 

Before this is perceived as suggesting you load up on the Twinkles and Twizzlers, it’s a perfect opportunity to highlight just how those “bad” foods can very well be bad for body building business in the wrong context.

When "Bad" Foods are Bad

Hitting all your health bases with a nice variety of nutrient dense, whole foods then sprinkling in easier to digest, more palatable foods to hit higher intake goals is one thing. Nearly forsaking any semblance of a vegetable in order to smash a sleeve of Oreos with your daily carb and fat allowance is quite a different story. Although I always strive to help my athletes maintain a balanced approach to their weekly intake goals, it’s equally as important to highlight those “fun” foods are an additional treat, not a staple. 

Those “bad” foods truly become a problem when they’re the overwhelming focus of your intake. If enjoying calorically dense, less nutritious foods is causing you to neglect first eating for general health and performance, then you better believe they’ll hinder both progress and long-term wellbeing.

The mistake many make by asking if a food is good or bad isn’t by asking the overall health promoting properties it has… but in realizing it’s more so a balancing act of total macro/calorie intake and consuming sufficient vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients. Enjoying fun foods from time to time as part of a balanced approach can certainly be okay, as long as those foods aren’t a significant trigger to breaking adherence to your plan on a regular basis.

A Good Balance

It goes without saying that the opposite of both above sections on “bad” foods roles can apply to “good” (aka nutrient dense, high volume foods) in many scenarios. Overloading on the broccoli in the offseason can make it pretty uncomfortable (and less enjoyable) to meet higher and higher calorie needs. On the flip side, focusing on higher volume, nutrient dense, whole foods when dieting can greatly benefit your ability to still meet health needs while maximizing satiety as total calorie consumption is lowered for continued fat loss.

At the end of the day, it’s important to realize that foods don’t have to be approached as good or bad at all. Instead, try to think of it in relation to your overall intake, current physique goals, and how it may play into your ability to enjoy yourself while keeping your long-term health a top priority and managing your adherence to the intake goals you or your coach have set for yourself.
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Want to Learn More About Tracing Macros & Food Balance?

Balancing food intake with your goals and preferences can be a bit confusing when first starting to approach a diet more seriously. That’s why myself and My Macros+ teamed up to create Making Sense of Macros, an in-depth e-book covering a slew of topics important for hitting the ground running tracking your diet and making strategic, science based adjustments to better reach your goals.

About The Author

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Andrew Pardue, BS, CSCS. CISSN

Andrew Pardue is a full-time online physique coach with a BS in Exercise Science as well as minors in Chemistry and Entrepreneurship from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He also holds two top training and nutrition certifications- CSCS and CISSN. Through working with a combination of physique competitors and general population, he places a large focus on balancing science driven strategies with the balanced approach required in every day life.

Learn more about APFitness and access ongoing, free content by following him on Instagram: @andrewnpardue

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