Longevity Versus Performance

Does eating for performance negatively impact on health and longevity?

People who look to get the most out of their body on the field or in the gym eat differently to those who aim to live a long life.

Performance nutrition

A performance-based diet requires a high-calorie intake to:

  • Build or maintain muscle, which is metabolically demanding
  • Replenish glycogen stores, particularly for athletes involved in aerobic sports
  • Provide the athlete with adequate energy levels

On average, eating for performance demands:

  • High calories
  • A macronutrient ratio skewed toward higher carb and protein intake for energy and muscle-building purposes
  • A greater percentage of calories coming from animal-based products in order to get enough protein

Nutrition for longevity

A low-calorie diet is often associated with eating for health and longevity. This is because:

  • The cells of the body have to do less work. Imagine two cars: one that is driven cross-country a lot, the other, to the shops twice a week. The first car will succumb to wear and tear. The second won’t
  • The body becomes more efficient at processing calories reducing the workload for the body

A typical longevity-based diet requires:

  • Low calories
  • A macronutrient ratio higher in fats due to lower carbohydrate and protein intake
  • More vegetables due to their health properties

Real world examples

The athletic population is a good example of a group eating for performance. The research for life expectancy among athletes is mixed. Some studies suggest a longer life expectancy, compared to average, while others propose the opposite.

Monks are a good example of people who eat for longevity. Many monks fast and they live longer than most.

So, there is a reason to believe that an athletic diet is not the most effective way to live the longest possible life. But, statistically, its difficult to prove because:

  • The athletic population is diverse. Statistics show different life expectancies for different sports with NFL players being notoriously low. Also, there is too much individual variation. Lumping athletes into categories fails to consider that each person eats and lives differently. The best performing athletes could eat a diet that also promotes longevity. But this wouldn’t show up in the stats.
  • There are too many variables to consider. Nutrition is only one piece of the performance puzzle and a long life. Other factors like sleep and stress levels also have a bearing.

Do you think eating for performance shortens a person’s life? Leave your thoughts below.

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Why Do You Eat?

There is a growing obsession with food in our culture.

Food and eating have always formed a strong part of society and plays different roles in different cultures, but we place a greater emphasis on food than ever before.

The plethora of food-related TV shows and YouTube channels contribute to our focus on food. Another factor is the ease of food accessibility and availability, in developed countries.

Though mindset is the main driver.

We live in an era of instant gratification; social media provides us with an avenue to gain acceptance and popularity without leaving the house. Pornography offers the same immediate satisfaction.

Food’s omnipresence and the growing problem with food-related disorders, like obesity and bulimia, is no coincidence. Instead of food being sustenance and a way to connect with others it’s used fill a void.

Why work hard in the gym and gain long-term rewards like improved health and performance when we can feel good immediately by eating a chocolate bar?

Why work hard to further our career when we can forget our dissatisfaction by eating a calorie-laden snack?

We need to step back and look at why we eat. While it’s OK to look forward to eating, if your day consists of thinking about breakfast, lunch and dinner, you need to add more substance, not sustenance, to your life.

Reassess your relationship between food.

Intuitive Eating

The experience of eating is dreaded by some.

Have I eaten too much? Have I eaten too little? Is this food ‘clean’? Guilt surrounding food is a growing concern and needs to be nipped in the bud before it gets worse.

What’s the purpose of eating? Why does it exist?

To sustain life. Eating gives the body nutrition to function.

For those aspiring to perform at their best, their nutrition to reflects this. They eat foods – mainly whole foods – that provide the best fuel for their goal.

There is nothing wrong with this approach but it can leave people with a limited range of foods they deem healthy creating unhealthy habits.

Is it healthy to eat the same meal of chicken and broccoli all week? Is it healthy to avoid social encounters to keep a ‘perfect’ nutrition plan intact?

Misinformation

Disregard the media when it comes to nutrition. Their goal is better ratings which thrive on over-dramatisation and fear mongering.

Bigger picture

Spend time learning nutrition basics rather than carefully measuring every ounce of food. Forget the notion that fats are bad and that you should avoid carbs after 3.02pm and learn the facts. What differentiates saturated fats for unsaturated? What role do they play and in what foods can they be found in?

Historically speaking…

What did our ancestors – free from modern ailments like diabetes and heart disease – eat? Whole foods like fruits and vegetables with the occasional feast.

It’s OK to splurge from time to time. Feasting in ancient times was necessary as food security was low before to the dawn of farming.

In modern times, eating more than necessary on occasion plays a different role. It allows you and me to enjoy social gatherings, like birthdays, and indulge in foods that are not ‘healthy’ and that satisfies our cravings.

It allows us to be normal, intuitive eaters.

Intuitive eating is not a new term. In fact, a book has been written on the subject.

The idea – to eat like a child.

Think back to when you ate spaghetti with your hands. Were you tediously counting the calories in each handful?

For much of our youth, eating was a simple activity. We listened to our bodies and ate to satisfy our hunger and stopped when we were full. Some weeks we ate more, devouring whole loaves of bread after school, while at other times our appetite was diminished.

With age, our natural eating tendencies changed. We overheard stories that pasta makes you chubby or you should limit your fat intake, and these weaselled their way into how we ate.

What we need is a memory-erasing device (Men In Black anyone?). Let’s approach food simply – eating based on feel coupled with a good understanding of the nutrition basics.

Simple enough right?