Achieving fitness and health remains to be one of the most sought after goals in the modern world. However, many people believe that in order to gain muscle mass and lose fat, you only need to focus on working out in the gym.

The truth is, the type of food you eat is primordial for your fitness and health. In other words, depending on your diet, you could either optimize the functioning of your organs and achieve your fitness goals or put yourself at risk of various medical conditions.

Unfortunately, the internet is loaded with misinformation and scammers who seek financial profit.

For instance, if you Google the questions cited below, you will find numerous contradictory responses that may come as overwhelming, especially for beginners.

  • What is the optimal diet for muscle gain?
  • Is high protein important? What about the keto diet?
  • What type of food will optimize my performance?

To remove some of this confusion, we decided to write this comprehensive guide that will emphasize the role of nutrition in achieving fitness goals and optimal health.

Nutrition and fitness goals

Deciding whether nutrition is an important factor to achieve your fitness goals has been a topic of debate for many years.

However, recent scientific evidence leaves no room for doubt. Nutrition is potentially more important than physical activity.

While this statement might seem surprising, the upcoming sections will highlight just how crucial nutrition is.

Most people fall into three categories when it comes to fitness:

  • First group seeks to lose weight
  • Second group seeks to gain weight
  • Third group seeks to gain muscle

Of course, there are other fitness goals, but for simplicity’s sake, we will be sticking to these three groups

Weight loss goals

Let us say you want to lose a few pounds to get ready for that ceremony scheduled at end of the year.

You have three option:

  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Diet and exercise

While it is obvious that the third option is your best bet, we have to understand why. Also, we will consider losing pure fat as the ultimate goal.

For you to lose one kilogram of fat (approximately 2 pounds), you would have to burn 7,000 calories. For reference, the daily caloric requirement of an average 70–kg male is 2000–2500 calories.

Following a calorie-restricted diet by consuming 1000–1500 calories per day will lead to around 1kg of fat loss per week.

Let us compare these numbers with one cardiovascular exercise that is considered a fat-burning furnace: jumping rope.

Woman doing jump ropes

The reason jumping rope burns a considerable number of calories is simple; this exercise engages several muscle groups, especially lower extremities, which contain the big muscles like the quadriceps and the biceps femoris.

These big muscles require a lot of energy and Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP) to contract. As a result, jumping rope burns 7.6 to 9.8 calories per minute.

This means that you can burn 300 calories during half an hour of jumping rope exercises. However, due to the exhausting nature of this exercise, it is recommended to do an alternation between exercise and pauses.

While burning 300 calories of fat is no laughing matter, performing this exercise every day is extremely draining and impractical.

On the other hand, you can exclude that chocolate bar you’ve been eating every day. This leads to the same results of performing 30 minutes of jumping rope per day.

Obviously, the benefits of jumping rope extend beyond burning fat; however, this example displays the importance of nutrition for weight loss.

Weight gain goals

This one is very straight forward.

If you are thin and want to gain some weight, nutrition is your go-to method.

Explanation:

Physical training will not really lead to significant weight gain unless you are looking to build up lean muscle mass.

Gaining weight is much easier with a proper nutritional plan. Only in this case, instead of going on a caloric deficit journey, you start eating more calories than your body needs to store the surplus macronutrients as fatty acids in adipose tissues.

Hypertrophy goals

Man and woman showing muscles

Consistent strength training will increase your muscle mass by causing microscopic tears in the muscle fibers.

When the body repairs the microscopic injuries, it will adapt to the increased demand, leading to bigger muscles.

However, this process also needs building blocks to make it possible. You see, after each exercise, two hormones get released in the blood – Human Growth Factor and Insulin-like Growth Factor.

These two compounds will stimulate the repair of muscle damage and the synthesis of new muscle fibers. Both of these processes require a lot of energy and building blocks (i.e., amino acids).

In short, even if you only want to gain muscle mass, nutrition is essential to reach that goal, and adapting your diet based on the type of exercise you are performing could lead to greater results.

As a general rule of thumb, consuming 2 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight is appropriate. For instance, a male who weighs 65 kg should consume 130 grams of protein per day.

More about nutrition and fitness

To emphasize the role of nutrition in the fitness field even further, we will discuss the potential eating habits that can optimize your performance in the gym.

Note that some of these methods are adopted by top-tier, professional athletes.

Decrease the time gap between meals

The way you schedule your meals is extremely important for the endocrine system, which eventually improves your physical performance.

For instance, reducing the gap between meals and snacking frequently will accelerate the basal metabolic rate (BMR) before and after working out.

If you are not familiar with BMR, here is a quick definition:

BMR is a biochemical parameter that describes the number of calories used by the body to maintain the functioning of your internal organs. It is subject to a variety of factors, such as age, sex, body type, diet, and degree of physical activity.

Since the human body is smart, taking long pauses between meals will slow down BMR. The reason behind this boils down to a misinterpretation of distanced meals to be a state of starvation. Consequently, you will find it more challenging to lose weight.

Disrupted BMR can also alter your physical performance and cause weight gain.

As a general rule of thumb, consuming 2 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight is appropriate. For instance, a male who weighs 65 kg should consume 130 grams of protein per day.

Green is key

veggies for nutrition and fitness

Veggies are very healthy due to their high levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

These compounds ensure the optimal functioning of your musculoskeletal. Furthermore, vegetables boost your cognitive abilities, energy expenditure, physical performance, and food digestion.

Therefore, it is always a good idea to include some vegetables in your pre-workout meal (2–3 hours before starting).

Avoid eating heavy meals

Consuming copious meals before working out is problematic since your body will redirect blood to the digestive system to break down food. Consequently, you can expect symptoms of dizziness, bloating, and a general feeling of unwellness.

Exercising in this state inevitably leads to vomiting and musculoskeletal injuries.

Nutrition and general health

Even more important than fitness, a good nutritional plan is vital for good health.

For instance, a diet that consists of healthy vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and good sources of fats will optimize your cardiovascular health, improve blood sugar control, and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease).

Conversely, a diet that is rich in refined sugars, trans-fats, and carcinogenic substances will inevitably precipitate a myriad of debilitating illnesses (e.g., coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, cancer).

For this reason, you should pay close attention to the type of food you are consuming, as it will determine your state of wellbeing and health.

Let us take an example of some nutritional steps that may be devastating for your health:

Refined sugars

Consuming a diet rich in refined sugar is a major risk factor for several types of cancer, including breast, gastric, and colorectal malignant tumors.

In one study, researchers found that people who excessively consume products with refined sugar are twice as likely to die from colon cancer relative to their counterparts.

Processed meat

Processed meats

Processed meat has a reputation for being loaded in carcinogenic substances that significantly increase the risk of cancer.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), consuming processed meat is associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer.

Overcooked foods

Overcooking foods may lead to the production of certain substances (e.g., heterocyclic amines (HA), advanced glycation end-products), which trigger generalized inflammation in the body.

Keep in mind that the chronic elevation of proinflammatory cytokines is linked to numerous cancers, including breast cancer, leukemia, and small cell carcinoma (lungs).

All the foods listed above can gradually precipitate certain types of cancer, wreaking havoc on your health.

On the other hand, other foods with anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties can dramatically reduce your risk of many types of cancer, according to reputable scientific research.

This is but a glimpse of the impact of nutrition on our health and fitness.

Nutrition and skin health

The sections above covered everything related to fitness, general wellbeing, and the risk of developing certain diseases.

However, most people are unaware of the fact that food plays an important role in determining the health of your skin, hair, and general appearance.

In other words, the food you consume can either be a great way to optimize your beauty or an exacerbating factor that negatively impacts your looks.

After reading the following sections, you will realize just how important it is to choose the right foods when you are trying to look your best.

Nutrition influences beauty in a myriad of ways, including:

Reducing inflammation

Inflammation is the number one enemy to your skin and hair since the presence of excessive proinflammatory cytokines is associated with rashes, wrinkles, skin dehydration, and hair loss.

Unfortunately, many of the foods we consume (e.g., processed foods, artificial sweeteners, refined sugar) can precipitate inflammation, which eventually leads to the activation of immune cascades that ruin the natural appearance of your skin.

To counter this effect, opt for whole, fresh foods that were not subject to any chemical processing.

Preventing deficiencies

Doctoring holding vitamins

As you probably know, vitamin and mineral deficiencies can be quite devastating for your skin and hair, especially vitamins A, E, C, D, and zinc.

Eating an imbalanced diet slowly puts you in a deficiency for these vital compounds, which presents with vague signs on your skin and scalp.

In some cases, supplementing yourself with vitamins and minerals might be the best choice to prevent further deterioration and restore your natural beauty.

Neutralizing oxidative stress

Oxidative stress refers to the accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in any organ system, including the skin. As a result, your keratinocytes (i.e., skin cells) become susceptible to numerous complications such as dehydration, UV light damage, and inflammatory pathologies.

In fact, researchers believe that oxidative stress is the main culprit when it comes to skin cancer, especially melanoma, which is triggered by chronic exposure to UV light radiation.

Fortunately, you can protect your skin by consuming foods rich in antioxidants such as leafy green vegetables (e.g., kale), fruits (e.g., berries) seeds, and whole grains.

Takeaway message

Healthy nutrition is the backbone of our health, determining how well we feel or how sick we get. It plays the primary role in achieving fitness goals, maintaining healthy organ systems, and optimizing your skincare routine.

Hopefully, this article managed to shed some light on the role of nutrition in your everyday life. However, if you still have questions or you want to add something that we missed, please do not hesitate to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Disclaimer: Before making any drastic changes to your nutritional plan, you may want to speak with your primary care physician.