How To Not Be Fooled By The Latest Fad Diets
The start of a new year is always filled with tough decisions and resolutions: what are my race goals? What is my training plan? Eat healthier? Lose weight?
Unsurprisingly, it’s also when we are inundated with diet books, weight loss programs, and magazines touting the latest Hollywood diets. Not to mention that Google searches on ‘diet for weight loss’ return over 300 million results! But did you know recent studies have shown only 8% of people making new years’ resolutions actually achieve their goal?
There is no doubt that sport, and therefore sport science, has taken a huge competitive leap forward; we are seeing winning margins as small as milliseconds between silver and gold medals. Hence, the reason why cleverly promoted fad diets can seem an attractive option for an athlete.
As harmless as they might seem, though, fad diets could actually negatively affect your performance. Here is a deeper look into the world of fad diets and how you can avoid a training diet that could set you back on the field.
Spotting a fad diet
According to the Dietitians’ Association of Australia, ‘a fad diet is best described as a weight loss diet that promises fast weight loss without a scientific basis’.
The trick with fad diets is they use excellent marketing and branding tools to attract interest, while the overarching theme is generally to achieve rapid (and often large amounts of) weight loss in a short period of time. Whatever the branding slogan, remember that the general rule of ‘if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is’ applies for fad diets.
Here are a few clues that the diet plan you are looking at is most likely a fad:
- The plan requires you to cut out an entire food group (e.g. grains, dairy, etc)
- The plan only allows you to eat very few foods (e.g. the grapefruit diet, lemon detox diet)
- Rapid weight loss of more than 1-2kg/week is promised
- To succeed you must purchase a specific (often expensive) supplement or brand of food
- ‘Evidence’ for the diet comes from a single study or from ‘successful users of the plan’
- The plan makes recommendations that contradict national health guidelines
Fad diets and performance
Fad diets can present a major issue for athletes, as a common theme is they restrict overall energy and/or nutrient intake. Particularly concerning in sporting contexts is that carbohydrate (an essential nutrient) tends to be most commonly restricted or completely excluded. Quality carbohydrates are essential for athletes for the following reasons:
- Carbohydrate is the main fuel that our body uses during exercise, particularly high intensity exercise
- Carbohydrate during competition helps sustain optimal effort and pace
- Carbohydrate has a key role in recovery by restoring the fuel stores (glycogen) that the muscles used during the session
- Carbohydrate helps immune function allowing athletes to train consistently without missing valuable training sessions due to colds and bugs
If you are concerned carbohydrates may contribute to weight gain, remember that, like all nutrients in sports nutrition, timing is key. Targeting your carbohydrate intake before, during and after exercise will ensure you fuel and recover appropriately for your training sessions. You can find more information about pre- and post- exercise nutrition for a variety of sports in our factsheets.
In addition to the above, as fad diets typically don’t promote a well balanced diet there is a risk of vitamin deficiencies. These may negatively affect your performance through fatigue (low iron) or compromised bone health (chronic low calcium).
In summary, while fad diets may achieve weight loss, the potential negative impact on your performance may not be worth the risk.