Clean Eating, Talent, and Overactive Livers

I hear a lot in the fitness industry about the importance of clean eating. Indeed, most fitness professionals quote that looking good is 80% nutrition and 20% training. I don’t know how or where personal trainers get those numbers, but it’s not true.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t get my legs and ass from eating kale salads; I got them from running six days per week for 32 years.

If we take two people, and one eats perfectly clean but doesn’t exercise much, and the other trains a lot but doesn’t eat very clean, who is going to look better and be fitter? Truth is, training and genetics exert a greater influence than what’s in your diet. Same goes for physical performance — a person with a lot of talent will almost always outperform a person with little talent and a lot of training and clean eating. Indeed, McDonald’s is one of the sponsors of the Olympics.

All of this is not to say that a person’s diet doesn’t matter. Of course it does. To lose weight, research shows that the number of calories a person consumes is more important than the amount expended through exercise. To keep the weight off, exercise becomes more important than diet.

But if we are to assign a relative importance to each, like so many fitness pros do, it’s presumptuous to think that the specific foods we eat are more important to our health, fitness, and cosmetics than genetics and training. We already know that things like cholesterol level are regulated by our bodies more than by what we eat. Our liver is responsible for cholesterol production. If we eat a lot of cholesterol, our liver produces less; if we eat a little cholesterol, our liver produces more. People with high cholesterol don’t necessarily have a high-cholesterol diet; they likely have a liver that overproduces cholesterol.

Same is true for athletic performance. If you take someone who can run a 5K in 14 minutes when he is in peak shape (or 16 minutes for a female in peak shape), and then have that person stop exercising for a year, he/she will still be able to run faster than nearly everyone, even though he/she is completely out of shape. For a 14-minute 5K runner, 15:30 would be completely out of shape. Talent matters.

So, where does this leave us? Well, for one thing, we can’t say that fitness, health, or the way we look is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. We have to acknowledge what’s driving the bus. And we can choose parents who don’t have overactive livers.

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