Sunday, July 5, 2009
Developing a solid nutrition plan involves more than just knowing which foods to eat; you also need to consider how much of each to consume, and how often. In other words, you need to know how to prioritize foods when you’re constructing a nutrition plan. For example, both broccoli and brown rice make the “good carb” list, but there’s a clear di erence in their energy density. Broccoli is high in ber and nutrients, but provides relatively few calories. If your goal is to add lean mass, you will not be able to ful ll your calorie requirements if the bulk of your carbs come from broccoli or other brous vegetables. Yet brous vegetables are important too! So we need to set up some basic, common sense guidelines. One of the simplest approaches that dieticians and nutritionists have used for years is the food pyramid, which was developed by the US Dept. of Ag- riculture (USDA).
Most people are aware of the USDA Food Pyramid: you can’t avoid seeing it
in the media, in schools, and so on. The Food Pyramid has been a mainstay
over the years because it’s a good teaching tool. It’s a simple visual rep-
resentation of how we’re supposed to rank di erent types of foods in our
diets for - supposedly - optimal health. You can take it in with a glance and
apply it to your own diet.
There’s only one problem: the nutritional “information” it provides is less
than optimal in many ways. From the USDA’s point of view, potatoes are
in the same group as green vegetables and people are told to eat 6 - 8
servings per day of grains. It’s a pyramid where all fats are created equal,
seemingly all bad, and beans are within both the protein and vegetable
In short, it’s a well intentioned pyramid that has led to a great deal of confu-
sion - especially the newest version, which can be seen at mypyramid.gov.
While the new version is an improvement over the old one in some ways,
it’s far too abstract to in uence people’s food choices.
In other words, the Food Pyramid is a great idea, but awed in execution.
But that’s easy to x!
I would like to brie y suggest a food pyramid for bodybuilders and other
My pyramid, ‘The Brink Pyramid’ (see image at the end of this section) em-
ploys a more in-depth rating system over that of the standard pyramid. The
USDA’s pyramid assumes that
fats are created equal. It makes the incredible blunder of lumping
all fats in the same section (i.e., saturated, trans fats, monounsaturated,
High carbohydrate diets are healthy. In truth, the standard pyramid
invites an increase in body fat and other potential problems from the
overly high carbohydrate intakes, most of which would be based on
heavily processed carbs of the average American diet.
Plant and animal protein sources are equivalent. The USDA pyramid
puts beans, nuts and seeds in with the meats and eggs section. These
are certainly healthy foods, but are only high in protein when compared
to other plant foods. In addition, plant proteins are typically limited in
one or more essential amino acids. How beans, nuts and seeds ended
up with the meats and eggs section is a mystery to me.
Supplements aren’t part of a healthy diet. The standard pyramid ig-
nores nutritional supplements altogether. In my view, that’s an over-
sight and a mistake. No matter what a person’s diet is like, supplements
can and should play a role in optimal health and performance and
therefore should be included. That’s why I have given them their own
position in what I consider a pyramid designed with optimal health and
performance in mind.
No one drinks alcoholic beverages. The standard USDA pyramid ig-
nores alcohol, which is ubiquitous in our society. Although not a “food”
per se in the classic sense, I think a proper pyramid should be set up
to help people lead a healthy life regarding whatever they put in their
mouths on a regular basis. A proper pyramid should be a quick, “at a
glance” reference that people can use as a guide to healthy eating.
Modest alcohol use has even been shown to be bene cial to health,
a point that should be acknowledged by the powers-that-be who are
giving us advice.
In short, a pyramid that ignores booze, supplements and di erences in
carbs, proteins and fats, is an incomplete pyramid in my view, and only
leads to fatter, less healthy and nutritionally confused people.
Another important point to understand regarding the standard USDA
pyramid is that the rankings and groups in that pyramid were not made
exclusively on science, but also on politics. It’s well known that the posi-
tioning of many key foods was altered after those industries lobbied heav-
ily to have them moved to a more favorable location on the pyramid. My
pyramid is an attempt to rectify that situation.
Based on what you have read from the above and looking at the visual
representation of the pyramid, my “new and improved” pyramid should be
Take a look at “The Brink Pyramid.” As in earlier pyramids, the pyramid
should be read from bottom to top. At the base you nd:
• Lean, unprocessed (or minimally processed) proteins from poultry, lean
meat, sh (and other seafood), cottage cheese, eggs/egg whites, etc.
• Healthy fats and EFAs from cold-pressed, unre ned oils and foods such
as nuts, nut butters/spreads, seeds and avocados.
• High ber, low glycemic index carbohydrates from whole grains, 100%
whole grain products, beans, sweet potatoes, etc.
For gaining quality weight, the majority of the calories you eat each day
should come from the foods at the bottom of the pyramid.
The second row from the bottom contains groups that also play vital roles
in your diet, but don’t generally contribute a large number of calories:
• Fresh, brous vegetables and (some) fruits (needs no explanation).
• Supplements such as multivitamins/minerals, antioxidants and perfor-
mance enhancers (e.g. whey protein, creatine, glutamine, etc.).
The third and fourth rows represent groups that are a part of living in “the
real world.” Needless to state, you should reduce/limit - and in some cases
avoid - consumption of these foods:
Saturated fats from high fat cuts of red meat, pork, butter, cheese, sau-
sages, whole milk, cream/sour cream and regular ground beef.
Higher GI and/or low ber foods such as white our pastas, white rice,
white potatoes, breads, bagels, processed breakfast cereals, instant oat-
meal, certain fruits, etc.
Alcohol: red wine appears to be the healthiest choice. Limit intake to
two drinks per day for men and one for women.
Sweets/high GI carbs from cookies/cakes, soft drinks, candy, juices, etc.
(note: there is a speci c application for high GI carbs post workout, but
should be limited in a normal diet).
Unhealthy, “bad” fats from processed cooking oils, trans fats, fried foods,
rancid fats, etc. These unhealthy fats can be found in fried foods such as
potato chips, French fries, and foods containing the words “partially hy-
drogenated” on the labels. Most margarines, though sold as healthy
alternatives to butter, may, in fact, be even worse for our health due to
their content of trans fats from the partially hydrogenated oils used to
create a semi-solid texture.
Using my pyramid, a person should have a much easier time developing a
healthy eating pattern based on a more in-depth assessment of the foods
and other nutrients we all eat (or should be eating!). It’s a more targeted
and intelligent approach to making proper food choices.
Of course, the amount of each food group will depend on many factors
such as activity levels, exercise choices, age, goals and other variables be-
yond the scope of this section.
For example, a person who is a marathon runner could indeed eat a larger
number servings per day of the starchy carbohydrates recommended in
the USDA pyramid. But for someone who is more sedentary, it would be
best to stick to the low end of the scale and consume a higher proportion
of EFAs and protein. The same would be true for strength athletes, as well.
The bottom line is that the actual ratio of macronutrients (i.e. proteins, fats
and carbs) and total calories necessary is relative, and depends on some of
the variables mentioned above.
Which foods the person should rely on to achieve those goals, can easily
be gured out from “The Athletes and Healthy Persons Pyramid”, a.k.a. “The
Brink Pyramid For Optimal Health and Performance”, if you will