Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Dirty vs. Clean Dieting: Roundtable

I participated in a roundtable on Jamie Hale's site a while ago.

The topic was whether it mattered much if people ate clean (non-processed whole foods) or dirty (refined foods) during a diet assuming a caloric deficit was in place. Here's my input:


"From a purely physiological standpoint, it probably doesn't matter if you're including foods in your diet that may be labeled unclean by the generic bodybuilder. As long as protein remains a constant, there won’t be any measurable differences in fat loss in the short term when comparing two diets where the rest would be made up by either “clean” or “unclean foods.”

There might be some long-term effects on body composition on a diet where fat and carbohydrate food choices are the worst possible (think trans fats and high fructose corn syrup), but these extremes aren’t relevant to the discussion in this context. I don't think any competing bodybuilder subsists on such foods to a significant degree pre-contest.

I do think one should opt for food choices that have satiating and nutritive properties in relation to their caloric content. These foods will in most cases be made up with foods that are traditionally labeled “clean.” However, I do think having cheat meals or “unclean” foods at least once a week has benefits in terms of adherence and sanity during the pre-contest diet (or any other diet for that matter)."


I wrote this a few years ago and it was originally published in Hale's book, I think. Can't say I've changed my stance that much since then. Judging from discussion this doesn't appear to be a polarizing topic by any means. Seems like everyone was in agreement. More or less.

I was generalizing quite a bit though. With "from a purely physiological standpoint" I alluded to a clinical point of view. In real life, food choices matter greatly. Food choices and macrocomposition affects mood, hunger and appetite. It's an important factor to consider when designing diets and meal plans for clients.


Anonymous said...

A good read. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

So, would this apply to the long term caloric deficit which comes along with IF as well?

Martin Berkhan said...

Not sure what you're asking but I'd probably answer yes. IF doesn't fundamentally change the rules of the game.

UofMWolverine81 said...


In working in close concert with a lot of clients, do you find that many of them lose a taste for many of the foods typically labeled as heavily processed and junk?

The longer I go on eating as many whole and minimally processed foods as possible/foods with high nutrient density, the more I come to enjoy them and have little to no longing for anything approaching a cheat/free meal or what have you. Occasionally I may indulge in something, but I genuinely enjoy what I usually eat, so it never feels like a chore.

Just curious if you find this to be the case with clients or if it is a mixed bag.

I also want to wish you all the best in 2010. Hopefully this proves to be a banner year for you, and you richly deserve any and all success that comes you way. Thanks for always being so willing to share your talents via this blog.

Martin Berkhan said...

Yes, my experience mirrors that. I find myself craving very little in terms of junk food nowadays. Heard the same from clients many times. It loses it's appeal if your diet is satisfactory. You just need to get rid of the habit. For some people that would mean going for longer time periods eating whole foods only.

Using myself as an example, I used to be a sucker for cereal. Ate it post-workout for a long time and quite a bit. As I got leaner and leaner, I noticed it didn't quite satisfy me as well as before (breakfast cereal was a staple during my IF bulk). So I decided to ditch it. Since then lost the taste for it and it made maintaining 5-6% body fat a lot easier than before.

Thanks for the well-wishes.

108 said...

interesting read...

i had a similar experience just recently when i was under quite some stress and couldn't manage my usual diet, which would be a paleo-ish approach with slightly higher carbs for performance reasons (however, the term paleo isn't really what i like to refer to, i'm way too annoyed by the whole cult around it).

i basicly stayed within my daily calorie requirements, but i did it exclusivly with food that could be labeled unhealthy/unclean... besides some water retention i pretty much looked the same, but i FELT much different, since both mental and physical performance went waaaay down...

as a side note, martin, i've been following your blog with real interest for some time and will definitly purchase a copy of your book in the future.

have a nice 2010 everybody...

Martin Berkhan said...

Sure. Not surprised to hear about your experience, 108. Now it might not make a iota of difference in terms of fat loss. But on the mental side of things, choosing refined carb sources over unprocessed carbs will give a different response in terms of blood glucose. Blood glucose is tightly linked to mental performance/problem-solving; too low or too high is bad. Refined/high GI carbs will produce more highs and lows vs unprocessed/lower GI.

BB.Wolf said...

Great post Martin.

Satiety is such an important factor for long-term diet compliance. I share the same experiences in regards to losing taste for refined foods over time as other posters have.
Looking forward to the book and thanks for sharing so much valuable information.

Aled said...

What do use as your carb source staples in terms of unprocessed foods Maritn?

I'm a big fan of Sweet Pots, Oats, Buckwheat, Milk etc but find it hard to push carb totals up on training days without the help of a few more refined and less satieing foods such as pasta.

Also, what is your view with regards to Milk? I like it, and drink a fair whack on training days, any drawbacks to the carb sources contained in it?

Martin Berkhan said...

Typically use potatoes and oats, but on occasion also quinoa, lentils and wild rice. Sorbet/frozen yoghurt. Berries.

As for milk, lactose isn't the best carb source around. It's half glucose half galactose, and the latter gets stored as hepatic glycogen (like fructose). But this won't matter in practical terms unless we're talking extreme examples i.e limited carb intake, all carbs from milk etc. I wouldn't worry much about it.

Anonymous said...

wat about "dirty" bulking?

if u eat 500 calories above main. with high protein 1-1.5 per pound would u still b able 2 gain lean muscle?

no carb count no fat count just protein and calories...

Martin Berkhan said...

Unless you're a beginner, gaining at a rate of 1 lb/week will likely make you fat in the long term.

Jake said...

Martin, I plan to follow your 16/8 fasting split Monday-Saturday, with Sunday being a non-fast day.

If I was to have one or two glasses of wine during the Friday evening fast, what effect would that have on the benefits of Friday's fast?

Thanks for any feedback!

Martin Berkhan said...

Quite similar to that of having consumed an equal amount of calories from carbs during the fast. It would take you out of the fasted state for a few hours.

My name is Martin Berkhan and I work as a nutritional consultant, magazine writer and personal trainer.

Welcome to the Internet's leading resource on intermittent fasting and all things related.

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