How-To Guide: Clean Eating


How To Guide: Clean Eating

Emily R Pappas, M.S.

Too often we look at food as being  good,  bad, “clean”, or unhealthy.  


But RARELY do we look at food as an energy source or building block…


Its crazy to think we associate sugar as always being “bad”.


While we rarely associate sugar as just fast energy.


For a type 2 diabetic about to go into insulin shock, is a soda “bad”?


Or is it a NECESSARY source of fast energy to help prevent a coma?


For a Division 1 field hockey player who is hitting a wall in her game, is a gatorade “bad”?


Or is it a NECESSARY source of energy to keep her performance high and carry her team to victory?


Labeling a food as “good” or “clean” doesn’t really mean much without considering your situation or activity.


About to sit on the coach and netflix binge?


While a soda full of fast energy is probably not the best choice, a glass of unsweetened ice tea seems more fitting.


What Does It Mean to Eat “Clean”?


Eating clean is merely a buzzy catchphrase—referring to food that is “healthy”.


What is healthy?  A food that promotes your “health” or overall wellness


When you are on the court and feel the fatigue kicking in, is fruit juice healthy?


Well it brings the nutrients your muscles need to help you perform…so sounds like a yes to me!


YAY you heard it here….fruit juice is CLEAN!


When you are on the couch and start to watch One Tree Hill for the 7th time, is fruit juice healthy?


Well it brings your body a lot of extra energy it will not be using and instead store it as fat.


Not that “healthy” right?


CRAP, now fruit juice is UNHEALTHY.


Pretty confusing right?


Out of context, labels such as “clean” or “unhealthy” don’t hold much merit.


Instead of focusing on whether a food is “clean,” reframe your focus to what your body needs.


But, when does your body need ice cream…..??


The 80/20 Rule


80% of the time, look at food as a type of fuel or building block for your body to help you perform at you peak and fully recover.

20% of the time, look at food as a type of PLEASURE or SOCIAL ASPECT


The 80%


The main 80% of your diet should directly serve your health. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fats, and quality protein. You’ll want to especially focus on this 80% before a practice or game. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Opt for lean sources of protein (chicken breasts, eggs, salmon).

  • Include high-fiber complex carbs (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) for your main energy source on high activity days. These higher fiber options will keep you feeling full and your muscles well energized while providing your body with other vitamins and minerals it feeds to function at its highest! 

  • Include “healthy fats” for your main energy source on lower activity day.  These slow release energy sources will keep you feeling satiated while helping energize the recovery process.  Don’t forget about all the vitamins and minerals these options provide to optimize the process.

  • Round out your plate with a handful or two of greens to add in some crucial micronutrients. Micronutrients may not directly give you energy, but they will help your body break down energy in an efficient manner as you perform and recover.


The Other 20%


If 80% of the time you choose foods that are full of fiber, nutrients, and sustainable energy, what you eat for the other 20% will have a much smaller effect on your body. This 20% should be rather fuss-free, and can be devoted to food that you simply enjoy—whether or not you view it as “good” or “bad.”


But, I LOVE ICE CREAM. Is it better for me to choose the “clean” option?? You know that sugar free stuff? 


As long as 80% of your diet is directly serving your health, this other 20% can be saved up for these types of treats (though you probably don’t want to spend all of that 20% on ice cream every week!).


What’s most important is to be mindful of WHEN you’re indulging. A big bowl of chocolate ice cream full of sugars and fats is certainly not the best source of energy before you go to bed every night. But if you’re hanging out with some friends  after a long week and want a scoop, go for it. AND ENJOY it.


Overall, having this 20% gives you freedom and some mental relief. Instead of obsessing over every fat, protein, and carb, you’ll find enjoying a burger and fries every now and then is totally fine!!! In fact, the pleasure of allowing yourself this type of food will more likely HELP you recover from a hard practice or a hard week.


( remember, adaptation comes with quality recovery time! If you are constantly stressing over WHAT to eat and whether it is CLEAN or not, you’re holding your body back from reaching the recovery side of the spectrum…..

Read more about it HERE!)


One Last Time….There Is No Good or Bad Food!!!


Overall, there is no good or bad food, just better times to  eat certain types of food.


If we keep demonizing food, we end up being confused, uneducated, and far more “unhealthy” in the long run.


So, enjoy your food, all 100% of it—it’s not only necessary, but your key to optimal performance and pleasure.