BooksIn a collaborative effort with Scott over at Straight to the Bar, we will be writing about books throughout the month of February. This week I would like to talk about the diet and (mostly) nutrition books that line my shelves.

Eat Smart, Play Hard : Customized Food Plans for All Your Sports and Fitness PursuitsFor athletes, the best book that I have read that deals with the nutritional requirements of athletes is Eat Smart, Play Hard by Liz Applegate. Most books about nutrition have a chapter or two of actual content, and the majority of the book is meant for skimming either because it just plain is not interesting or relevant or it is full of recipes. The recipes can be important, but they are not really meant for line by line reading.

The first time that I read this book, I read it cover to cover, and the second time I read the first two thirds over. The book is divided into three sections: the basics, the food, and the meal plans. There are recipes sprinkled throughout the book, but the general idea is centered more upon creating a healthy balance that will support an active lifestyle. The meal plans are blueprints to help complete different athletic endeavors, such as being a weekend basketball player, getting out on the greens for a day or a weekend, to riding a century or running a marathon.

This is the first relevant book that I have read on nutrition, because it does not worry about whether you want to lose weight or not. It tackles nutrition from the viewpoint about what sorts of fuel your body needs to perform specific tasks, and assumes that you will get to and maintain a healthy weight. Along with supplemental research that I have read about over the past few years, I base most of my nutritional philosphy off of what I read in this book. It helps that I was already eating a diet that was conducive to my levels of activity; this book just helped me to fine tune the little things.

Eat To Be Fit: The Truth About Fat LossI used to work out in Mike Foley’s gym, the author of Eat to be Fit. I like Mike a lot, and I think that his nutritional counselling services are top notch (based upon friends who have used his services; I never have personally). That being said, I did not find his book very relevant to myself. I think that it would be a good book if your goal was weight loss, but my goals are usually to put on pounds if I am thinking about changes in my weight. If I want to lose weight, I just need to stop running for a week or two. This book also does not answer the why of doing something; it operates under the assumption that the reader is looking for an expert’s advice on what works, and will take it on faith that following that advice will work. For a lot of people, knowing why something works does not interest them. For myself, I need to know how my body works and how and why it will react to different fuels under different circumstances.

I did get some good tidbits from the book, and had the advantage of being able to ask the author about the science and research behind some of it. I certainly recommend this one to anybody who is undertaking new levels of fitness in an effort to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle. It does a good job of helping you add exercise and better nutrition into your life in a safe and effective manner. For somebody who is already in decent shape and is looking for a competitive edge, though, the material is lacking.

My wife introduced me to How to Cook Everything, which is not really a nutrition book. However, it lists recipes for almost anything that you might want to prepare. Once you have an idea of what you might want, you can just peruse the index and find something interesting. I usually use the recipes in this book as a base to experiment off of, and find it handy for ideas on how to prepare something that I have never made before. The book is very large and quite cumbersome, so make sure you find some shelf space near your kitchen and have somewhere you can leave it open to reference it.

As for diet books in general, I tend to recommend that people avoid the diets that restrict carbohydrates. The Atkins and South Beach diets tend to favor people that are not very active; I believe that if you follow the Atkins diet exactly that it even recommends that you do not exercise during the initial break in period. While eating too many sugars and carbohydrates can be detrimental to your waistline, if you lead an active lifestyle then you will not have enough energy or fuel to get yourself through your days. Those diets are really meant for people who sit behind a desk all day and on a couch all night. I realize that that is a broad generalization, but I would not be able get by on a diet skewed so much away from breads, pastas, and fruits. That being said, I do recommend looking at cookbooks for those sorts of diets because as individual meals throughout the week you can usually find some very good additions.

What are your favorite diet and nutrition books? What has worked for you? What hasn’t? What should I look at in the future?