This story starts and ends with a banana. A simple and unassuming fruit. Who knew it could cause such controversy? Yet a simple Google search titled “Is Fruit Bad?” garnered me 294,000,000 results. Hell, even the bible weighs in on the subject. Here’s a passage from Matthew 7:18: “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”
The issue hit me last week when I received a text from an old client:
Hey buddy. What’s your opinion on bananas? One of the trainers at my gym told me not to eat them before workouts or at all really for that matter.
I stared at my blackberry for 5 minutes, checked how many more people had read my popular Should All Personal Trainers Have 6 Pack Abs article, perused twitter, and chirped Sam Leahey for saying “Boom” in every sentence before responding.
Why is fruit considered evil?
I don’t know the trainer that gave him the advice but can only assume he had good intentions. Fruit being the root of all evil is in vogue right now. Almost every new diet book that’s come out this year advocates cutting fruit out of the diet since it’s processed in the liver and gets converted to fat when in excess. The elevated fat levels in the blood can lead to an increased insulin sensitivity in addition to the creation of more LDL (the bad cholesterol).
A popular advocate of low fructose diets is Charles Poliquin who has published 2 articles specfically on the subject (Avoid fructose to Lose Belly Fat and Improve Fat Burning and Limit Fructose and High-Glycemic Foods Prior to Strength Training to Burn More Fat). In these articles Coach Poliquin advocates a low fructose diet maxing at 20g/day for very active individuals. He also details the study that he based his recommendations off of which concluded that fructose consumption pre-workout led to carbohydrates being burnt as opposed to fats. Therefore limiting fat oxidation leading to a mid-workout crash and fat loss. There’s been two studies thus far concluding this. While promising, it’s not enough to make me completely change my dietary patterns yet. The other aspect to keep in mind when arguing that fruit is evil is that most fruits grown today are higher in sugar than their natural forms.
Our fruit evolution (and a totally epic timeline)
It’s not the first time that I’ve debated the subject. I agree with the fructose debate even though the science is in its infancy. (Although the fructose-shuttling mechanism has been well-established for years.) I also believe that, like all other touchy subjects in the fitness industry we’re at one stage of our evolution. In my article reviewing the Perform Better 2011 seminar Martin Rooney illustrated the evolution of group fitness. The great fruit debate has been raging on since the dawn of time:
The totally epic fruit timeline:
Dawn of time: Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit screwing over humans for eons that followed. Fruit was evil.
Paleolithic age (~2.6 million years ago) – Our early ancestors (australopithecines) became bipedel and started to band together in groups. They mainly ate plants. Fruit was good.
Lower Paleolithic (2.5 million years ago) – Appearence of homo erectus and transition to a carnivorus diet. Meat = good. Fruit was bad.
Neolithic (~9500BC) – People became skilled farmers. Fruit was good.
Bronze Age (~3300BC) – Advanced weaponly was built meaning man could hunt animals better. Who cares about fruit when you can tear newly hunted meat off the flesh. Fruit was bad.
Romantic era (~1800) - Grapes become considered an aphrodisiac. Fruit was good.
World war 1 (1914) - Food needed to keep for a long time. Fruit was bad.
1960s – Hippies started enjoying fruit because the colors tripped them out. Fruit was good.
1992 – United states started to become very obese and rewrote the food guide. Vegetables were recommended 3-5 servings/day and fruit was 2-4. Fruit was good.
2008 – People started to go crazy about anti-oxidants. Fruit was seen as a great source. Fruit was good.
2010 – As America becomes more and more obese debate turns to the sugar content in fruit. Fruit was bad.
2011 – Studies are completed showing that fructose specifically from some fruits causes less fat oxidation during exercise. Fruit is EVIL
My Response to the text message
After carefully considering all of the above points I responded with:
Nobody ever got fat eating fruit. My opinion is to not bug yourself with small details like that until your eating habits are 100% otherwise.
Ppl get very nitpicky when they read an article and think it’s the end all
Bodybuilders don’t eat fruit. You aren’t a bodybuilder. Bodybuilders also never drink, eat perfect and are in bed by 10pm
I also decided to pose this question to my Facebook friends (if you aren’t already friends with me on Facebook, please add me. My wall has become an incredible source for debate, networking, and the passion along of information.) Needless to say it struck a cord:
2 very interesting things came out of this debate:
The first was I realized that even personal trainers are often misinformed and it’s of utmost importance to have a resource group like our Facebook community to help them. Here’s an example:
And my response:
The second interesting point was how intricate the debate became. It ended with two trainers arguing over whether specific types of berries are good to give with clients within particular body fat ranges. This brings me to my main point:
Keep It Simple!!! I was angered when I received the text from my old client not because he had received bad information. In fact, after investigating I figured out who the trainer was and he helped me put together this article. The trainer is at the forefront of our industry and I have a tremendous respect for him. At the same time he admits that he may have been wrong to give the advice.
Personal training is unregulated but we’re increasingly interested in science. Which is a dangerous combination. It means that trainers can give unsolicited advice about anything. When we have a workshop with trainers at our club I see the trainers using the new exercise they just learnt in every single workout the following week before abandoning the movement never to use it again.
This debate over fruit and fructose is the same. It’s in vogue. Popular coaches are writing about it and popular magazines are labeling it as new and profound. I challenge anybody who doles out advice whether they’re a trainer or not to decide whether fruit is the issue before pummeling their clients with all of its evils. If you itemize it properly I’m sure you’ll find that fruit is far down the list in terms of importance for a clients physique.
What I think is more important than fruit
1. Sleep: 7-8 uninterrupted hrs a night. If this ain’t happening I don’t care about anything else. Get some rest.
2. Consistent workouts focusing on big movers: If you can’t squat, deadlift, push, pull, rotate, or anti-rotate focus on that. I don’t care whether you eat a banana before your workout or not. Use your brain power to lift better. Once that’s done then you can debate the great fruit debate.
3. Eat consistently: People are going to hate this one but I don’t buy into the intermittent fasting debate. To me it’s unreasonable for the everyday exerciser and has become a fun was for fitness pros to try something new. It may work and it may not. Until a client is able to eat 4-6 times consistently throughout the day I’m not going to tell them to stop bringing their banana to work and I’m definitely not going to tell them to starve themselves for a portion of the time. Most people are too busy to make too many changes at once.
If a client’s able to demonstrate the above 3 factors for a prolonged period of time then I might start delving into the details a bit more. Until then realize that the exercisers we help either as trainers or friends have so much other crap on their minds that you risk overwhelming them. Does a banana cause a crash midway through a workout? Maybe. But I can promise it doesn’t cause as much of a crash as chronic fatigue or malnutrition.
Only the ignorant speak in absolutes
If a professional ever speaks in an absolute run!
If you read a magazine article that speaks in absolutes, question it!
If your friend ever tells you that fruits are bad for you, run really really fast!
Nothing in this industry is an absolute. I believe so strong in that phrase I’m going to repeat it:
Nothing is ever an absolute
Don’t believe me? Here’s my argument whenever anybody says that fruits are bad:
1. Not all fruit is created equal: While bananas, apples, and pears are high on the fructose scale, berries nectarines and grapefruit are quite low.
2. Acidic fruits are powerful acid/base buffers: For those who eat a diet high in meat (especially red meat) and exercise often blood can become quite acidic. Fruits like pineapple and grapefruit act are strongly basic. Read The Kick Acid Diet for more info.
3. Most people are deficient in fruit and minerals. While it’s nice to say that fruit is evil because of the high sugar I would gladly exchange a little bit of sugar for much needed nutrients.
4. Fruit is a damn good portable snack. if the difference is eating vs. not eating throughout the day then I recommend buying a nifty banana travelling kit and bringing one to work.
You’re fit and people will ask you your advice about whatever fad is in vogue. It’s your responsibility to help them, not confuse them further. Think carefully before responding at what really matters. Is a banana a day going to make a bigger difference than sleeping an extra 2 hours a day? Or focusing their energy on working out better?
Focus on the important stuff and save the great banana debate for later.
Where do you stand on the great banana debate? Comment below and, as always, please share