The ‘traditional’ food pyramid, which was developed by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) some 20-odd years ago, presented the food groups as a hierarchy and recommended that foods such as bread, pasta and rice make up the bulk of your diet. Unfortunately, these guidelines didn’t give any definite pointers about healthy eating.
In the 21st century, the USDA tried to refine their healthy food recommendations by introducing MyPyramid as well as MyPlate. Although these symbols were an improvement on the traditional food pyramid, they don’t accurately describe the requirements for healthy eating.
What these approaches to eating also didn’t take into account were the various nutritional requirements that athletes and fitness buffs may have,given what they want to achieve in terms of their athletic performance as well as their bodies.
In this article, we’ll decode the food pyramid and the food plate approaches to eating. We’ll also look at how you can use these approaches to help you further your fitness goals.
The traditional food pyramid organised the food groups into a hierarchy
It indicated that the basis of your diet should consist of grains – such as bread and rice – while fats, oils and sweets should make up the smallest portion of what you eat. However, this pyramid had many shortcomings, e.g. it didn’t show you which types of bread you should choose (i.e. wholewheat bread – which has more nutrients – vs white bread – which is very low on nutrients).
From a fitness point of view, when planning your diet you need to look at the goals that you want to achieve. For example, if you’re an endurance athlete having a lot of grains in your diet will provide you with the energy you need to sustain you while you’re performing your chosen sport. This means that using the food pyramid to base your diet on will help you immensely. However, if you’re a bodybuilder and – as such – are focused on building muscle, the food pyramid won’t be of much help to you as to help you to achieve your goal you need to have more protein in your diet in order to achieve your fitness goal.
In 2005, the USDA reworked the traditional food pyramid into MyPyramid
However, this approach was also criticised for not providing very much detail as was the case with the previous pyramid. MyPyramid did highlight that the basis for a healthy eating plan is exercise.
Here again, the amount (and type) of exercise that you do depends on what fitness goals you want to achieve or the part of your body you want to develop and improve. If you want to develop your core, you may choose Pilates over other personal training. It’s recommended that to stay healthy, you do a moderate amount of exercise per week. However, if you’re training for a long-distance mountain bike challenge or a triathlon, you’ll want to step up the intensity of your workout plan as you’ll need to build up your fitness.
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In 2006, the USDA revised MyPyramid and created MyPlate
In this model, the plate is divided into four, with vegetables (green) and fruit (red) taking up half the plate. (The vegetables quarter is slightly bigger than the fruit quarter.) The other half of the plate is taken up by grains (brown) and protein (purple), with the grain quarter being slightly larger than the protein quarter. MyPlate also emphasises the importance of dairy, by showing it on its own at the edge of the plate.
As with MyPyramid, MyPlate has a number of flaws. Experts highlight that MyPlate doesn’t show you which proteins are better for you, i.e. beans, fish and chicken are a better choice than red meat. In addition, it also doesn’t address issues such as junk food and sugary drinks – something that is an issue the world over and is one of the leading contributors to obesity.
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