NSNG Diet: Not for Everyone

You may have heard of the world’s angriest trainer, Vinnie Tortorich. He’s trained celebrities – and is responsible for Howie Mandel’s girlish figure (not sure why Howie is his testimonial.. maybe he should’ve got an action star?). He markets himself well online and presumably makes a good living from it. His No Sugar, No Grain (NSNG) diet strategy is good in theory – though nothing new – with a focus on whole foods comprised largely of meat and vegetables.

Sugar has a place in the athlete's diet
Sugar has a place in the athlete’s diet

But I’d caution against implementing it if you’re a high level athlete or bodybuilder. Meeting the carbohydrate requirements of a 160 lb celebrity trainer takes far smaller volumes than that of a 240 lb bodybuilding male. Muscles are made of glycogen! I don’t care how well your body can perform on proteins and fats, you aren’t going to grow muscle optimally without carbohydrates, no matter how much broccoli you force down.

If you train like an animal in the gym and play sports on a regular basis (golf doesn’t count), you absolutely require carbohydrates. I’m talking the performance kind, such as rice and pasta to name a few. And believe it or not, sugar has a place at times too.

For Athletes

If you’re a strength athlete – let’s say you play hockey or football to name a few – a pre-workout meal containing carbohydrates should be in your daily routine. Higher levels of activity are going to require proper fuel. Sure, you could become “fat adapted” like Vinnie preaches and may not see too large of a performance dip eating fats instead of carbohydrates, but without the insulin from the carbs your workout is increasing muscle protein breakdown (bad) and cortisol levels (very bad). It’s as important to recover for the next training session as it is to perform well in the current session. The insulin response from ingesting carbs helps to manage that. They have a place for the athlete! Note: For the sedentary guy 50 lbs overweight, the game is different. He should try to limit carbohydrates and keep insulin at bay as much as possible, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

A recent paper on pre-exercise nutrition for endurance via Mike Ormsbee, Chris Bach, & Dan Baur makes the point clear:

Research accumulated over the last half-century has shown that the most beneficial nutritional intervention is
one that can augment and preserve carbohydrate (CHO) fuel stores (muscle and liver glycogen) for
late-race, high-intensity exercise

Ultimately, consuming a carbohydrate rich meal (ideally in combination with a bit of protein and fat) can enhance performance. And whether you’re an athlete or just a gym rat looking to have beach muscles to show off, that’s ultimately what you’re after each training session or game.

You can take it a step further and introduce carbs WITHIN your training session (ideally sugars that can quickly digested) for an additional performance boost, and I discuss that here

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Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based fitness coach for men and women like his former self. Heavyset in his 20s, he lost 60 pounds and now helps clients find their spark and lose the weight for life.