I participated in a roundtable on Jamie Hale’s site a while ago.

The topic was whether it mattered much if people ate clean (non-processed whole foods) or dirty (refined foods) during a diet assuming a caloric deficit was in place. Here’s my input:

From a purely physiological standpoint, it probably doesn’t matter if you’re including foods in your diet that may be labeled unclean by the generic bodybuilder. As long as protein remains a constant, there won’t be any measurable differences in fat loss in the short term when comparing two diets where the rest would be made up by either “clean” or “unclean foods.”

There might be some long-term effects on body composition on a diet where fat and carbohydrate food choices are the worst possible (think trans fats and high fructose corn syrup), but these extremes aren’t relevant to the discussion in this context. I don’t think any competing bodybuilder subsists on such foods to a significant degree pre-contest.

I do think one should opt for food choices that have satiating and nutritive properties in relation to their caloric content. These foods will in most cases be made up with foods that are traditionally labeled “clean.” However, I do think having cheat meals or “unclean” foods at least once a week has benefits in terms of adherence and sanity during the pre-contest diet (or any other diet for that matter).

I wrote this a few years ago and it was originally published in Hale’s book, I think. Can’t say I’ve changed my stance that much since then. Judging from discussion this doesn’t appear to be a polarizing topic by any means. Seems like everyone was in agreement. More or less.

I was generalizing quite a bit though. With “from a purely physiological standpoint” I alluded to a clinical point of view. In real life, food choices matter greatly. Food choices and macrocomposition affects mood, hunger and appetite. It’s an important factor to consider when designing diets and meal plans for clients.