Not only does the average person typically undereat to achieve their physique goals, they also tend to struggle with choosing the right types of carbohydrates. Before they started working with me, many of my clients got most of their carbohydrate intake in the form of fruit, with some having up to seven serves of fruit per day.
Fruit is sugar. It doesn’t matter how many vitamins fruit contains, at the end of the day it is still sugar. Unlike what many people think, fruit is not interchangeable with vegetables and the common phrase “no-one ever got fat from eating too many apples” is actually not true.
There are two types of carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates, or sugars, include processed sweets, jams and fruit. Complex carbohydrates, or starches, are foods like wholemeal bread, pasta, rice and sweet potato. You generally want to stick to complex carbohydrates as your main fuel source, regardless of whether you are active or not.
Fruit causes the exact same insulin response in your body as ice cream. Unlike the gradual release of energy that eating complex carbohydrates provides, simple sugars (including fruit!) spike your blood sugar. Following the spike, your energy levels will then suddenly drop, and your body will crave more carbohydrates to fill the void.
I see many people who graze on fruit throughout the day in an attempt to eat healthy, but then only want to binge out on unhealthy foods at night time. They don’t know why, but it’s because of this constant fluctuation of blood sugar levels which makes them crave other simple carbohydrates.
In one of my favourite nutrition books Sweet Poison (which I have written about here and here) the author, David Gillespie, explains how fruit is only fuelling your desire for more sweet, less ‘healthy’ foods. When you have fruit at the end of every single meal (and more people do this than you think!), you’re teaching your body to constantly expect sweets. That is why he urges people to cut out all sugar, including fruit, for a few weeks to see how their body responds. It’s only then that you truly realise how sweet fruit actually tastes.
There is an argument that fruit is different to other types of simple carbohydrates because it is unrefined. Generally, fruit has not had any of its original properties removed, nor has it had any manufactured elements added. It is a much better source of energy, fibre, vitamins and minerals than a chocolate bar. That being said, however, it is still extremely important to time your fruit intake appropriately if you are striving towards certain physical goals.
One of the worst things you can do for your body is to have a piece of fruit as a snack alone. At the very least, you should combine the fruit with a protein and/or fat to slow its digestion. At best, you should only take in fruit post-workout when your body needs carbohydrates quickly.
Personally, I have one serve of fruit, four days per week immediately after my workouts. Many bodybuilders follow a similar post-workout approach, but many don’t have any fruit at all. My husband, for example, hasn’t had fruit in almost five years.
I often tell my clients to have fruit pre- and post-workout, as it seems to be more acceptable to have an apple than an extra half a cup of oats. In that sense, fruit can play a specific but beneficial role in meeting macronutrient targets. However, I would always prefer to reach my carbohydrate intake through the consumption of oats, rice and sweet potato and not sugar.
How often do you have fruit? Have you ever suffered negative effects from excess fruit consumption?