Depending on whom you consult, which diet you’re following, or what studies you read, fruit is either a healthy indulgence or a sugar-laden diet wrecker—nature’s own fat-promoting candy. We rounded up some of the fitness industry’s top nutrition experts to determine once and for all what place fruit has in the diet of a guy who wants to get big, strong, and lean.
Nothing to Fear
"Fruit provides valuable fiber, vitamins, and micronutrients, and can help satisfy a sweet tooth, which can go a long way during an otherwise restrictive diet. Any and all fruits are fine; I don’t think you need to rule any one type out entirely. Most of my clients like some fruit with their breakfast, but it can be eaten at any meal where carbs are allowed. It’s good right before workouts for energy, and after to replenish glycogen.
"The only potential problem fruit poses is that it’s not a ‘free food.’ Many consider only fibrous vegetables to be something you can eat in unlimited amounts. Fruit still falls under the umbrella of carbs that must be controlled. But whether you’re following a lean-gain diet or a fat-loss diet, I think a few pieces of fruit a day are fine—unless, of course, you’re doing a zero-carb plan. “The only other thing I’d caution people about regarding fruit is the risk associated with pesticides and hormones. If you’re eating fruit that doesn’t have a thick peel, such as an apple or berries, buy organic. Fruits that do have thick peels are pretty well protected, so I don’t think you need to spend the extra money on, for example, organic bananas or oranges.”
Shelby Starnes is an IFBB pro bodybuilder, competitive powerlifter, and nutritionist who specializes in designing pre-contest diets for bodybuilders. shelbystarnes.com.
Break Your Addiction
"When I work with people, I phase out fruit right away, and keep it out of the diet for about six weeks. If someone is trying to get really lean, I leave fruit out entirely. Not because I think fruit is harmful, but because I think people become addicted to it. Those who follow paleo-style diets tend to think they can cram in mango and pineapple all day long because it’s allowed on the diet, but it’s still got calories and sugar.
“I see fruit as a 'gateway drug,' so to speak. The sweet taste will, at times, lead to seeking more sweet foods. That’s why I take it out of the diet for a while and then slowly add it back in. When fruit is allowed, I like it to be postworkout. A very ripe banana or mango is ideal for replenishing carbs, but it must be paired with a protein source like whey hydrolysate to create an insulin spike.”
Jesse Burdick is a nutritionist and powerlifter who holds elite totals in three different weight classes. powerwod.com.
"I’m with Shelby in thinking that fruit—though, let’s specify that we mean whole fruit, not the stuff that’s pre-sliced in cans and soaked in syrup—is a great food choice and can be included in any diet. In the modern world, where the majority of food choices are refined and processed, whole fruit is one of the last real, natural foods.
“Fruit is important for digestion and satiety, and it contains healthy, disease-fighting phytonutrients. It also comes in such a wide selection of flavors and textures that it can provide a ton of variety in a diet.
“The attack on fruit has always been about the small amount of natural fructose found in whole fruits, which just isn’t comparable to the amount found in processed snacks, pastries, and desserts loaded with high-fructose corn syrup and table sugar. For instance, 24 ounces of soda has five to six times more total fructose than an orange, and has no nutritional value. Fructose, in concentrated amounts beyond what nature intended, can indeed have a drastic negative effect on both our overall health and physical appearance. Fructose overload can lead to insulin resistance, impaired glucose tolerance, elevated triglycerides, Type 2 diabetes, and, of course, rapid accumulation of body fat. But don’t blame the fruit. Cut the crap out of your diet.
“I like to eat fruit during the day for sustained energy, and around workouts to ward of catabolism. My diet strategy is to eat lightly in the early part of the day, then get most of my carbs and calories at night. So, if I’m training late in the day but before my big meals, liver glycogen can get low, and that often causes fatigue and impairs performance. A piece of fruit 30 to 45 minutes before training can provide just enough energy to get through an intense session without pumping so many carbs into your system that you wreck your ability to burn fat for a while. Since fruit digests fast, it gives you a quick shot of energy without causing digestive stress or nausea during the workout like a big meal would. Fruit is also low on the glycemic index, so you won’t get an energy crash after eating it the way you do with refi ned carbs.
“The one time I wouldn't eat fruit is right after a big, starch-loaded meal. Fructose is metabolized dif erently than glucose and starch. Once liver-glycogen stores are full, excess fructose is easily converted to triglycerides and body fat. So fruit is best when liver glycogen is low—after a period of fasting, a stretch of lowcarb eating, or immediately post-workout.”
Fruit Works for Bulking and Cutting
"Fruit has a place in just about everyone’s diet. For bulking, it provides a great source of antioxidants that can help you cope with the oxidative damage caused by high-volume or heavy training. Certain antioxidants in fruit may also help with insulin sensitivity. When a client wants to gain weight, I have him add fruit to his shakes for more calories.
“With respect to getting lean, I keep fruit in fat-loss diets longer than people might expect. Cutting carbs is key to losing fat, but more often than not, total carb content trumps the type of carbs. I first cut out grains and starches, and then—when weight loss plateaus—I remove tropical fruits, as they generally have a higher sugar content. Berries are the last to go, after which the client is left with eating protein, healthy fats, and green vegetables.
“However, I’m not in full agreement with what my colleagues have said here about fructose. I think it’s a poor way to replenish muscle glycogen—I prefer a faster-acting carb source, like cyclic dextrins. But if you’re following a low-carb plan, your liver glycogen will be low, or at least not full, especially in the early part of the day. So the fructose in fruit will go toward refilling your liver glycogen stores and won’t promote fat gain.
“The problem with fructose, as I said previously, comes when consuming it in large quantities. But if fruit is the only source of fructose in your diet, chances are you won’t HOW TO get enough for it to be an issue.”
Mike Roussell, PhD., is the founder of Naked Nutrition LLC, a multimedia company that provides health and nutrition solutions. mikeroussell.com.