Nutrient Dense Movement

Not all exercise is created equal. In this article we’ll compare movement to nutrition and propose the idea that certain movements are more ‘nutrient dense’ than others.

Before we get into comparing movement to food let's define some terms, the Oxford dictionary says a nutrient is ‘A substance that provides nourishment essential for the maintenance of life and for growth’.

For the purposes of this article let’s adapt that so we have a working definition of movements as a nutrient. I’m going with, ‘Locomotion that provides nourishment essential for the maintenance of life and for growth’.

Now that we’ve got the semantics out the way, let’s break things down a little more. What makes something nutritious? Enter macro and micronutrients.

For the uninitiated, macronutrients in food are; fats, proteins and carbohydrates. We need these foods in relative abundance as they are what make up the majority of our nutritional intake. And micronutrients are nutrients we require in trace amounts in order to function and develop well, these are broadly defined as vitamins and minerals.

Let’s apply the same categorization to movement. And for ease of comparison, let’s say our three macronutrient equivalents are; mobility, strength/power and cardiovascular endurance.

Again, for sake of comparison, let’s pair up our equivalent macronutrients:

  • Fat = Mobility

  • Protein = Strength/power

  • Carbohydrate = Cardiovascular endurance

Then we might consider the additional benefits of exercise our equivalent of micronutrients. These might include; increased bone density, a greater sense of happiness and improved proprioception (ability to sense where our body is in space). This list of benefits is as infinite as the number and type of micronutrients.

We’re all familiar with the concept that some foods have more nutritional value than others. For example, we can agree that a filet of wild caught salmon is more nutritious than a piece of bread.

I think we can make the same comparison with exercise. There are certain movements which offer us more ‘nutrition’ than others. Compare the list of benefits of a well-performed overhead squat with, say, a recumbent bike.

Continuing with the fish/bread metaphor. Let’s interpret the overhead squat as a fillet of wild caught salmon and the recumbent bike a piece of bread. Can you see where I’m going with this?

The bike might offer some cardiovascular benefits but otherwise it’s not that enriching. There’s probably a TV screen to stare at while you mindlessly cycle to nowheresville. And sitting in a chair while you do it doesn’t offer your lower back much respite from riding in a car or working at a desk bound job.

Conversely, the overhead squat demands presence and engagement, a lapse in concentration and you risk dropping what may be a heavy barbell. The overhead squat involves coordination, heaps of mobility and strength and stability in the shoulders and upper back.

So which movement is more nutritious? It’s a no brainer.

When we analyze this over the long haul we can start to build a picture of what a person’s movement diet (training program) looks like. If you look back over the past 30 days, what movement nutrients have you consumed? How is your [movement] diet going?

An athlete may need to eat a diet higher in a particular macronutrient to meet the requirements of the sport, e.g, a football player may need to eat more protein to help recover from hard training sessions and matches. In the same way, that same football player has particular movement nutrient requirements. Their training program would prioritise strength/power over, say, cardiovascular endurance.

Unless you have the specific requirements of a highly specialized athlete, I would suggest your food diet and your movement diet should be broad and all-inclusive. You’d probably benefit from strength/power, mobility and cardio in relatively equal measures.

Spin class won’t cut it - it’s the movement equivalent of a high carb diet. Neither will Yoga - too much fat. Or powerlifting - protein overload. A combination of all three, however, might make for a solid program.

If you’re looking for a nutritious training program and you live in Austin, you might consider joining Chalk Training. Try us out with a free class here