Half your childhood was spent listening to your mom go on and on about eating your fruits and vegetables before getting dessert; especially if you ever hoped to grow up healthy and strong one day. Growing up was one continuous struggle between seeing how many Oreos you could get away with eating in a sitting, and still finding a way to choke down your nightly broccoli. Fast forward a few years, and now half your time viewing social media fitness accounts is spent reading how dairy and fruit are two of the very worst things for your fat loss goals. How dare that hag of a mom lie to you, eh? Let’s see her build an Instagram page of 10K+ followers, sheesh.
Welllll, don’t throw out your apples just yet. Despite the popularity of produce bashing in the online fitness world, as with most topics, the facts are far different than the outlandish captions may suggest. After recently getting the question several times from my own online clients, it was time to write an article covering what the actual science suggests in terms of fruit consumption, and why fruit itself is far from being to blame for the weight management and health issues faced by most people, especially here in America.
Nutrient Deficiencies when Dieting
One of the most under considered, but blatantly obvious reasons to keep fruit in our diets year round, even when dieting for fat loss, is for overall health. Sure, plenty of us got into training seriously and tracking our diets, at least in part, due to vanity. More confidence around the opposite sex, feel better at the beach or nights out, look great on stage- you name it. The vast majority of us care very much about how we look.
Nevertheless though, looking good and being healthy aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s hard to look your best if you’re constantly sick. It’s also pretty tough to add more shape and size to our physiques if energy levels are constantly fluctuating and we’re not properly fueled for our workouts. Even if we’re in this for aesthetics, paying attention to our long-term health and the nutrients we can consume to optimize it is an important part of maximizing our long-term progress.
I include that tangent because, as we’re actively dieting for fat loss and resultantly, our total food intake is gradually declining as we push for continued fat loss- the risk of having a nutrient deficiency increases. That’s because to continue losing body fat, we of course have to continue systematically reducing how much we eat. Less food consumed means less chance to obtain the proper amount of various vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients important to health. If that risk wasn’t already significant enough as we progress in extended dieting phases, cutting out entire nutrient-dense food groups exacerbates the risk many times over.
If for no other reason, keeping at least some fruit in during your dieting phases will be important for safeguarding against nutrient deficiencies that best case, could hinder training performance or energy levels, but worst case, could lead to getting sick or accelerating hormone disruptions along the way.
American Fruit Intake & Obesity
If fruit were actually the problem, then it’s hard to understand how studies like the one I’m citing here reported an average of 76% of Americans didn’t consume the minimum suggestion for fruit, and 87% of Americans didn’t eat the minimum suggestion of vegetable intake provided by the USDA. 
Considering those suggestions are 2.0 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables per day for the average person (and reasonably, a higher suggestion for very active people), it goes without saying that over eating fruits isn’t likely the cause for America’s continued prevalence of obesity. 
What about the Sugar?
Ah yes, the old sugar dispute. Time and time again people are encouraged to drop fruit from their diets because the sugar it contains is darn near deadly!! Heck if you’re trying to get and stay in good shape, why on earth would you consume foods that are almost entirely composed of sugar??
First off, it’s important to remember that any source of carbohydrates is eventually broken down into monosaccharides (aka sugars) as an end product, even the brown rice or oats the local bro bodybuilder preaches is the only way for you to go. Granted, different carb sources break down differently, and offer a unique combination and amount of various health-promoting micronutrients, but at the end of the day, they’re still ultimately sugar.
Basic Energy Balance
With that reminder out of the way, let’s keep in mind that like anything else, the danger is in the dosing. If we agree that overall energy balance is a major key in healthy weight management, then whether we overeat nature’s candy or Hershey’s candy, we can hinder fat loss or even spur weight gain. Sure, there’s a vast difference in the benefits that can be gained from either, irrespective of weight gain & loss, but in terms of weight change- it’s just basic math and science.
So yes, if you’re trying to lose body fat and finding your weight has stalled the last several weeks despite efforts to eat nutrient dense foods, then lowering your total food intake could likely be the next step. And yes, that could be from decreasing fruit consumption if you’re eating a high amount during the week.
But that’s because by doing so, you’re lowering your overall caloric intake and contributing to the deficit needed for fat loss; not because fruit is likely to hinder body fat reduction any more than other food groups. Whether you’re keeping carbs or fats minimal in your diet, weight loss is still going to largely be due to creating a strategic caloric deficit and finding the form of dieting & macro distribution that best fits your lifestyle and preferences. 
Fructose (namely in the form of HFCS) can certainly be detrimental to health, but more so because of how easy it can be to over consume in beverages and candy, than the substance itself. Studies that don’t control for calorie consumption will very likely correlate fructose intake with higher body weight and disease risk. What’s often ignored though is that total calories consumed are generally much higher, leading to those increased risks.
In contrast, studies that have calories controlled among participants consistently find that it’s not the type of calories/distribution of macros consumed (if protein is matched and calories equated for), but the total energy balance and adherence that’s making the real difference. 
Take control of your overall energy balance by tracking your intake and training consistently, eating enough protein for your goals and body weight, varying the nutrient dense foods you consume throughout the week, and a little fructose in your diet from fruit is far from something to lose sleep over. Take a look at the amount of full-calorie soda, calorie-laden coffee beverages, fast food, and other hyperpalatable foods that most Americans consume without regard to overall calorie intake, and you may be closer to the culprit.
Offseason vs. Dieting Fruit Selection
As a rule of thumb, the more variety of fruits and vegetables I can encourage my online clients to consume on a weekly basis, the happier I am in knowing they’re making big strides in covering their health bases and maximizing performance. After all, each fruit (and vegetable) is going to have a unique combination of micronutrients beneficial to our health. Varying our intake of those of course helps us better avoid missing out on any particular nutrient.
That said though, there are some fruit selection considerations we can make, depending on the phase of our diet that we’re in, to make the most of our current intake goals while still promoting health and energy levels. These are, namely, looking at the caloric density of various fruits and then comparing that to our current carbohydrate intake goal. The easiest way to do this is take a given serving size, let’s say 100g for the sake of this example, and compare the carb content of various fruits per 100g.
Take bananas and strawberries for an example. Per 100 grams, bananas contain 23g carbohydrates. Strawberries in contrast contain 8g carbohydrates. Now this doesn’t make bananas bad and strawberries good just because of the difference in caloric density, not at all.
Apples & Oranges
What it does mean is that your fruit selection when calories/macros are getting low would likely be better by choosing those lower density fruits like strawberries. By doing so, you’re able to get your fruit intake knocked out, while still having carbs leftover to place toward starchy carbs that will help with satiety and also support training performance.
In contrast, when not actively dieting for fat loss (whether that be a reverse dieting or growth phase, or someone is just trying to maintain a more ‘lifestyle’ diet), then varying fruit intake among high and low density fruits would be especially beneficially so we can get as wide a variety of helpful micronutrients as possible. Choosing lower density fruits when actively dieting just helps us maximize the increasingly low amount of carbs we’ll have to work with throughout the day as our intake goals decline.
While no where near all-inclusive, below is a table outlining the carb content of some common fruits to provide a reference to compare and consider when transitioning back and forth from growth to dieting phases, when carbs are a hot commodity but you still need to get some fruit in.
|Higher Calorie Fruits||Carbs per/100g Serving|
|Lower Calories Fruits||Carbs per/100g Serving|
Although variety is king, when we’re getting into deep stages of our dieting phases, sticking with the lower density fruits can make it much easier to get some fruit in without feeling like we’re giving away all our precious carbs. Then, as we transition back out of our dieting phase, getting back to including a wide variety of fruits while aiming for that 2-4 serving range the USDA suggests for general health is a great plan of attack.
Peak Week Fruit Intake
I’ve spent this entire article preaching why we shouldn’t cut fruit out of our diet regardless of our physique goals, and even explained tactics to keep that fruit in, even when carbs are low. However, I need to contradict myself here as I touch on fruit during peak week, for those working to step on a physique stage in the future.
Even during contest prep, I encourage athletes to try their best to keep a minimum of 1-2 servings of lower calorie density fruits each day to keep them healthy and better maintain energy. However in 7-10 days just prior to their competitions, that suggestion changes. The reason being, although fruit has a ton of benefits, one aspects it doesn’t help very much with is replenishing muscle glycogen levels- something that’s very important as we begin filling out and tightening up just prior to stepping on stage. The more effectively we replenish muscle glycogen, the tighter and better our muscles ‘pop’ on stage or for that photo shoot.
As a quick overview, fructose digests and metabolizes a bit differently than glucose from starchy carbs would. Glucose readily converts to glycogen that replenishes intra-muscular levels and helps increase muscle fullness and tightness when we’re on stage.
Fructose on the other hand (the main monosaccharide in fruit), is metabolized in the liver, and the glycogen that’s produced is mostly sent toward replenishing liver glycogen levels, not muscle tissue. Important without question, but during peak week when we’re looking to maximize muscle glycogen levels, it’s just not something we want to focus on quite as much.
The Carb Up
That very brief, very simplified overview of fructose metabolism aside, here’s how it comes into play in the overall peak week plan. Regardless of your peak week strategy, at some point you’ll be raising carb intake to replenish those muscle glycogen levels to tighten up and ‘pop’ on stage. Go too heavy on the fruit during that time, and you can end up hindering your ability to fully maximize that carb up. In order to minimize that risk, during peak week I’ll generally suggest athletes limit fruit to around 1 serving per day.
Limiting fruit intake to around 1 serving (let’s say 100-150 grams for discussion sake) of fruit, along with just enough vegetables to meet fiber needs and keep digestion consistent, then filling the remaining carbohydrate allotment with starchy carbs can help maximize that carb up. Keeping just enough fruits and vegetables in to meet fiber needs, then using starchy carbs for the remainder can help ensure your peak week carb up is as effective as possible, digestion continues comfortably, and health bases are at least somewhat covered in the meantime.
Then, after the show, you can add back in 1-2 additional servings of fruits (and vegetables for that matter) as you begin reverse dieting or until your next peak week of the season. Limiting fruits and vegetables for one week isn’t long enough to worry about any health issues, but can do wonders for maximizing the results of your peak week strategy as you work to cap off all the hard work of your prep.
It’s almost mind-blowing that in an age where information is as readily available as ever, much of that is misinformation promoted by snake oil salesman trying to scare people into purchasing their miracle diet or pill. Of all the things legitimately contributing to society’s difficulty in maintaining a healthy body weight, fruit should be very, very far down on the list of issues that fall in the culinary crosshairs. As long as you’re not going overboard with fruit to a point that it hinders your intake of other quality carbohydrate sources, and you’re managing your overall energy balance in a strategic, mindful way- enjoy your fruit and don’t let the bad apples of the industry tell you otherwise.
- “Usual Dietary Intakes: Food Intakes, U.S. Population, 2007-10.” Usual Dietary Intakes: NHANES Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ), epi.grants.cancer.gov/diet/usualintakes/pop/2007-10/.
- Moore, LV, and FE Thompson. “Adults Meeting Fruit and Vegetable Intake Recommendations – United States, 2013.” Addiction & Health, StatPearls Publishing, europepmc.org/articles/pmc4584842.
- “Chapter 1 Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns.” Dietary Guidelines for 2015-2020, health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/a-closer-look-inside-healthy-eating-patterns/.
- “Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates | NEJM.” New England Journal of Medicine, www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa0804748
- Dansinger, Michael L. “Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone Diets for Weight Loss and Heart Disease Risk Reduction.” JAMA, American Medical Association, 5 Jan. 2005, jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/200094.