Is it Necessary to Eat Clean to be Lean?

Julian Brown Professional BodybuilderThe Ideal Diet Plan

Typically, when an individual thinks of the ideal diet for weight loss or getting lean, it includes only nutritious whole food sources.  Also, it is often assumed when we see individuals with outstanding physiques that he or she must have a really good diet in terms of food sources.

Although, the types of foods we eat have a direct effect on our caloric intake, the food source does not ultimately decide leanness or weight loss.  What if I told you that eating clean is NOT a perquisite to weight loss or getting lean? Before I elaborate, let us first define clean eating and being lean.

What Defines Eating Clean and Being Lean?

clean eating foodsDepending on whom you ask; the definition of eating clean can be very different.  For instance, eating clean could mean avoiding saturated fats, sugars, starches, meats, gluten, food with pesticides and/or antibiotics, or eating only organic or all natural foods. For the sake of this article, let us define clean eating as the consumption of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean proteins, healthy fats, and nonfat dairy.

Once again depending on whom you ask, you will get very different answers on what is considered being lean.  For instance, being lean to a competitive bodybuilder is a very different standard than being lean to a sumo-wrestler.  With that being said, in my opinion the majority of people would consider anyone with six pack lean as six pack abs have become almost the gold standard of being lean in the fitness world.

Weight Loss and Leanness are Mutually Exclusive to Eating Clean

lean young manFirst, let us take a look at what influences being lean. Lean is a measure of body composition therefore it is directly influenced by one’s lean body mass and fat mass.  Now, lean body mass is influenced by factors such as organ size, bone density, and muscle mass the latter two of which we have control over via strength training. Strength training helps build muscle mass and increase bone density. Thus, an individual’s weight training program has a direct influence on their lean body mass.

Now, when it comes to fat mass and weight, they are influenced by factors such as activity, caloric intake relative to one’s metabolism, and genetics.  Two of those factors, activity and caloric intake, we have direct control over. In our everyday lives, we make choices in terms of activities and food consumption that directly affect our fat mass and weight.

As a result when you look at what influences being lean, fat mass, and weight, clean eating only affects one factor in the equation an individual’s caloric intake.  However, an individual’s caloric intake is also directly influenced by dirty or bad foods as well.

Therefore, when it comes strictly to body composition or weight loss, caloric intake relative to one’s metabolism is what matters not the source.  Too many clean calories can result in an unfavorable body composition or weight gain just like too many bad calories.

Although eating clean is not a prerequisite to getting lean or for weight loss, there are some definite and favorable advantages to clean eating when it comes to weight loss and body composition.

Pros and Cons to Clean Eating


Although eating clean is not a perquisite for being lean or weight loss, it does make the task easier.  Typically, whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, legumes, and nonfat dairy are low calorie high volume foods.  Low calorie high volume foods allow you to eat more food which leads to you feeling fuller while consuming fewer calories.  For example, four ounces of chicken breast, which is generally considered a clean food, contains roughly the same amount of calories of just two Oreos which are usually considered a bad food.  Thus, eating clean or healthier foods makes eating fewer total daily calories easier in terms of satiety and fullness.  Also, you are more likely to get more nutrition in terms of vitamins and minerals eating healthier foods leaving you with better overall health.


The downside to eating clean is a very short list.  Depending on what clean eating methods you decide to follow, there is a certain amount of food source restriction you have to adhere by.  Also, cleaning eating is not always convenient.  Some restaurants accommodate those who wish to eat clean and some do not.  Therefore, eating out is a hit or miss option for clean eaters. In addition, clean eating typically requires more time in the form of meal preparation. For some individuals, preparing multiple meals a day is not an issue, but for those looking for a quick meal, especially when on the road, clean eating is not always convenient. That being said, check out the Skinny Yoked meal bag post for a look at some cool meal prep bags, they might just make your life a little easier when on the move.

The Bottom Line

Although eating healthy foods will provide your body with more nourishment than their processed counterparts, clean eating is not mandatory for weight loss or a lean physique. However, eating cleaner will allow you to consume fewer calories while feeling fuller and more satisfied. The bottom line is if your main concern is weight or fat loss, what you eat is not as important as how many calories you eat.

See Also:

Author Profile: Julian Brown, BS, ACE-CPT, NASM-FNS      Julian is the co-owner of The Yard Fitness, an established fitness writer, a professional natural bodybuilder, a fitness & sport nutrition specialist, and a certified personal trainer. He began strength training at the young age of fourteen to improve his sports performance and hasn’t looked back since. Julian is a graduate of Grambling State University, ACE & NASM certified, and he has over a decade of personal experience in strength training.

Disclaimer: The views of the author are his or her own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Ask The Trainer.
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