A trade-off can be defined as a balance achieved between two desirable but incompatible goals. In the realm of car design an F1 car built for speed, a sports car built for beauty and a 4x4 built for resilience are all examples of how such trade-offs might manifest. Ideally we would all be cruising around in powerful, efficient, clean, beautiful, robust, safe and affordable cars but trade-offs dictate these are currently incompatible choices.
In similar fashion I am sure we would all like to enjoy high levels of athletic performance, perfect body aesthetics and excellent health. Unfortunately, like with cars these become largely incompatible choices when taken to the extreme.
As the drawing above shows there is a sweet spot in the middle where performance, body aesthetics and health collide but if you move too far into any one area you begin to forfeit your ability to excel in the others.
By pushing physical performance too far, for too long we open the door to excessive wear and tear on our joints, chronic injuries, excessive physical stress and dwindling energy reserves. Rafael Nadal, one of the finest athletes of our time, sums up the dangers of pushing athleticism to its limit with the following quote;
"Playing sports is a good thing for ordinary people; however sport played at the professional level is not good for your health. It pushes your body to limits that human beings are not naturally equipped to handle"
Likewise an obsessive pursuit of low body fat levels can have negative consequences such as constant hunger, debilitating brain fog, depleted sex drive, disrupted hormone balance and weakened bones. Physique competitors are putting their body into a slow process of starvation in a quest for unnatural levels of leanness. At the opposite end of the spectrum chasing evermore muscle mass can require unnaturally high calorie intakes which is extremely taxing and tiresome to sustain.
Despite these negative trade-offs fitness marketing will invariably play to a physique of performance variable. Why? Because they sell. Our reptilian brain struggles to resist the temptation of greater physical status (performance) or enhanced sex appeal (aesthetics.) Would you buy something which promoted anything other than extraordinary body and fitness results?!
We are all free to choose our own path and many will be willing to the pay the price for high levels of performance or leanness. That's fine. Just don't think the extremes are your only choice when a more moderate approach can you give a little bit of everything.