“Functional” fitness was all the rage in the early 2000s as all sorts of exercises, workout routines, and training programs were created to prepare the body for movements and activities it would encounter in everyday life.
However, the term “functional” quickly got bastardized into a style of training that involved an individual performing back squats on bosu balls or standing on one leg performing bicep curls into overhead presses.
Functional fitness is still around these days, but thankfully the amount of yutzes performing and advertising these shenanigans is far less than it was 10-15 years ago.
In its stead are “functional foods”.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines functional foods as:
"whole foods along with fortified, enriched or enhanced foods that have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on a regular basis at effective levels based on significant standards of evidence."
The truth is all foods are “functional” in that they serve the “function” of providing our bodies with calories (energy) to power our cells, much the same way that just about any exercise can be “functional” depending on what your daily life consists of (except back squatting on a bosu ball -- that will never make sense).
Now, these days when you see foods classified as “functional” it usually means they’re trying to provide you some additional benefit (extra protein, MCTs, ketones, BCAAs, etc.). But, much like functional fitness, they’re generally overhyped and unnecessary.
You can get all the nutrients your body needs to survive and thrive from whole foods.
Functional foods offer no additional benefits beyond which that could be obtained from a healthy diet.
That being said, we won’t kid you, we love a delicious protein bar as much as the next gym bro.
But, they’re not required and you’re not any less “functional” if you don’t eat them.
“Functional foods” can be viewed like supplements in that they provide a convenient way to get in some quality nutrition on the go for those times when you don’t have time to prep, cook, clean, and eat a whole foods meal.