Experts often argue that 80 percent of your health and fitness comes from the food you eat. Combining the right balance protein, carbohydrates, and fat with an exercise routine can help you achieve and maintain your best body. Here are the basics of fuelling your body for your fitness goals:
WHAT DOES MY BODY NEED?
Your body needs three MACRONUTRIENTS - Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Healthy Fats for optimum health.
- Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel for most cells in your body. Carbs fuel your body and brain, provide energy for your fitness routine, protect your muscles and feed the bacteria in your gut. Carbohydrate-rich foods include starchy vegetables, bread, pasta, rice, grains, legumes and dairy.
Whole, unprocessed versions carbs the healthiest foods to include in your diet. Prepare meals with sweet potatoes, fruit and veg, and whole grains when possible.
- Proteins are known as your body's "building blocks” and are essential to achieving physical fitness. They are used to build and repair muscles post-workout helping you tone. They are also used to make enzymes and hormones and build cartilage, bone, skin and blood. Healthy protein-rich foods include chicken, fish, tofu, eggs, dairy products, nuts, beans and other legumes.
- Fats are the perfect compliment to carbohydrates and proteins. They balance your body by helping you absorb vitamins A, D, E and K, and regulating your hormones. Fats provide energy and build energy reserves, helping you avoid fatigue during your workout. They protect and insulate your organs. Fats are in meat, dairy, oils, nuts and seeds. Healthy fats include salmon, olives, avocados, cashews, and greek yogurt.
In addition to macronutrients, your body needs MICRONUTRIENTS from your food. The World Health Organisation calls micronutrients “magic wands that enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances essential for proper growth and development.”
Here are some of the important ones:
- Iron: Helps transport oxygen throughout the body. If we don’t have enough, we’re likely to have lowered immunity and can become anaemic. Iron is found in red meat (the best source), chicken, fish, grains, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and eggs also contain some.
- Vitamin A: Important for vision, the immune system, skin and growth in children. Vitamin A is in liver, oily fish, milk, egg yolk and cheese.
- Iodine: Necessary to make thyroid hormones, which control the body's metabolism and are responsible for bone and brain development during pregnancy and infancy. Iodine is in seafood, seaweed, dairy foods (in small quantities), vegetables, meat, and fortified foods such as salt and bread.
- Vitamin C: Essential for keeping gums, teeth and bones healthy, helping wounds heal, helping the body resist infection, helping the body absorb iron, and forming collagen to build bones and blood vessels.
Vitamin C is in colourful fruits and vegetables.
- Calcium: Essential to building and maintain your bones. It enables blood to clot, muscles to contract, and helps regulate blood pressure. The best source of calcium is dairy (especially milk, cheese and yogurt.) Other calcium-rich foods are non-dairy milk, sesame seeds, nuts, prawns, sardines, and dark green vegetables.
WHAT DOES A HEALTHY DIET LOOK LIKE?
Variety is the spice of life, and your diet should be full of it! Around the world, there are groups of people who live healthy, long lives. Although the people in these communities, known as Blue Zones, eat very varied diets, there are some common trends which are reinforced by scientific evidence. The first trend is an emphasis on eating mostly plant-based foods (whether you include animal products or not.) The second trend is an emphasis on eating whole, unprocessed foods. People all around the world are achieving fitness by limiting refined carbohydrates, added sugars, and processed foods.
IS THERE AN IDEAL RATIO OF CARBOHYDRATES, PROTEIN AND FAT?
We’re all unique, and our need for different nutrients can vary. The “ideal plate” is a basic model to balance your meals:
- half a plate of colorful, non-starchy vegetables and/or fruit
- a quarter of a plate of carbohydrate food
- a quarter of a plate of protein food.
This model can apply to simple meals as well as mixed meals like pasta or stir-fried dishes. Your age, activity level, and some health conditions can affect whether you need more or less of a particular nutrient. Seek expert advice from a nutritionist or dietitian if you’re not sure what’s right for you.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I EAT?
The traditional “three meals a day” model is a pattern of eating that fits in with many people’s fitness routines. Eating breakfast is associated with positive health outcomes, including weight management. Evidence suggests it doesn’t matter too much when we eat, as long as we get the nutrients we need from the meals and snacks we have in our daily life.
HOW SHOULD I EAT IF I’M EXERCISING?
Whether you’re working out, playing a sport, or going for a run, food can make a difference to how much energy you have. Fuel will also help you recover from your workout. Remember to eat healthy throughout the day (not just before and after your workout) as your body will store the nutrients for later.
WHAT SHOULD I EAT BEFORE AND AFTER EXERCISE?
Early Morning Workout: Your body can only use food it’s already digested, so you may be better off not eating. Within two hours of finishing your morning fitness routine, eat a meal rich in carbs and protein.
Evening Workout: Three to four hours before your workout have a meal with carbs and protein. If you prefer a snack, eat a smaller amount of these nutrients an hour or two before you train. Refuel within two hours of finishing your workout. If your day is winding down, be sure not to "reward yourself" with extra food as you won't have another chance to work it off.
WHAT ABOUT WATER?
Hydration is important every day whether we’re exercising or not. We lose water naturally through breathing and sweat. When we exercise this happens faster. Stay hydrated with water as your main drink. Keep an eye on your urine colour to tell you how you’re doing: pale is good.