Healthy diet: Here’s how to make nutrition count
Providing your body with adequate nutrition is essential for fueling its functions and enabling you to perform at your best.
Your body is a machine and like all machines, it needs the right fuel to run well, especially if you are active. But what foods should you eat to benefit your workout? And when?
You might be surprised at how many active adults overlook the importance of nutrition basics – and then run short on key nutrients.
Not getting enough vitamins, minerals and other nutrients can compromise your health and your performance. Yet, fuelling up for activity is as easy as following the well-established rules of a healthy diet. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, consume lean proteins, eat healthy fats, get your wholegrain carbohydrates and drink plenty of fluids, especially water.
Fuel up, even if your goal is to lose weight. Give your body the energy it needs to do the job you want — even when you are trying to lose those extra pounds. Skimping on nutrition can reduce muscle mass, lower bone density and cause fatigue.
This puts you at risk of injury and illness, increases recovery time, causes hormonal problems and, for women, menstrual issues. Make sure your diet plan supplies enough nutrient-dense calories so you can exercise and stay injury-free and healthy.
Carbs are the powerhouse
Carbohydrates get a bad rap with some people. But research over the past 50 years has shown that carbs help your body during long and high-intensity exercise.
In fact, the more active you are, the more carbs you need. But what about the trend for athletes to eat high-fat, low-carb diets? Evidence suggests these diets don’t boost athletic performance and actually hinder it at higher intensities. During a workout, carbohydrates fuel your brain and muscles.
Carbs for the average workout: If you are in good shape and want to fuel a daily, light-intensity workout, eat about 3g-5g of carbohydrates for every kilogramme of body weight. For someone who weighs 68kg, that’s between 200g-340g a day.
Carbs for longer workouts: If you exercise for more than an hour a day, you may need 6g-10g of carbs per kilogramme of body weight. Pick healthy carbs, such as brown rice, quinoa, wholegrain bread, pasta, sweet potatoes, fruits and vegetables.
Rebuild with protein
Protein is important because it provides the amino acids your body needs to build and repair muscle. Most research suggests very active people should eat 1.2g-2g of protein per kilogramme of body weight.
People who aren’t active should eat less protein. Aim for 0.8g per kilogramme of body weight each day. Good sources of protein are poultry and fish.
Those who prefer to avoid meat can try soya beans and legumes like beans, peanuts and chickpeas. Eggs, Greek yoghurt, cheese and tofu are also good sources.
Don’t ignore fats
Fat is a confusing topic for many people, but it’s essential for a healthy diet. It provides energy and helps your body to absorb vitamins. Some vitamins (like A, D, E and K) need fat to properly benefit your body. Be sure to pick unsaturated fats. Good sources are avocado, olive and canola oils, flaxseed and nuts.
Know what you need for your pre-workout
If you work out less than an hour at a time, eating throughout the day should give you enough energy. However, to avoid glycaemic index (GI) issues, you may want to avoid eating right before you exercise. As a general rule, eat one to three hours before your workout, even if you are going to do sustained, high-intensity activity like a half marathon.
Remember the post workout 15
Your body uses its stored energy sources during a workout. After you exercise, you need to restore those nutrients as soon as possible. Research suggests that eating foods high in protein after your workout (within 15 minutes), provides essential amino acids that build and repair muscles. This may also increase the energy your body puts into storage to draw from in the future.
You’ll also want to replenish your carbs and fluids after your workout. One strategy is to drink a post-workout smoothie or have a recovery drink.
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