You can't achieve peak physical fitness without paying attention to what you eat. Strong dietary habits are critical before, during and after exercise. Optimum performance is achieved by proper nutrient intake and is essential to receiving maximal performance output during exercise. Nutrition also promotes vital muscle and tissue growth and repair. The ideal diet provides all the nutrients the body needs and supplies energy for exercise.
Numerous nutrition and weight control programs have been developed to enable participants to vastly improve their health and fitness. There is no perfect diet for everyone, unfortunately. It depends on your individual goals and your ability to process the food. Some people have different reactions to beans, broccoli, meats, grains, etc. Even if there were a perfect diet, your ability to be disciplined enough to maintain the dietary habit varies among individuals. The biggest factor with any nutrition or exercise program just might be sustainability. If you fail to stick to it, it can't work. So, even if it is less than perfect but you can maintain the lifestyle long term, it will be infinitely more beneficial than the perfect program that you fail to maintain long term. One small exception may be fat loss. Fat loss can be attacked short term very successfully with crazy diets that seem less than healthy. However, the long term effect it may have on your body could turn out to be more detrimental than the initial positive results gained from the short term program. This is proven by the numerous celebrities and individuals who partake in unhealthy short term programs to either get a new job or role in Hollywood, fit into a dress for a big event, or look good at the reunion. More often then not, any positive results gained will be quickly lost and even worse you will be left worse off than when you started, so be careful when making drastic short term decisions.
I recommend you pay close attention to the foods you eat and how they affect your performance, your attitude, your sleep, your skin, your weight, etc. Almost everything we eat has some affect on our bodies in some way, be they physical, emotional, physiological, mental, etc. This can be easily noticed by playing close attention to how you feel after consuming a large Mountain Dew, a cookies and cream ice cream cone, and a snickers, or grilled Mackerel with steamed Brussels sprouts and a sweet potato with olive oil. Used in conjunction with a strong physical conditioning regimen, a sensible nutrition program will help you maintain and improve your health.
The following nutritional information is essential for adopting healthy eating and exercise habits. Although the information is primarily a weight management education tool, I recommend it for the maintenance of long term optimum health. Most nutrition programs are successful only when used in conjunction with a physical conditioning program and not used as a one-time "quick fix" diet.
For example, a weight loss program that reduces fat and incorporates complex carbohydrates but does not include exercise will ultimately fail. Similarly, increased exercise without a carefully monitored calorie intake will bring disappointing results. You may need to consume a great amount of complex carbohydrates to provide the energy you need to sustain a strenuous endurance training program. However, a program with less endurance work and more work in shorter time periods, like classic weightlifting, will require significantly less carbohydrates.
Before starting a nutrition or weight-control program, it is essential to understand the way our bodies process the foods we eat.
What is nutrition?
Nutrition is the science of nourishment, the study of nutrients and the process by which organisms use them. In other words, nutrition is the way our bodies get energy from the food we eat. So, the old saying, "you are what you eat" may not be far from the truth, considering the performance of the body is directly related to how we fuel ourselves. The study of nutrition has proven that poor nutritional habits have a profound effect on physical and mental capabilities and affect all functions of the body. Without the most fundamental of nutrients, including water, the body quickly begins to deteriorate.
Good nutrition is fundamental to every living organism on the earth in order to grow and function properly. There are three macro-nutrients derived from food: protein, carbohydrates and fat, which provide the body with calories. Within those, there are three micro-nutrients that provide no calories: vitamins, minerals and water. It is important to note that while protein and carbohydrates supply the body with four calories each per gram, fat contributes nine calories per gram- more than double. Therefore, it may be important to monitor fat intake when maintaining or losing weight. Not that fat is bad, they are actually some of the most nutrient dense foods, like nuts and seeds, but it is easy to consume a lot of calories with fatty foods. Similarly, a diet and exercise program must incorporate carbohydrates that provide the body with the energy needed to sustain an exercise program. I will note that carbohydrates are the most easily manipulated macro-nutrient for weight gain or loss, in my opinion. For example, if you maintain a consistent daily protein and fat intake, but vary the amount of carbohydrates you consume daily, you may find it to be the easiest way to manipulate your performance and body composition. This is commonly known as carbohydrate cycling, but I digress, I will touch more on this topic in the future. For now, a great article on carb cycling can be found here, and also HERE.
Carbohydrates are sugars and starches in food and are derived from the plant kingdom. Typically, carbohydrates are called simple or complex and and provide the body with a lot of its fuel. Some people believe between 20-80% of your total caloric intake should come from carbohydrates. Yes, I know, thats a big, big window. Every nutrition expert believes something different. The zone diet, paleo, high carb, low carb, etc, all have different info and yet people have benefitted from every single diet out there, and people have failed on every diet out there. It depends on you and your training and how you respond to the diet. I use the term diet only as a means of simple communication. It is an ongoing personal experiment. I wish I could give you the perfect amount, but it varies among individuals. Make it fun and pay attention, even write it down, that is the only way you will know what works and what doesn't, for YOU. Examples of complex carbohydrates include bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, cereals and whole grains. Simple carbohydrates include fruits and vegetables. Refined simple sugars are found in candy, cakes, cookies, sodas, and virtually all processed foods, and provide a quick source of energy. Some carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, are also rich in dietary fiber, another chief element of a healthy diet.
On a side note, this is a true story. I read in a study a little while ago about a woman who became so obsessed about losing body fat that she would not eat any food at all that contained even a trace of fat in it. While she thought she was doing the right thing to achieve her goals, she was just misinformed. Because she ate no fat, she could not digest fat soluble vitamins and minerals which have important functions in the body. She eventually lost function of some of her muscles, lost hair, had major skin damage, became partially paralyzed, etc. Some of this was irreversible. I do not know how someone gets to this point, and doesn't figure it out before it gets this bad. But sometimes people just think keep going and it will get better instead of stopping, thinking and fixing the problem.
How does all this translate to our personal fitness and weight loss? Remember that while carbohydrates and proteins contain only four calories per gram, fat provides the body with nine calories per gram. There are 3,500 calories in one pound of fat tissue. When someone consumes 3,500 calories more than they burn, they gain one pound of fat. Similarly, when they use 3,500 calories more than they consume, they lose one pound of fat. A healthy body fat percentage for men is 14 to 16 percent; for women, 24-26 percent. Very fit and athletic individuals can be significantly less. An appropriately balanced diet of all three macronutrients is essential, especially when engaging in strenuous physical activity. After exhaustive exercise, it takes about 20 hours to completely restore muscle energy, assuming appropriate nutrition is consumed. Avoiding excessive, if any, processed carbohydrates such as pasta, bread, crackers and cereal is wise for your overall health, but they can provide energy for your training. Better options in my opinion for carbohydrates would be fruits and vegetables, including tubers. Other options are possibly beans and dark, long grain rice, but I am not convinced either way of their positive or negative values.
In addition, frequent water intake is crucial. It is important to stay hydrated and consume water prior to feeling thirsty. It is common to recommend drinking at least 4 quarts of water per day, but I recommend drinking at least one ounce per pound of body weight, even more in extreme conditions like heat and during times of strenuous activity. Stay away from alcohol, caffeine and tobacco, which increase your body's need for water. I know that is easier said than done, I love my coffee in the morning and a cocktail at night, but I know the repercussions of my actions.
Good nutritional habits should not be limited to a specific training period but must become a lifetime commitment. Some people do better with three square meals per day while others do better with one large meal and others with six small meals. Again, there are so many different diets that work for different people. I recommend whatever works best for your lifestyle that you can commit to long term.
I will touch more on this subject in the future, but here are some key points to consider. Drink an appropriate amount of water. Eat when hungry, preferably from fresh organic sources available from your local farmers market. Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants, but get good quality protein in you with every meal. Your best fat sources are nuts and seeds, avocados, coconut and its oil, olives and their oils. Every meal have some meat, some vegetables and/or fruit, and a quality fat and you'll be good to go. Avoid excessive complex carbohydrates and all refined sugars and processed foods if possible. Find a way of eating that is sustainable and conducive to your lifestyle for the best long term benefits. Radical short term changes rarely work.