One of the most common New Near revolutions is getting fit, eating healthier, joining a gym. Unfortunately, not all of us can achieve this as there are always excuses such as cold weather, boredom, or sometimes tasty food might be too hard to resist! However, as we are in the middle of February, some of you might still be trying hard to get fit and stick to your promises. In this week’s article discover a few useful guidelines for active individuals that will help you achieve your goals.
The first component to optimize training through nutrition is ensuring sufficient daily energy intake. People who participate in a general fitness program (e.g., exercising 30 – 40 minutes per day, 3 times per week) can typically meet nutritional needs following a normal diet (e.g., 1,800 – 2,400 kcals/day for a 50 – 80 kg individual) because their caloric demands from exercise are not too great (e. g., 200 – 400 kcals/session). However, people involved in intense training (e.g., 2-3 hours per day of intense exercise performed 5-6 times per week) require higher energy intake. Maintaining an energy deficient diet during training often leads to significant weight loss (including muscle loss), illness, and reductions in performance which is why adequate energy intake is priority number one for a balanced diet.
Carbohydrates are one of the three macro-nutrients in our diet. They are essential for a varied and balanced diet as they represent the most important source of energy for the body. They are found in many different forms, mainly in starchy foods such as bread, rice, pasta and in some beverages like fruit juices and sweetened drinks.
Carbohydrates are a major component in optimizing training and performance through nutrition. Individuals engaged in a general fitness program can meet macro-nutrient needs by consuming a normal diet (on average 45-55% CHO, 10-15% PRO, and 25-35% fat). However, in order to lose weight increasing protein intake and reducing carbohydrate intake has been proven to be effective combined with regular physical activity.
Preferably, the majority of dietary carbohydrate should come from complex carbohydrates with a low to moderate glycemic index (GI). GI is used to measure how quickly the sugars which are the components of the carbohydrates are released in the bloodstream. Low GI foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruit etc release their energy slowly and therefore make you feel fuller for longer and help you reduce unnecessary snacking.
For people involved in a general fitness program, protein needs can generally be met by ingesting 0.8 – 1.0 grams/kg/day of protein. It is recommended that people involved in moderate amounts of intense training consume 1 – 1.5 grams/kg/day of protein while athletes involved in high volume intense training consume 1.5 – 2.0 grams/kg/day of protein.
However, not all protein is the same. Proteins differ based on their source, their amino acid profile, and the methods of processing them. These differences influence availability of amino acids and therefore the ability of the body to use the proteins to build muscle. Additionally, the rate of digestion and absorption of the protein are also important considerations. For example, different types of proteins (casein and whey) are digested at different rates, which directly affects whole body metabolism. The best dietary sources of low fat, high quality protein are skinless chicken, egg, fish, skim milk. The best sources of high quality protein found in nutritional supplements are whey, colostrum, casein, milk proteins and egg protein. Although it is not always necessary to supplement your diet with protein, it is very common following exercise in order to optimize protein synthesis. Additionally, proper timing of protein intake after the exercise session has several benefits including improved recovery and greater gains in fat free mass.
Fats are an essential component of a healthy diet as they provide a source of energy and carry vital nutrients. And of course they play an important role in cooking and food manufacture and give taste to our food! They type of fats as well as the daily intake, are very important in the diet. An excessive consumption of fats in general and saturated fats in particular is a major factor of diseases such as coronary heart disease and obesity. Adequate fat intake for active individuals is very important in order to maintain energy balance, replenish intramuscular triacylglycerol stores and also for general health.
Generally, it is recommended that exercising individuals consume a moderate amount of fat, approximately 20-30% of their daily caloric intake. Of course, if the aim is to reduce body fat the daily fat intake should be reduced and instead increase protein consumption. Furthermore, the type of dietary fat plays a major role; saturated fats usually found in cookies, sweets, cakes etc should be avoided. Instead, opt for omega 3 fats found in oily fish like salmon and tuna as they have been shown to reduce inflammation and injuries.
Vitamins are essential organic compounds which help regulate metabolic processes in the body such as energy synthesis and neurological functions. There are two groups of vitamins: fat soluble (A, D, E, & K) and water soluble (B and C). According to research only a few have been reported to have ergogenic value for exercising individuals. For example vitamin C may be beneficial for the immune system, and combined with vitamin E may reduce the oxidative damage caused by heavy training. However, keep in mind that multivitamin supplements are not necessary provided that the person has a healthy balanced died and consumes fresh fruit and vegetables on a daily basis. In the majority of the cases where people claim that multivitamin supplements work for them, their diet does not provide enough fruit and veg and are therefore lacking in certain vitamins which the supplement provides.
Minerals are essential inorganic elements that serve as structure for tissue, components of enzymes and hormones, and regulators of metabolic processes in the body. If mineral status is inadequate, exercise capacity is reduced. Certain minerals have been reported to benefit exercising individuals but this is only true if there is an underlying deficiency. Therefore, supplementation is not needed unless there is a specific reason. For example, supplementing calcium in athletes at risk of premature osteoporosis can help maintain their bone mass. Iron supplementation in people with anaemia can significantly improve their exercise capacity, and zinc may be beneficial for the immune system. Therefore, in contrast to vitamins, there seem to be several minerals that may enhance exercise capacity under certain conditions.
We all know strict diets are sad, so choose a healthy nutrition plan instead. A well-designed diet that meets energy intake needs is the foundation upon which a good training program can be built. Research has clearly shown that not ingesting a sufficient amount of calories may impede your training adaptations. Furthermore, maintaining an energy deficient diet during training may lead to loss of muscle mass and strength, increase of body fat deposits and increased susceptibility to illness. The key for a healthy nutrition is to include all food groups, engage in regular exercise and enjoy treats in moderation.
By Kleio Bathrellou
Associate Nutritionist & Certified Sports Nutritionist