If you exercise, you need to take care of what you eat too. Like a Formula One car can’t run on agricultural diesel, your body won’t run well if you feed it nothing but junk food. There is an old saying in fitness – you can’t outrun a bad diet. Ultimately, your body needs top quality fuel if you are going to get the most from your workouts.
Nutrition is, however, a big and often complex subject. With so much information around, it can be hard to know where to start. It doesn’t help that a lot of that information is contradictive. So, to help make nutrition a less daunting topic, here are five simple tips to get you started!
1) Eat mostly fresh, natural foods
If a food grows in nature and if left unattended for more than a few days, will go off, it’s probably good for you. Natural foods have had no processing, have nothing added to them, and are high in all the things your body needs.
Natural foods include all fruits, vegetables, whole grains, unprocessed fats, eggs, and most meat, poultry, and fish that hasn’t been turned into deli food like salami.
Play this game when choosing what to eat – can you picture this food in nature? Could you pick it or catch it yourself? If the answer is yes, it’s probably good for you. If you can’t, it’s probably processed and unhealthy. Beware of foods with long shelf lives, that need to be reconstituted with water, contain long lists of ingredients or are packaged in plastic – these are foods to avoid.
2) Eat for what you are about to do
Your body uses food for fuel and the more active you are, the more food you need. However, most people make the mistake of eating their meals at specific times of the day irrespective of their body’s nutritional needs. For example, breakfast is often the smallest meal of the day and dinner is the biggest. If you think about this from an energy expenditure point of view, that’s completely back-to-front!
Instead, make sure you eat your biggest meals before you are going to be the most active and make your meals smaller before periods of inactivity. For most of us, that means breakfast should be big, and dinner should be small.
Adjusting your food intake around activity means you’ll have more energy when you need it, but will be less likely to overeat before inactivity which could lead to weight gain.
3) Plan your meals in advance
Having to make on-the-spot decisions can derail your intention to eat healthily. You may have decided to eat a healthy dinner but, on getting home, can’t quite decide what to eat and end up ordering takeout instead. When faced with a choice, lack of willpower can lead you down the wrong path!
Avoid this problem by planning, preparing, and even cooking your healthy meals in advance. That way, healthy eating is no longer a chore which means willpower doesn’t even come into the equation.
Batch-cook healthy meals, then freeze them, so you always have decent food available when you need it. Also carry healthy snacks with you wherever you go so that, if hunger strikes, you have the solution close to hand and won’t be tempted to buy a candy bar instead.
4) Skip the “diet” foods
Diet foods are lower-calorie versions of foods that you probably shouldn’t be eating. Sugar-free cookies, low-fat potato chips, calorie-free soda, reduced-fat chocolate – these foods are sold as a “healthy” alternative to regular junk food but are far from healthy. Diet foods may have slightly fewer calories but, invariably, are no better for you than the original version. They are devoid of beneficial nutrients, probably still contain too many calories and unhealthy ingredients, and should not be confused with natural, healthy foods.
Cookies, cakes, potato chips, and soda are what make people gain weight in the first place and swapping to the diet version will not remedy the situation. If you are going to have a treat, have a treat and be done with it, but don’t think for a moment that swapping to diet junk food is conducive to long-term health or weight loss. Diet cookie is an oxymoron!
5) Don’t forget water
Your body is made up of approximately 60-70% water, and it’s used in a host of different ways. Your blood is mostly water, your muscles contain a lot of water, and there is water in everything from your eyes to your skin to your cerebral fluid. It provides the medium in which almost all bodily reactions occur.
To keep your body healthy, especially if you work out and sweat, you need to stay well hydrated and provide your body with adequate water. Water is lost through respiration and perspiration, and you need around 2-3 liters per day to replace it.
Plain water is best – it’s what your body needs – but you also get water from fruit and vegetables. Avoid sports drinks and other high-calorie beverages, as well as diet soda, as they are not very healthy and contain ingredients your body would do better without.
If you follow these five tips, you’ll be well on your way to eating healthily and supporting your new, active lifestyle. Nutrition is a complicated subject, but it can also be quite simple if you stick to the basics and avoid fad diets and peculiar nutritional trends.