Ensuring that you have a healthy and varied diet is essential for your wellbeing and to support your physical activities such as going to the gym or taking part in outdoor sports. When exercising, it’s important to adjust your diet to give your body the energy it needs, otherwise it will be an uphill battle to reach your health and fitness goals. Getting your nutrition right – following the most up-to-date healthy eating guidelines – will help you to perform better, reduce the risk of injury, strengthen your immune system and assist post-workout recovery. But what exactly does a healthy diet look like? Here’s 1Life’s lowdown on three of the main food groups you need to know about…
The main purpose of carbohydrates is to provide the body with energy. They are the most important type of fuel for exercise and physical activity.
When carbohydrates are digested, they are broken down into glucose and stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen – which gives the body a readily available, quick-to-use and effective supply of energy.
It’s essential to keep stocked up on carbohydrates because if you don’t have enough during exercise, you’ll tire more quickly, feel your energy fade, and won’t be able to get the most from your workouts.
Not only will they help you to keep powering through those squats or push-ups, they’ll also aid your recovery, helping weary muscles to bounce back to their normal state as quickly as possible.
Starchy foods are a vital form of carbohydrates in our diets. Some good examples of these are bread, pasta, rice, beans and pulses. It’s a good idea to choose wholegrain varieties as they also provide fibre and a range of vitamins and minerals, which are important for digestive health and overall wellbeing.
Around a third of our food intake should be carbohydrates. The fruit and milk you consume at brekkie time are great sources of quick-release energy, as they contain carbohydrates in the form of sugars. Packed with vitamins and minerals, they also help us to remain healthy. But remember to limit your intake of 100% fruit juices to a small 150 ml glass per day, as they contain free sugars which increase the risk of tooth decay, especially without good oral hygiene.
Starchy foods (particularly those high in fibre) take longer to digest and provide slower-release energy, so it’s important to include some in all your meals. However, depending on whether you’re a competitive sports person or casual gym-goer, the amount of carbohydrates you’ll need will be a direct result of the length and intensity of your exercise sessions. As an estimate, the recommended consumption (per kg of body weight per day) is 4-5 g for a person who works out for 3-5 hours per week and 5-6 g for somebody who exercises 5-7 hours per week.
To get the most from your carbohydrates, try to spread them out across your meals and snacks, fitting them around your planned exercise, rather than cramming them in all at once!
The three main roles of protein are to grow, repair and maintain body cells and tissues, including muscles.
Protein is found in a wide range of foods in varying amounts. Whether you’re a meat eater, vegetarian or vegan, there are plenty of options available to ensure you get your necessary protein intake, from animal sources such as meat, fish and cheese, to plant sources such as quinoa, tofu and Quorn™. However, it’s important to choose low fat dairy products and lean meats to reduce your consumption of saturated fat (more on this later).
Depending on the type of exercise you do, your protein requirements will change. To put this in context, a normal adult needs around 0.75 g per kilogram of body weight per day, whereas someone with a vigorous strength and endurance programme could need anywhere from 1.2 to 1.7 g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
By sticking to a varied diet, consisting of nutrient-dense foods, you’ll be getting the protein you need without the need to subsidise your eating with protein supplements or other strategies, even if you’re a little more active than the average person! As with carbohydrates, the trick is to stretch out your protein intake across the day.
Building muscle with protein
Many people tend to think that eating a lot of protein will give you bigger muscles. The truth is, it’s a bit of a myth!
It’s easy for gym-goers, focussed on weight training, to think that they need to shovel down masses of protein to achieve their aims, but in doing so, they can sometimes neglect other food groups such as carbohydrates, which are important for providing the energy needed to exercise.
Alongside forming part of a healthy, well-balanced diet, it’s important to incorporate protein into your post-workout snack or meal, as it helps to repair damaged muscle tissues and build new ones – which is essentially how you increase muscle mass and size.
Interestingly, 20 g of high-quality protein (around half a chicken breast or small tin of tuna) is enough to help build muscle following a training session. Anything above this will be used as energy.
Fat is often demonised because we associate it with fat on the body, but we must remember that it’s a key nutrient and rich energy source. However, if you consistently overdo it on the fat intake, your body will have surplus energy which can lead to weight gain.
In line with current healthy eating guidelines, it’s important to ensure that your fat consumption is no more than 35% of the total amount of energy provided by your diet.
Additionally, you should try to limit your intake of saturated fats to no more than 11% of your total energy consumption, and instead choose foods with higher amounts of unsaturated fats (the good ones). For example, try eating some walnuts rather than biscuits during your morning break.
Swapping saturated fats with some that are unsaturated can have many benefits for the body, including helping to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
There are two types of unsaturated fat: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Studies have shown that some polyunsaturated fats, such as Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish including salmon, mackerel and tuna, can help to lower your triglyceride levels (a type of fat in the blood) and are good for heart health.
So, there you have it… a healthy diet to match your exercise efforts should include plenty of starchy foods, fruit and vegetables, as well as some protein and dairy.
Now that you’re on the road to a healthier diet, if you’d like help with a fitness and nutrition plan, do book an appointment with a member of our gym staff, who would be delighted to assist you on this exciting journey. Find your 1Life centre here or contact us directly.