When you have set a fitness goal, you want to give it all you've got to see results and realize that goal! Too often, we are falling behind on our goals without knowing it by doing some things you may not even realize you are doing or things you thought were actually HELPING you! It has been drilled into us from a young age that being fit and losing weight requires both diet and exercise. People wonder often, which is MORE important? Another question that people have is what kind of diet exactly is best. With all of the fad dieting out there, we can quickly lose site of what is important and can very easily be swayed away from healthy eating habits because of what is being talked about the most in the media and even in popular books. The word 'diet' itself has morphed over the years to mean something different than it once did.
The original definition of diet is 'the type of food a person eats.' The secondary definition is now 'a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.' I don't like that second definition. To restrict oneself has a very negative connotation and is a very 'glass half empty' view. To flip this idea upside down, we should be focusing on eating foods that are good for the body and the mind that help us to feel good inside and out! In addition, there are a lot of misconceptions about what foods should be 'restricted' and confusion leads to missing out on essential foods that actually change the way your body produces and uses energy and this does not help our fitness goals - whatever they may be!
When it comes to food, it is vital to remember to eat enough. Not eating enough means not consuming enough calories for our bodies to perform their daily duties related to organ function and maintainence of tissues (ie. muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc.). When your body isn't receiving energy from foods, it will still get that energy, but through breaking down muscles (essentially protein) to get amino acids that promote recovery and healing especially after a workout. We all wish that our bodies would just use that extra fat on our bodies for energy, but we can't pick and choose. Our body opts to use energy that is easier to breakdown. As our heart rates increase (with exercise), your body will use quicker forms of energy, typically glucose and glycogen - or carbohydrates/sugars. It takes the body more energy to break down proteins and even more to break down fats and therefore these should not be relied upon for energy for a workout. If you listen to your body, you will know when your body is using a less efficient form of energy as you feel fatigued sooner in a workout because your body is stretching to get what it needs.
Don't forget the importance of fats. Our bodies require a certain amount of fat for normal function and fats are not just present on our hips/legs/abdomen. Fats create cell membranes in our body and without enough fats, cells are not as resistent to damage or injury. In studeis, it has been found that in active women, the group with the lowest injury risk consumed 30% of their calories in the form of fats. That's nearly 1/3! We probably all realize that not all fats are the same and the recommended ratio of fats to intake is 2:1 of unsaturated to saturated fats. Unsaturated fats are typically those which are liquid at room temperature and come from vegetables. Examples include vegetable oils and the fats present in oily fish like salmon and tuna. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature and are typically fats from animals. Examples include cream, butter, cheese, beef, chicken with skin and pork.
Be sure to not leave out the calcium in your diet. Calcium is important for healthy bones to prevent fractures and stress fractures especially. Dairy is of course an excellent source of calcium, but certain vegetables also contain calcium and supplements are just as useful. This is a nice thing to know for those who cannot tolerate dairy. Calcium's best friend is vitamin D, as vitamin D is what allows your body to use the calcium it receives. In the midwest, getting enough vitamin D can be very difficult, as our bodies require sunlight to produce vitamin D. In the long winters, there are astounding numbers of people who are deficient in vitamin D. Taking a supplement is critical for those of us in Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota especially.
The timing of eating after a workout is important as well. After a workout, most of the repair to tissue and joints occurs within 2 hours. Many people know the importance of protein during this period of time, but a combination of carbohydrates with protein is even better! The carbohydrates stimulate the muscle protein synthesis and also will restock depleted muscle glycogen stores to prevent us from breaking down that muscle for energy later.
A quick discussion of natural versus processed foods is in order here. In a fast-paced world where timing is everything and efficiency is valued over quality at times, processed foods are all around us. In processing foods, the goal is to make them taste better, cook more quickly and last longer. Processing foods involves anything from using marinades to make meats more tender to adding fats and salts to preserve foods longer. There are many other ways that various foods are processed, but on the whole, processing foods is treating foods in a way that makes them easier to digest, because they have been digested in a sense already. Meats, as an example, are processed such that the proteins in the meats are broken down before they even get onto the fork. Part of why we find we can eat higher quantities of processed foods is because our bodies are no longer breaking down these foods in a way that will stimulate that feeling of fullness toward the end of a meal. It doesn't require our bodies as many calories to digest the food because the process is already along the way. Crazy to think about, but true! Eating natural snacks throughout the day can help curb hunger and also gets your body more of the vitamins and nutrients it needs.
Finally, hydration is a huge component. Drinking water keeps cells in the body healthy and more resistant to injury. Water also helps muscles to recover faster. The water content of cells affects your heart rate, blood pressure, temperature regulation and joint cushioning. If you aren't properly hydrated, your body will let you know! Dehydration makes us feel tired and weak during workouts and if we push through, we are likely not using proper form in our exercises which predisposes us to injury. Recommended amounts of water to drink each day still roughly comes out to the '8 glasses' we have heard in the past. This assumes each glass has 8 ounces, so about 64 ounces is a good goal.
Eating healthy and staying hydrated keeps your tissues ready to recover from a workout and prevents injury. This is true for tendons, ligaments and bones in the feet as well as over the entire body. Don't let poor nutrition stop you from reaching your fitness goals! Be good to your body and enjoy a healthy balance of various foods.