Your body needs the right fuel whether it’s going to function at a higher level for sport and fitness challenges or keep going on a weight loss regime. That means not only ensuring the appropriate levels of calories are going in, but achieving the right balance of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and proteins too. Jo Waters reports.
Get enough calories
Skipping meals, snacking on nutritionally empty foods and failing to optimally time eating can all affect your strength and performance.
If your goal is to get fit and lose weight you might be tempted to cut your calorie intake right back – but there are limits. Cutting your calorie intake too low and getting too thin isn’t good for your performance as your body will burn muscle tissues and slow down the rate it burns calories, so weight loss may slow down too. If you don’t eat enough can also get run down and more prone to infections and injuries which can take longer to heal.
How many calories do you need?
The normal recommended calorie intake for men is 2,500 calories a day and 2,000 a day for women as a base line for maintaining weight. Obviously, this will vary according to your age and height/weight and the levels of energy you’re burning. If you are doing a lot of exercise though your calorie needs will be greater than this. For example, a 60-minute run will burn around 600 calories – so you’ll need some extra fuel.
If you’re looking to lose weight at the rate of 1lb a week you need to cut around 500 calories a day or 3,500 calories a week so factor this into the equation when you are calculating how many extra calories you need. Dieters may get frustrated at a slow rate of weight loss but it’s important to make slow changes that will be easier to stick to in the long term – it takes about 12 weeks for new habits to form.
The importance of just sticking at it!
Eat a full range of food groups including: fruit and vegetables; lean meat, fish/ poultry; dairy products; nuts and seeds; carbohydrates such as wholegrains, potatoes pasta and rice.
Don’t get too hung up on the type of food you choose, i.e. the balance of macronutrients (protein, carbs, fats). In 2013 The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), revealed that, “numerous trials comparing diets differing in macronutrient composition has demonstrated… very small and inconsistent differences in weight loss and metabolic risk factors.”
And furthermore, the real difference, the key to success for most diets is simple. It comes from sticking at it. Again in JAMA, four meta-analyses summarising between 14 and 24 major trials (in another words a broad sweep of studies) found that “adherence is the only consistent factor with weight loss and disease related outcomes.”
Avoid the Fads
Furthermore, faddy diets where one food group is prohibited such as a high fat diet or low carb regime may get quick results in the short term but you can run the risk of developing underlying health problems including vitamin deficiencies, constipation or gall stones.
Get the balance right
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are great fuel for running and other forms of exercise. Eating a small bowl of porridge or a banana 30 minutes before a run will give you sustained energy release. If you’re doing a longer run you may need to take a healthy snack with you and/or a sports drink.
- Protein: Protein is found in fish, meat, eggs and beans and is need by the body to replace muscle tissue. Runners should eat lean red meat or another food rich in iron to help prevent iron-deficiency anaemia.
- Fruit and vegetables: The Department of Health recommends a minimum of five portions a day intake (although many experts now recommend 10). They’re packed full of vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy immune system, fill you up with fibre and are low in calories.
- Dairy products: Milk, cheese and yogurts are a rich source of calcium needed for strong bones. Choose skimmed milk and low fat cheeses, including cottage cheese as lower fat alternatives to butter and hard cheese.