The following are the authors’ experiences and is provided for educational purpose and general reference only. It is not intended to be a substitute for medical or professional use. You should consult a doctor regarding individual physical and health needs before undertaking any diet, exercise, or fitness programme
Why is nutrition important?
The simplest way to put it is “You are what you eat”. If you want to lead a healthy, active, and fulfilling lifestyle you need to take care of what you eat.
The consequences of a poor diet are huge. A poor diet will lead to;
- Weight Gain and Obesity
- Lowered Immunity
- Impaired Brain function
- Under performance (athletes)
The sad thing is our diet is one of the few things that we can have some degree of control over.
A common problem is that people wait until they are ill or overweight to try to fix the problem. It is so much easier, cheaper, and better for you to not let yourself get this way in the first place. Diet is a key aspect in preventing this from happening, exercise is the other important factor.
Ultimately, you and you alone control what you eat.
One of the main reasons people struggle so much with diet is there is so much information, theories and misinformation about diet out there.
A Quick Lesson in Nutrition Basics.
Here are a couple of quick definitions, and examples for the basic parts to nutrition (excluding exercise)
Protein – These are the essentially the building blocks of life. Protein is actually found in every cell in your entire system. Protein can be derived from both animal and plants. Common examples are;
- legumes (peas, green beans)
Animal Protein contains all the essential Amino Acids human’s need, however they are higher in fat. No one source of Plant Protein contains all the essential amino acids, but they are low in fat, high in fibre and are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals.
Carbohydrates – Your body converts carbohydrates into energy. There are primarily two types of carbohydrate. Complex carbohydrates often know as starches, including;
- Vegetables (natural)
- Oats & Grains (natural)
- Flour (refined)
- Pasta (refined)
- Bread (refined)
The second type is simple carbohydrates including;
- Fruits (natural sugars)
- Honey (natural)
- Chocolate (refined)
- Cakes (refined)
- Biscuits (refined)
For best health, choose primarily complex unprocessed carbohydrates like vegetables and whole grains; they tend to be significantly more nutritionally diverse than other carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates offer a quick burst of energy, however can have a negative impact in blood sugar levels.
Carbohydrates are actually non-essential for survival. They do not build any other molecules and the body can obtain the energy it requires from Fats and Proteins. Carbohydrates are however the bodies preferred source of fuel.
Fat – Your body needs some fat from your diet. However eating too much of the wrong type of fat can be harmful to your health.
Fat provides a concentrated source of energy and are essential for hormone metabolism, tissue repair, protect the internal organs, and healthy skin & hair.
Fats can be divided into several sub-categories
- Saturated Fats (meats, cheeses, butter) – normally solid at room temp
- Unsaturated Fats (nuts, oils, avocados) – normally liquid at room temp
- Trans Fats (processed foods)
- Essential Fatty Acids (Omega-3, Omega-6)
Saturated Fats have been a staple in many diets for millennia, but unsaturated fats are considered healthier. Trans fats are rare in nature, and been shown detrimental to human health.
Vitamins and Minerals – A nutritious diet should also include sufficient amounts of both vitamins and minerals. Many of these cannot be manufactured by the human body, but are essential for growth and development. A good variety of meats, fruits, vegetables, grains and other types of foods will provide these nutrients.
The vitamins that your body needs for good health include
A, C, D, E, K and the B-complex vitamins.
The minerals that your body needs include the macro-minerals;
Calcium, Sulphur, Phosphorus, Chloride, Magnesium, Potassium and Sodium
The trace minerals the body needs include;
Iron, Selenium, Manganese, Fluoride, Copper, Cobalt, Iodine and Zinc.
Fibre – is also an important part in a healthy diet. Fibre is obtained from plant based foods, but cannot be absorbed by the body. They are important because they help the digestive system, can lower cholesterol, and help control your appetite.
Fibre can be found in
Water – Staying well-hydrated is important for many different functions in your body, including nutrient transport and toxin removal. The exact amount of water you need per day can vary, based on factors like your age, size and activity level. A simple way to calculate how much water you need is you should drink approximately 1 litre per 20 kg body weight.
What is a calorie?
Simply put a Calorie is units of energy. A kilo-calorie (Kcal) is 1000 x calories. A Kcal is defined as the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of water by 1 degree C. One Kcal is also equal to 4.2 kilojoules. Most food packets contain both of these values.
What do we actually know about Nutrition?
Actually, not a great deal. Most scientific experiments require a closed system were you can change one variable at a time, and keep everything else the same, and see what effect it has on the system. This is nearly impossible in the human body.
This means nutritionists have to find other ways to do research. These can include, in vitro (outside the body), in animals, case studies, or long term surveys. Studies then need to by analysed and adjusted to control for variables.
As I hope you’re starting to see studying the interactions between our body and food can be very difficult.
Here are three simple rules to help you decide if a nutrition claim is valid;
1) Does this sound too good to be true? If so, it probably isn’t true.
2) Does this sound too bad to be true? If so, it probably isn’t true.
3) How does the person claiming this know it to be true?
The issue of weight, BMI & body fat percentage
Out of all of these the only one I care about in terms of diet and health is body fat percentage.
The reason being is that weight is just a unit of measurement; it does not tell you how healthy you are, within reason. Obviously some that weighs 50 stone has some problems, but can you say the same for a person that weighs 12.
BMI is just the same. It is a ratio of height to weight, this has absolutely nothing to do with health. Again this is within reason. A classic example of where BMI goes wrong is athletes. BMI is notorious for over estimating body fat in athletes. This is because muscle ways more than fat. Here’s an example nearly half of the NBA players qualify for being overweight using BMI, Shaquille O’Neal is obese.
Body fat percentage is far better way to measure the health of a person, and it’s relatively cheap and easy to do. When you measure body fat percentage it can really show what is going on inside a person and this is what really counts.
When you measure body fat percentage a thin healthy looking person can be shown to have a high internal body fat percentage and vice versa. High body fat is the cause of many health problems, not weight or BMI.
You can measure body fat using an Omron or callipers, both will give you a good idea of your body fat percentage. High body fat for women is over 30% and for men is over 20%.
High body fat can lead to Diabetes, Heart Attack, Cancer, Sleep Apnoea and a whole host of other problems.
Simple Nutrition Principles
It is very difficult to write a general guideline to eat because there are so much advice and ideas out there saying different things.
Over the past few years I have read and tested (on myself) a lot of different diet and lifestyle choices. I have had to make weight for competition, and make sure my diet is sufficient for my heavy training and teaching schedule, sometimes over 6 hours a day.
This has given me a unique insight in to how my body reacts to diets, and how to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
In the following I am not trying to make a new form of a diet but to show you general nutrition principles that can help with weight loss, performance, and health:
1) You are responsible for what you eat. What you will eat will have a big impact on the quality of your life. It is not possible to have a healthy body without healthy food.
2) A diet should not be a quick fix. In fact, to successfully lose weight and more importantly keep it off you need to make a lifestyle change. This can take many months and even years to achieve.
3) Any diet should be easy and sustainable. There is no way you will stick to a diet if it is too complex, mind numbingly boring, or too restrictive.
4) Avoid processed food. There are a couple of ways to avoid processed foods;
– The simplest way is if it didn’t come off a tree, out of the ground, from a field, or out of the sea don’t eat it.
– Another good way to avoid processed foods is avoid anything with more than five ingredients, or any ingredients you don’t recognise as food don’t eat it.
– The last way and my favourite is “if your Gran wouldn’t recognise it don’t eat it”
5) Eat every 2 – 3 hrs. This is one of the best things I ever did it’s made me more balanced physically and emotionally. According to research regular feeding intervals stimulate the metabolism, balance blood sugar, and improve health, body composition, and performance. The next thing your thinking is how much should I eat at each feeding. A feeding can be anything from a handful of nuts to a steak and vegetables; the most important thing is that you eat.
6) Eat lean Protein at every meal. Protein is an excellent form of energy; it also takes longer to digest than carbohydrates so keeps you fuller longer. Protein also requires more energy to digest and will increase your metabolism. Protein is essential for building muscle and helps with recovery after training.
7) Eat Vegetables and Fruit with every feeding. These are packed with vitamins and minerals, and are essential for optimal physiological function. A high protein diet and hard exercise also increase the acidity of the blood, fruit and vegetables also help to balance this out. Even better eat local and seasonal fruits and vegetables. It’s better for you and better for the environment.
8) Eat carbohydrates mostly after training. This is the best time to eat your typical carbohydrates; bread, pasta and grains. Your body’s tolerance to carbohydrate is best during or just after exercise. They will replace glycogen within the muscles that has been used during training.
9) Eat healthy fats. About 30% of your diet will be fat. This should be 1/3 Saturated, 1/3 monounsaturated, and 1/3 polyunsaturated.
10) Drink water, and avoid calorie containing drinks. You should eat calories not drink them. The only exception is during or post workout. You should try to drink approximately 1litre of water per 20kg of body weight, and spread out through the day. Water is essential for optimal performance and maintaining a balanced lifestyle.
11) Plan and prepare ahead. The hardest part is making sure the rules above are followed consistently. Good nutrition is about the food but also about making sure the food is available when it’s time. You need to come up with strategies before hand to deal with this situation. This may be preparing your meal in the morning or on a specific day in the week.
12) Plan to break the rules 10% of the time. You don’t have to follow these rules 100% of the time. This is important for your state of mind and being able to follow the rules indefinitely. I eat about 6 times a day or 42 times a week that means I will break the rules about 4 – 5 times a week. However once I break a rules or ‘cheat’ I will go straight back on the rules when I’m done.
These are all fairly simple guide lines to follow, and should stand you in got stead to help you achieve your diet goals whatever they may be.
Ultimately you need to find out what works for you, treat your body like an experiment. I regularly test out new ideas on nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle to see if they benefit me.
Whenever I start one of these experiments, I always take some basic measurements so I can refer to them later when I have completed the challenge.
Post Workout Recovery
Once you finish a workout you need to replace the energy in your muscles (carbohydrate) and have the necessary materials to help repair and build muscle (proteins).
An approximate way to calculate this is 0.5g Protein per kg body weight, and 1g Carbohydrate per Kg body weight. So for me this works out to be 0.5 x 64kg = 32g Protein, and 1 x 64kg = 64g Carbohydrate.
The best consume this is though a shake. The simplest shake to make is fruit juice and natural whey protein powder. It is fine to get your carbohydrates through sugars, as you need to replace the stores as quickly as possible, particularly if you have to train again in a few hours.
You should try to have this recovery drink within 20 minutes of completing your workout, then within an hour you should aim to have a proper meal.
This is one of the hardest things for people to get right. Your portion size will depend on how many times a day you are eating.
Personal I eat small meals every 2-3 hours. For me a meal could be as simple as a banana or a handful of nuts. A simple way to measure your portion size, if you are going to eat little and often, is by using the size of your fist.
Using fist size a third should be lean protein, a third vegetables, and a third greens.
If you choose to eat three larger meals a day, then you can use a similar method but with a plate.
The other area people struggle with is salad, and I’m mostly talking about leaves. Leaves are not particularly calorie dense, so you need a greater volume of leaves than you would say carbohydrates. For example a cup of rice is ~ 300 cal, a cup of spinach is ~ 30 cal. Basically you can go crazy with leaves, and you should be fine.
This will also take some playing around with, but as I said your body is your own personal experiment.
Calories In, Calories Out
This is an old model for weight loss, basically you need to expend more calories than you take in. To a certain extent this is true, the problem is that no one knows how many calories they need on a daily basis. Most people work off the concept that men require 2500 kcal per day and women require 2000 kcal per day. This assumes that everyone burns the same amount of energy irrespective of height, weight, body fat percentage, lifestyle, and activity levels. Hopefully you will agree with me this assumption is wrong. Whats worse is it is actually quite easy to workout the calories you require per day.
How to calculate you Resting Metabolic Rate (P)
Your resting metabolic rate is the calories you burn while at rest. If you got up in the morning and went from your bed to the couch and watched TV the entire day, this would be a pretty good estimate of your daily calorie expenditure. There are many different ways to calculate Resting Metabolic Rate, we are going to use the Cunningham Formula which is,
P = 500 + (22 x LBM) where LBM is the lean body mass in kg
This equation takes into account lean body mass that burns energy compared to fat cells.
Here is the calculation for me;
My body fat percentage = 6% or 0.06
At 64kg body weight I am approximately 3.84kg of Fat (64 x 0.06)
That means my Lean body mass = 64kg – 3.84 = 60.16kg
Putting this into the Cunningham Formula we get
500 + (22 x 60.16) = 1823.52
Now this is the amount of calories I consume at rest. It is also useful to know the amount of calories you consume in your daily life. This will depend on your daily activity levels known as Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
1.2- 1.3 for bed- or chair-ridden individuals
1.4- 1.5 for sedentary occupation without daily movement
1.5- 1.6 for sedentary occupation with daily movement
1.6- 1.7 for occupation with prolonged standing
1.9-2.1 for strenuous work
So you now take your RMR x NEAT
So for me, I have a fairly active job we take 1823.52 x 1.6 = 2917.632
This still doesn’t take into account exercise or the Thermogenic effect of the food you eat, but it is a good start.
So if you want to lose weight the value we just calculated and take off 250 – 500 calories. This is a sustainable level of calorie restriction, and should lose you about 0.5kg or 1lbs weight per week.
The whole issue of health and nutrition has become very clouded over the last few years. It seems like every week we are being told not to eat this or that, followed by the next moment being told the complete opposite. This is not helped by the media and the food industry jumping on every bandwagon trying to increase sales.
Really a diet should be simple, sustainable, and varied. Simple meaning it is easily achievable, and won’t consume your every waking moment. Sustainable for the environment and you should be able to stay on it for life. Finally, varied meaning you never get bored of it, or crave food, get back to the enjoyment of eating, and get the nutritional requirements you need from a variety of sources.