A well-balanced diet includes macro nutrients and micro nutrients that function together to satisfy your body’s needs for calories and essential nutrients: protein, minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, fat and water. All foods contain combinations of these ingredients and no food consists of only one.
Protien is essential to life because it furnishes the building blocks for your body tissue and is needed for its repair and maintenance. It is also a component of enzymes, hormones and other biochemical structures. Protein is only used as a source of energy when the more appropriate sources — carbohydrates and fats — are not available.
The protein needs of both sedentary and active people are the same — about 15 to 20 percent of total calorie intake. The only exceptions are athletes who are involved in muscle-building activities or in injury-prone sports, where tissue repair is a frequent occurrence. However, the increased protein need is minimal. Six to eight ounces of protein foods per day fulfills the requirements of most people. Recommended sources of protein which are also in line with maintaining cardiovascular health are low-fat meats, poultry, fish, legumes and non-fat dairy products.
Fats are the most concentrated source of energy, providing two and one half times more calories (energy) than protein or carbohydrates. Fats are well suited for storage of excess calories. Although they’re not a source of quick energy, fats are the major fuel used during endurance activities.
Because fats leave the stomach slowly, avoid high-fat foods prior to physical activity. Otherwise you may experience an uncomfortable sense of fullness as you exercise.
Americans consume about 40 percent of their calories in fat. I recommend cutting fat intake to about 20 to 25 percent. By reducing the amount of fat consumed and using mono/poly unsaturated fats, most people can reduce the level of cholesterol in their blood.
Carbohydrates, such as starches and sugars, are an efficient and readily available energy source, especially for the brain. They are also necessary for fat and protein metabolism.
Carbohydrates are stored in the form of glucose in the blood and glycogen in the liver and muscles. However, the storage is limited, providing energy for less than a day, so it is important to replenish supplies at regular intervals. Plentiful stores of carbohydrates in the body are important for excelling in physical activity, especially endurance exercise.
Americans consume about 40 percent of their calories in carbohydrates. I recommend increasing that to 50 to 60 percent. This increased carbohydrate consumption should be derived from complex carbohydrates such as whole grain breads and cereals, starchy vegetables, and legumes. These foods are high in vitamins, minerals, fiber and are moderate in calorie content.
4. THE PROS AND CONS OF SUGAR
Americans tend to eat large amounts of sugar — an average consumption of more than 100 pounds per person per year. Many sugars are hidden in prepared foods in the form of sucrose and corn sugars.
Sugar is quickly absorbed into the tissue and is available as a source of energy (glucose) within 20 to 30 minutes. The glucose from sugar restores glycogen to fatigued muscles, prevents exhaustion, and increases endurance. Eating sugar before activities that are less than 20 minutes in length provides little physiological benefit, since energy for such brief events is already present in the muscles.
Dehydration, low blood sugar and reduced athletic performance can result from eating large amounts of glucose, sugar, honey, candy or highly sweetened sugar solutions, such as those found in massmarket “athletic” drinks and sweetened carbonated beverages.
Vitamins assist in hundreds of chemical reactions which occur continuously in our bodies. Contrary to popular belief, vitamin requirements may be significantly increased by physical activity and poor diets. Fat-soluble vitamins — A, D, E and K — are stored in the body’s tissues. Water-soluble vitamins, however, such as vitamin C and B-complex, are not stored in the body, so they must be consumed daily as they can be lost in sweat.
There are more than 24 different minerals important to human health. Minerals help to release energy during the breakdown of energy sources such as carbohydrates, fats and protein.
Your requirement of some minerals increases significantly with physical activity. An example is the increased requirement for sodium (salt) and potassium during intense, prolonged exercise in hot weather.
Every function and movement of your body requires water – digestion, metabolism, and removal of waste products. Water is especially important for temperature control. Normally, you should drink six to eight glasses of water each day. During prolonged activity or when exercising in warm weather, you’ll need even more, and preferably water/drinks that are packed with electrolytes -sodium, potassium, magnesium and chloride.
Obviously, you should avoid drinking alcohol before exercising. It is a poor source of energy, has a depressing effect on the heart and central nervous system and enhances dehydration. In addition, beverages containing caffeine can also lead to dehydration.