Why Nutrition is Important
Almost two-thirds of adults are classified as overweight or obese based on Body Mass Index (BMI). Clearly, there is a strong link between nutrition and obesity. Other medical conditions, such as diabetes, osteoporosis, hypertension, cancer, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease can also be linked to poor nutrition and obesity, as well as a sedentary lifestyle. While healthy nutrition habits are inherently important for your overall health and wellness, they are critical while engaging in any type of physical fitness training. Your success in weight loss, muscle gain, and endurance all depend heavily on your ability to monitor your diet choices and work openly and honestly with your doctor, dietitian, and personal trainer.
There are six essential nutrients that your body needs to survive and function properly. These are Carbohydrates, Fats, Proteins, Vitamins, Minerals, and Water.
Carbohydrates: Many weight-loss gimmicks in recent years have been based on the concept of “low-carb” dieting, which effectively deprives the body of this essential nutrient. The prime function of carbohydrates is to provide energy. Under normal circumstances, the nervous system relishes exclusively on carbohydrates as an energy source, and 130 grams of dietary carbohydrates is necessary to support normal daily brain function. Carbohydrates are also protein sparing, which means muscle tissue is not used as a fuel source if sufficient carbohydrate is available.
Simple carbohydrates (“empty calories”) are found in foods such as cakes, candy, soda, sports drinks, cookies, and syrup. These should be avoided and are not part of a healthy nutrition program. Foods that contain complex carbohydrates include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, brown rice, and whole-wheat pasta. These foods have a high nutrient density and provide much of your vitamin, mineral, and fiber needs.
45-65% of your daily calorie intake should come from carbohydrates, mostly from sources of complex carbohydrates and fiber. The recommended dietary fiber intake is 14 grams per 1,000 calories consumed.
Fats: Yes, fats are an essential nutrient! Among other things, fats are the major component of cell membranes, and are necessary in the absorption and transport of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). There are four types of dietary fat: saturated, hydrogenated (“trans”), monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Saturated and hydrogenated, or “trans-fats,” are high in cholesterol and should not contribute more than 7% of daily calories.
20-35% of daily calories come from fats, mostly from sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as fish, nuts, and vegetable oils. Cholesterol should also be limited to 300 mg / day.
Proteins: Proteins are made up of amino acids, which have many functions in the body. One of the key functions related to fitness and exercise is the synthesis of new tissue, such as muscle and skin. Many amino acids can not be produced by the body and must be obtained through the diet. These are referred to as “essential” amino acids. The best sources of protein are animal sources (milk, meat, cheese, eggs, etc.). These are considered to be “complete” proteins because they contain all the essential amino acids in proper balance.
10-35% of daily calories come from protein. Good sources of protein include lean meats, poultry, fish, low-fat dairy, egg-whites, legumes, and nuts. Low-carb protein shakes and bars can also be used to supplement protein if needed, but it is always best to take protein from natural sources if possible.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals do not actually provide you with energy, as they have no caloric content. However, they play a vital role in regulating many processes within the body, including the process by which energy is derived from nutrients such as fat and carbohydrates.
Vitamins: vitamins are organic substances that regulate many bodily functions such as vision, DNA formation, red blood cell formation, metabolism of nutrients, and blood clotting. They are divided into two types: fat-soluble (A, D, E, and K), and water-soluble (B and C).
Minerals: Minerals are elements found in nature that are also essential to bodily processes. They are divided into two types: major minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, and chloride), and trace minerals (fluoride, chromium, copper, iron, zinc, etc.). Calcium and Magnesium are key minerals for fitness training as they function in muscle contraction and nerve impulse transmission, and are major components of bones and teeth.
Keeping your body well hydrated is important, especially during bouts of vigorous exercise. While most fluids can help you maintain normal levels of hydration, pure water is clearly the best option. Soda, juice, milk, and sports drinks may contain a lot of unwanted sugar (empty calories) and sodium, while other options such as tea or coffee contain caffeine. Drinking 8-10 glasses of water a day will not only help you stay hydrated, but may also help you feel satisfied longer and less tempted to snack.
What does a healthy diet look like?
So now that you know a little bit more about your daily calorie and nutrient needs, you may be thinking: “what exactly does a healthy diet look like?” To sum it up, a healthy diet:
- Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy;
- Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; and
- Is low in saturated fats, ” trans” fats, cholesterol, sodium (salt), and added sugars.
If you need additional help determining your own personalized diet and nutrition plan, you can always consult the advice of health and wellness professionals such as your physician, a nutritionist or dietitian, and a personal trainer.