• Those who exercise must consume a varied diet of healthy nutrients to increase their performance.
• There are six main categories of nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water.
• Nutrients have three major functions: supporting growth and development, providing energy, and regulating the metabolism.
• Those who exercise must consume at least 2-3 servings of milk, yoghurt, cheese, 2-3 servings of meat, fish, beans, eggs and dried nuts, 3-5 servings of vegetables, 2-4 servings of fruits, 6-11 servings of bread, cereals, rice and pasta.
• Key carbohydrate sources that those who exercise must consume include bread, cereals, rice and pasta.
• Those who exercise should maintain a steady blood glucose level. They should consume foods rich in complex carbohydrates to keep their muscle glycogen reserves full.
• Those who exercise must consume an appropriate (moderate) level of proteins. Overconsumption of protein will not increase muscle mass.
• Intake of fatty foods should be limited, as they take longer to consume and are harmful if consumed in excessive amounts.
• Antioxidant vitamins, i.e. A, C and E, are particularly important for those who exercise intensively. They help cleanse the body of toxins that are generated during heavy exercise.
• Iron, calcium and zinc are highly important for those who exercise.
• You do not need additional vitamins, minerals or food supplements if you are eating an adequate and balanced diet.
• It is best to consume a varied diet, mainly composed of plant sources, limiting intake of animal-derived nutrients.
• It is imperative to always strike a balance in any choice of diet.
• Diet should be built on carbohydrate-rich nutrients. It is best to consume cereals and cereal derivatives, like bread and pasta, a few times a day. As shown in the nutrition pyramid, cereals and cereal derivatives should make up the basis of all meals. According to World Health Organization recommendations, more than half of daily energy intake should come from these groups of foods, as they are low in fat and rich in nutrients and active nutrients. The nutrients in this group make a significant contribution to intake of proteins, dietary fibers, minerals (i.e. calcium, potassium and magnesium) and Vitamin B.
• To increase fiber intake, try to eat whole-wheat bread, pasta and other cereal products.
• Do not avoid carbohydrates. They are a key source of energy for the organism, and they have lower energy compared to fats. A gram of carbohydrates provides 4 calories, whereas a gram of fat provides 9 calories.
• Foods with fiber have numerous benefits and they are rich in complex carbohydrates. Dietary fibers, which belong in this group of carbohydrates prevents constipation and diverticulitis, helps prevent hemorrhoids and reduce blood cholesterol. They also play a key role in regulating bodyweight.
• Prefer fresh vegetables and fruits (at least 400 grams a day). Most of us do not eat enough of these foods, but they provide basic micronutrients (like minerals and vitamins) which are essential to proper working of our organism. In particular, fresh vegetables and fruits are rich in iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamins A and C, folic acid, vitamin B6, dietary fibers, essential nutrients and non-nutrient ingredients. Also, vegetables and fruits have lower fat and energy content, i.e. they are “low-energy” foods. Therefore, consuming them in our daily diet reduces the risk of obesity and associated illnesses (e.g. cardiovascular disease, some types of cerebral disorders, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes mellitus).
• Animal-derived foods should be consumed in moderation. Animal-derived foods are not only important for growth and development of children and adolescents, they are also essential for proper functioning of the organism. This group consists of biologically valuable, high-quality proteins and essential amino acids that the organism cannot synthesize. They are also rich in vitamin B12 (which is not available in plant-based foods), iron, magnesium, zinc, chromium and fats.
Fish, which is unfortunately not consumed in sufficient quantities in our diet, are rich in omega 3 fatty acid, which is highly protective against chronic illnesses. It is important to increase our fish consumption.
Low-fat milk and dairy products should be preferred. The foods in this group are a good source of calcium, essential for bone development, and high-quality proteins and vitamins A, D and B. Cheese is a good source of calcium, but it contains a high amount of salt. Therefore, low-salt types should be preferred.
Exercising reduces the bad cholesterol (LDL) and increases the good cholesterol (HDL).
• Consume plenty of fluids. Water is a vital substance, which must be consumed in sufficient quantities, i.e. at least 2 liters per day for adults, up to 3 liters minimum during times of hot weather or intensive physical activity. Plain water is both a tasty and healthy source of fluids. Fruit juices, milk, tea, coffee and nonalcoholic beverages are also good choices for satisfying the need for fluids.
• Reduced water in the body when exercising diminished performance.
• Those who exercise should consume 100 ml of water every 15-20 minutes.
• Cool, plain water is the best beverage for those who exercise.
• You should not wait until feeling thirsty to drink water.
• Check the color and volume of your urine to determine whether you are sufficiently hydrated.
• Take your weight before and after exercise to determine the amount of fluid lost, and replenish it by drinking the same amount of water. To increase fluid intake, you should consume fluids throughout the day and eat plenty of vegetables and fruits which are rich in fluid content. Plain water is the best beverage for those who exercise. Besides water, other beverages like milk, ayran, juices and soups are also useful for hydrating our body. On the other hand, tea and coffee is not retained and quickly excreted. Tea and coffee consumption should be minimized as far as possible. Caffeinated foods and beverages (e.g. coffee) should be avoided. Caffeine stimulates urine production and causes dehydration, besides the inconvenience of a full bladder.
Fluid intake should be increased before, during and after exercise. Drink 2-3 glasses of water to fill up the fluid reserves 2 hours before starting exercising. And drink half a glass of water every 15-20 minutes during exercise. Make sure everyone has a separate water bottle. The water lost during exercise should be replenished, which is why you must drink plenty of water after exercise. Consume at least 8-10 glasses of water every day. Water loss is higher during hot and humid weather, and therefore you must try and drink more water during hot and humid days. Record your weight before and after exercise to determine the weight loss, and drink water to compensate for it. Athlete’s beverages may be used during prolonged exercises or competitions. These beverages contain 6 to 8% of carbohydrates and electrolytes that athletes lose during exercise, and are suitable for prolonged endurance exercises (e.g. running, swimming, cycling). However, instead of athlete beverages, you may also dilute fruit juice half and half to obtain the carbohydrates needed during exercise. For instance, you can add 200 ml of water to a bottle of commercially available 200 ml apple juice and use it during exercise. Also, you can mix 12-15 sugar cubes, half a spoon of salt and some lemon juice in a liter of water to obtain a beverage similar to what athletes use.
Do not wait to feel thirsty to drink water, because the sensation of thirstiness dissipates when the body is severely dehydrated. Anyhow, you can determine whether you are sufficiently hydrated by checking the color of your urine: if your urine is dark colored, you are dehydrated, or if it is light colored, your body is sufficiently hydrated. Also, urinating less frequently than usual, it may also be a sign of dehydration. Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. Avoid taking in more energy than what you have expended.
If your energy intake is high, i.e. “you eat more than you burn,” your body mass increases, which may cause chronic illnesses over time. We have failed to preserve our traditional dietary habits and instead, adopted ill-advised “new lifestyles,” consuming the diets that go along with them (e.g. hamburgers, pizzas, fries) while abandoning walking and cycling, instead using motorized transports. We move much less, sit in front of the computer or TV during on our free time.
A healthy bodyweight can be achieved only by consuming adequate amounts of healthy foods, as shown in the nutrition pyramid, and by exercising daily. A healthy bodyweight is dependent on various factors, including sex, height, age and heritable factors. Growing body mass is a risk factor for various diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. Fat forms in the body when we consume more energy than we burn. Such extra energy intake may result from overconsumption of proteins, fats, carbohydrates or alcohol. However, fats are the highest source of energy. Physical exercise is not only a good way to consume energy, it makes us feel better. It has been shown that walking daily at a brisk pace (@6 km/60 minutes) is sufficient to maintain a daily balance of energy. Daily walks can be completed in several shorter sessions. The same effect can be achieved by cycling for 30-60 minutes, swimming or other sports, or jogging.
• Check your bodyweight and body composition: “Body Mass Index (BMI)” should be in the range of 18.5 to 25 kg/m2. You can calculate your BMI using the formula: BMI = weight (kg) / height (m)2 to check if your bodyweight is normal. Example: a person who is 160 cm tall and weighing 55 kg has a BMI of 55/(1.60)2 ) 21.4, which is in the normal range. However, BMI is not an accurate indicator of proper bodyweight for individuals who exercise regularly and heavily (e.g. athletes). Individuals with a large muscle mass would have a higher-than-normal BMI, although they may not be overweight (e.g. 26). This is a common occurrence among athletes. Therefore, body composition (fat percentage) should be also accounted for. If body fat percentage and bodyweight are both high, the person needs to exercise and adopt a diet under dietitian supervision, with a target of losing 0.5 to 1 kg a week. It is inadvisable to exceed this rate of weight loss.
• Consume a balanced diet. If you can keep your servings at an adequate level, you may eat anything you wish, without having to exclude specific foods from your diet. If eating out, share your servings with a friend.
• Eat frequently. Skipping meals, particularly breakfast, would lead to eating more at subsequent meals, and cause reduced work output and uncontrolled hunger. Eating snacks between meals may help satisfy hunger, but must be eaten in moderation so as not to replace a regular meal.
WHAT IS A HEALTHY DIET FOR ME?
A healthy diet means consuming an adequate and balanced mixture of essential macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats) and micronutrients (minerals and vitamins) which are required to maintain proper functioning of our body. Our diet must meet our nutrition needs to support normal growth and development in children and adolescents and correct functioning of organs, both at rest and when exercising. The quality of a diet, the quantities consumed and the timing of meals affect exercise performance. Taking care to eat a variety of foods ensures adequate intake of essential vitamins and minerals. While there is not a magic formula, essential elements of diet to support good performance and wellbeing include the following:
• Eat adequately to meet energy need
• Obtain energy mainly from carbohydrates
• Regulate foods and drinks to meet carbohydrate needs during and after performance
• Eat a varied diet to meet protein, vitamin and mineral needs
• Take an adequate amount of fluids to maintain hydration
• Take care with using dietary supplements.
Ask yourself the following for a healthy life:
How many main meals and snack meals do you have?
Have you ever considered which nutrients you eat in your daily diet (at breakfast, lunch and dinner)?
How much fresh fruits and vegetables do you consume on a daily basis, and how does that compare to the optimal level?
How active are you physically in your free time?
WHICH DIET IS BEST?
The nutrients that we consume are essential to providing the energy that we need to support our heart, brain, liver and other organs and to maintain life support functions, such as breathing. We do not sit all the time; we move, change locations and work, all of which require energy. A good and popular metaphor is a car: can it run without fuel?
The energy which is essential to our being is mainly provided by sugar (carbohydrates). Only in situations where carbohydrates is not available may fats (lipids) can be used as a source of energy. Fats essentially provider energy, but they also carry vitamins A, D, E and K, which are soluble in fat. Energy may only be obtained from proteins. For normal growth, development and proper functioning of organs, our organism also needs vitamins and minerals.
The studies have shown that our eating habits are not particularly healthy and require improvement. Available data, combined with anthropometric measurements, suggest a grim public health outlook for our societies. Based on BMIs, more than 50% of people are overweight, and nearly a half have high blood pressure.
Studies have shown that exercise regulates high blood pressure.
Considering that only 15% of the population engages in exercise for at least 30 minutes 2 times a month, the picture on unhealthy eating habits and physical activity is indeed grim.