We’re all in a slightly strange world right now and everyone has been affected in some way or another. However, by keeping physically fit, you’re more likely to be able to cope better with what life throws your way.
It’s amazing how much we can influence fitness levels just by making a few dietary tweaks along the way.
This National Fitness Day clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for improving your fitness through nutrition.
Many people associate carbohydrate foods with fitness and endurance. Whilst carbohydrates are clearly very important (they are one of our key macro nutrients), protein is key.
Protein is essential for repair and for building bones and muscles, as well as hormone and immune function. All these factors are key when improving fitness levels and overall wellness. Eating too little protein can cause the body to ‘break down’ rather than build stronger, leaner muscle mass. Indeed, the more muscle you have, the more metabolically active the body is, and the more calories are burned at rest. That doesn’t mean by eating lots of protein, you’re going to look like pop-eye! You’ll simply be building a strong base.
So how much protein do we need? Clearly it depends on exertion levels and those undertaking serious body building sports will need much more. However, for overall great health, ensure you’re eating some protein at every meal. Eggs are great for breakfast; chicken, turkey, fish, soya produce, beans, meat, dairy and nuts are all good sources of protein for lunch and dinner. A bowl of white pasta with a tomato-based sauce is not going to cut it from a protein perspective, so try to plan your meals around protein.
Ditch the junk
Refined foods such as cakes, biscuits, pastries and ready meals are all sources of carbohydrates, but they don’t provide any nutritional benefits, just empty calories. In fact, these foods upset blood sugar balance and deplete rather than enhance energy levels.
Alcohol, fizzy drinks and too many caffeinated drinks also have the same effect. There is research to suggest that exercising after having a strong coffee does help improve fat burning which is great. However, if you’re a caffeine junkie, consuming lots of coffee throughout the day, then you’ll get that ‘tired but wired’ feeling, and anxiety levels will increase; certainly not what’s needed especially at the moment. Be mindful of how much you’re consuming overall. The odd treat is fine but not every day.
Nutrients for sleep
Rest and peaceful sleep are essential for improving fitness levels and for wellness generally. The body repairs, detoxifies and absorbs nutrients whilst we’re asleep so it’s important to ensure yours is as good as it can be.
A good bedtime routine is essential. Turning off all electronic devices around two hours before bedtime is also important as blue light affects the brain and will keep you awake.
Additionally, foods containing the amino acid tryptophan helps produce melatonin, our sleep hormone; great foods to eat are oats, bananas, soya produce, eggs, chicken, turkey, nuts and dairy. The ‘old-wives tale’ recommends a warm, milk drink before bedtime and this rings true. Half a cup of either milk or soya milk with a few almonds about an hour before bedtime is one of the most effective and easiest ways of getting a good night’s sleep.
All athletes know that being properly hydrated can make all the difference when it comes to performance. Whilst we’re not all about to run a marathon, it’s important to keep well hydrated throughout the day. Your body will retain water making you look puffier if you’re not drinking enough.
Herbal and fruit teas can count towards the target of 1 ½ – 2 litres daily but there is no substitute for plain water for keeping everything running smoothly and energy levels in good shape.
Whilst protein is essential for fitness, eating energy-rich foods are also needed for keeping everything in good balance. For healthy carbohydrates think whole grains in the form of oats, quinoa, wholegrain rice, wholemeal bread, beans, as well as green leafy veg and energy-dense vegetables such as sweet potatoes.
It is, however, important to be mindful of portion sizes; we all know when our plate is overly filled. As with everything, it’s all about balance!
So, follow the above 5 steps in order to improve your fitness levels through good nutrition and overall wellbeing.
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