If you are on a fitness program you need to maintain a healthy diet. You know what is good for you and those foods that you need to avoid. Eating the right foods will give you the results you want. If you give in to cravings and eat those high-fat foods and sweet treats, not only will you not be giving your body the food it needs but you will need to exercise more.
“Consume excess calories and you have to counterbalance them,” says Sara Haas, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “And it’s hard to get enough exercise in to undo the calories you’ll get in a double cheeseburger with French fries and a milk shake.” For the Everyday Athlete putting together your nutrition plan is as important as your exercise routine in helping you get the body you want.
1. The Everyday Athlete does not need the same type and amount of fuel as the pros.
“Eating a calorically dense, high-carbohydrate meal or snack makes sense for a competitive cyclist about to endure a 100-mile road race, but it doesn’t make sense for someone who is about to take a two-mile jog around the block” says Haas.
You need a combination of carbohydrates and protein to recover following a workout, as well as adequate carbs beforehand. “They’re the preferred energy for the exercisers’ muscles and mind,” says Jennifer McDaniel, RDN, founder of McDaniel Nutrition Therapy in St. Louis and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Choose the foods you like but choose a healthier version such as grilled or poached chicken rather than fried and save the spaghetti for a post-race meal. Remember foods that give you a “sugar high” will not provide your body the fuel it needs to perform your workouts.
If you have a cheat meal make sure it is not on a regular basis. Remember you are only cheating yourself.
2. Trimming your calories alone will not provide you enough energy to exercise.
“Diet and exercise are a feedback loop,” says McDaniel. “When you eat well, you are motivated to move, and when you move, you are more motivated to eat better.” Consider, for instance, a low-carb, high-fat diet; it might not only weaken training adaptations and hinder performance, McDaniel adds, but can also lead to a "hangry" mood. Translation: You’ll be less likely to want to get to the gym.
Be aware of diets that are high in one area of nutrition and low in others. Your diet needs to be balanced. You should try to get about 30 percent of your diet from protein, 40 percent from carbs and 30 percent from fat.
“A very restrictive eating plan, paired with hardcore exercise, could leave you leaning on muscle mass for energy”, says McDaniel. “Not getting enough fat (fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins A and D, and essential fatty acids, like omega-3s, in particular), she adds, “leaves you unable to produce energy and grow muscle because it lowers your levels of hormones like insulin and testosterone — which are important for building lean-body mass.”
Trying to stay on a very restrictive diet for a prolonged period can lead to a reduction in muscle tissue and can decrease the ability of your skeletal muscles (the ones needed for lifting, walking and other forms of exercise) to perform well, found a study published in the journal, Advances in Nutrition.
3. Keeping trouble area in check.
We all know that women tend to gain weight in the hips and thighs, while men pack it on around their midsection.” Consuming excess calories in the form of unhealthy foods send them right to these trouble zones. So even if you’ve gained muscle in these areas, it will be covered by a layer of fat. “Abs exercises alone aren’t enough to decrease your body-fat percentage or abdominal fat”, according to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Keeping your diet in check will help to build muscle and burn more calories than you’re consuming at the same time.
4. Staying healthy.
Low-carb and low-fat diets can be mentally draining and have a negative impact on heart health, says McDaniel. Plus, she says, “Following a chronic low-carb diet may lead to micronutrient deficiencies and increased inflammation throughout the body, which both make you more susceptible to injury.” Studies have found that not taking in an adequate amount of healthy fats may raise your chances for overuse injuries (such as stress fractures and tendonitis) and it doesn’t allow your body to protect itself in order to stay healthy. Furthermore, if you pair a low-fat diet with intense exercise, that can lower your immunity even further.
Regular exercise is, of course, key for staying in shape and maintaining your overall health. However, says McDaniel, “Remember that exercise sustains weight loss — but a healthy diet is what drives it.”