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Nutrition and Exercise 101

Nutrition and Exercise 101

Exercise and healthy eating are symbiotic. Each one enhances the other. When I was fresh out of nutrition school, I believed that people involved in intense exercise knew how to eat well. Upon giving a presentation to a group of McGill triathletes, I found out how wrong this assumption was and still is. I came into the presentation prepared to give a lecture about nutrition, assuming everybody was well versed on the subject. I quickly realized my audience had no clue what I was talking about. I ditched the PowerPoint and gave them all a copy of Canada’s Food Guide and we started at ground zero.

Whether you are a seasoned athlete or a weekend warrior, proper nutrition is essential for performance. Let’s start with the basics. The main source of energy our bodies need to perform any task is sugar or glucose or carbohydrates. Without this important macronutrient, you will fall flat. It doesn’t matter if you are a cardio enthusiast or a weight lifting fiend. Either way, your body needs carbohydrates for energy. The question is: which ones are good for you? The easy answer is anything that is brown, green, red, orange, blue, purple or yellow. Simply put, whole grain bread, brown or wild rice, multi-grain pasta and tons of colored fruit and vegetables are your best choices. Stay away from anything white (except for cauliflower, onions, and garlic; those are good for you), because processed white-based flours are the new “bad”. Trust me.

Next on the list is protein. You do not need to take protein powder or eat raw eggs to get enough. You are already getting enough. In fact, most people are getting too much daily protein, which contributes to increased calories followed by weight gain. We all need between 6 and 9 ounces of protein per day or 0.8 grams of protein per kg. It’s not really that much. Protein is awesome for keeping us feeling full. It is beneficial to consume a bit of protein at every meal and snack just for this purpose. Pure protein is poultry, meat, fish, tofu and eggs. Carbohydrate-protein is beans, lentils, chickpeas, and split peas.  Lactose-protein is milk, yogurt, and cheese. Healthy fat-protein includes nuts, seeds, and nut butters.

Fat is the last macronutrient in the healthy eating puzzle. It is essential for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Very low-fat diets are unhealthy. Dietitians like to express virtues of plant-based fats from olive oil and nuts. But there is new evidence emerging that saturated fats like butter are not really bad for us. However, it would be prudent to watch the amounts because fat has more calories than carbs and protein. More calories lead to excess body weight.

Everybody, including exercise peeps, needs to stay hydrated. A basic guideline is to drink between 1 and 2 litres a day – more if you are taller, bigger or exercise regularly. Soup, all beverages and even water from fruit count toward our daily fluid intake. It’s still a good idea to keep a water bottle with you or sip on herbal tea all day. Weigh yourself before you exercise and then again right after. If you have lost weight in that time it means you are poorly hydrated. Dark-colored urine also indicates dehydration.

Remember, skipping meals and snacks reduces performance. How can you exercise on an empty stomach? It’s impossible. A healthy diet includes eating at regular intervals – say, every 3 hours.

In conclusion, one of the many benefits to regular exercise is it leads to better eating. There is a natural desire to make healthier food choices with frequent physical activity.


Caryn Roll is a registered dietitian and member of the Ordre professionnel des diététistes du Québec. Her blog: http://montrealnutrition.wordpress.com/

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