We all know being active is a quintessential part of leading a healthy lifestyle, and in my last post I outlined some considerations for people who are walking the active-lifestyle walk. Now we must look at what goes into fueling and support this motive-intensive endeavor.
I can’t tell you how many times I get asked about food choices when it comes to the topic of any body composition/lifestyle related goal. Although it’s a complex topic (far more than I ever considered) if you take an educated approach and individualize it as you learn, it can yield some powerful results.
Here are my top 5 nutrients for active people:
Yes we have all probably been bombarded by fitness experts everywhere, and I figured it’s a great place to start because of familiarity.
Protein is an essential nutrient that comprises almost EVERY tissue in our bodies. We get protein from the food we consume in the form of amino acids and in nature protein come in complete and incomplete forms. Complete forms are found in ALL animal and dairy products and in select plant sources; soy, quinoa, and protein powders. Incomplete proteins are found in plant food; grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. We can create complete proteins by combining certain plant foods such as; grains and legumes to make a complete protein which is very important for vegetarians because protein deficiency could really compromise your progress when it comes to being active.
Ah yes the most evil word in the world of weight loss. Carbs, aka the “enemy of weight loss” have gotten a bad rap from certain people who claim they are the mother of all evil. This is a fine line because while they can be detrimental to your health; think the development of type 2 diabetes, they are also our preferred source of fuel when it comes to activity.
The most important piece of advice I give my clients and athletes is choose your carbs wisely . Foods that offer complex, high-fiber carbohydrates are the go-to sources. Think whole grains (gluten-free if sensitive) like; brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa are a great starting point. Root vegetables are also another great option with foods like; sweet potatoes, squash, and carrots all providing slow-digesting carbohydrates along with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Legumes like; lentils and beans are very fiber dense which means they are masters of blood sugar control, and finally fruits are another good source of exercise energy. Avoid carbs that have all their fiber and nutritional content stripped for them, especially the “white devils” aka white flour and white sugar. While friends of your taste bud, they are enemies of your waist line!
3) Essential Fatty Acids
The concept of eating fat to get lean is strange to most people, but I can promise you it’s one of the most underrated aspects of exercise nutrition. Essential fatty acids are the Omega 3 & 6 fats found in different animal and plant foods. They allow our cells to maintain fluidity which means they can remain healthy and absorb nutrients, and can also have a positive effect on metabolism if we are deficient which most of the general population are. We can find EFA’s in high concentrations in foods like; flax seed, hemp hearts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds. Cold water fish also contain highly specialized fats which are Omega 3 derivatives that have a very powerful effect on brain function and inflammation. This can help us manage the exercise-induced inflammation we experience as a result of exercise!
These little power-houses are like internal body guards that take the proverbial bullets that could harm us on the inside. Exercise creates free radical formation as a result of how our bodies create and utilize energy. When this happens it can be damaging to our cells if these free radicals interact with them. Luckily nature provided us with a safe-guard; antioxidants. These are found in all different kinds of plant and animal foods. The more well know kinds like vitamin C are found in citrus fruits, leafy green vegetables, and red peppers. Vitamin E is found in foods with a natural fat content like nuts and seeds. An easy trick is to try and eat a rainbow of food colours as each colour provides specific antioxidant protection. Having adequate antioxidant quantity makes sure we don’t silently sabotage ourselves from inside.
This last one may seem like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many people I have worked with in the past who have tried to exercise chronically dehydrated. The outcome is not so good; cramps, lack of energy, reduce brain function and the list goes on. Our bodies are roughly 70% water and every one of our billions of cells MUST remain hydrated to function optimally. When we allow ourselves to become dehydrated, we essentially down-regulate our ability to be active, and what the body craves is pure filtered water that ideally is slightly alkaline which means it has electrolytes present. The guide I give my athletes and clients is as soon as you realize you are thirsty, you are dehydrated. A good starting point is 2L of water per day, and an additional 500ml per hour of exercise. Dry skin and dark urine colour are other indicators so always remember; exercise is great if you hydrate! Eating hydrating foods is also a wonderful way to prevent dehydration, but nothing beats water.