Nutrition 101 Series – # 5


What To Eat

Now that everybody is disappointed that all their favorite foods are garbage, we get to find out what is actually healthy for us. There is also a brief explanation and description of what makes for healthy food, and thus a healthy diet.

Remember the goal is to be our best, or to be able to perform to our best ability.  Not only are these foods going to do that, they will provide you with overall mental and physical health, and greatly reduce your chance of illness and disease. This is not a diet, this is a lifestyle.

Break it on Downmacronutrients

Macronutrients are nutrients needed in large amounts that provide calories or energy. Nutrients are substances needed for growth, metabolism, and for other body functions. Macronutrients constitute carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Carbs and protein provide 4 calories per gram, while fat provides 9 calories per gram.

I’m not a huge metrics guy, meaning I don’t ever find it necessary to measure the quantity of your food, or break things down into a percentage of this or that. With that said, here is a pretty general reference of what the optimal mix of macronutrients is:

By the way, this is primarily for younger athletes with the goal of improving their overall athletic development. This would also apply to anyone with the goal of just eating healthy and feeling better.

  • 10-35% from protein
  • 45-65% of total energy from carbohydrates
  • 20-35% from fat

Remember, everybody is different and responds differently. I prefer to lean towards 40/30/30 grams of carbs to protein to healthy fat.

Carbohydrates

Carbs play a vital role for the athlete. Maintaining an optimal intake of carbohydrates is essential for all athletes. Quality carbohydrates are:

  • The primary fuel for providing energy to the muscles
  • Fuel for the brain which is very important for concentration and focus.
  • Vitally important for exercise recovery
  • Necessary to spare protein (muscle) – otherwise it’s burned for energy
  • Packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber
  • Important in intestinal health and waste elimination

That sounds prefruit veggiestty important doesn’t it? I say that because the media and diet industry would have you believe carbs are the enemy. But, like anything in life it comes down to quality. Carbohydrate quality is essential. The key is to ensure that a majority come from high fiber, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Simple Carbs—comes in the form of soft drinks, sports drinks, and candy. This is basically sugar. They offer very little to nothing in terms of nutrients. These will negatively affect athletic performance. Simple carbs rapidly convert to glucose, so the body can use them for fuel. This is appealing for many kids because they provide a quick source of energy; however, with that quick “pick me up” there also comes a quick fall of energy levels. This will sabotage performance, inside and out of the classroom.

Complex Carbs—consist of starches and dietary fiber. Complex carbs should constitute the majority of the diet. They provide a large amount of vitamins and minerals, in addition to fiber. This will provide a more sustained source of energy, meaning they can stay more alert and play harder.

Like simple carbs, complex carbs are ultimately used for energy. However, this process is more laborious for the body,  requiring it to work more to digest them. Thus an individual will often feel “fuller” for a longer period of time when eating complex carbs compared with simple carbs. Hence, you will burn more calories digesting a particular vegetable then it initially contained.

Whole Grain—intact kernels loaded with health-promoting bran, fiber, vitamin and minerals, and various antioxidants. Benefits include:

  • They’re high in fiber, helping us maintain a healthy GI tract (digestive system)
  • They’re slow to digest, helping us maintain energy levels
  • They’re loaded with vitamins and minerals, improving our nutrient density
  • They’re satisfying, helping us control appetite

Fiber—Fiber refers to certain types of carbohydrates that our body cannot digest and is crucial for optimal health. These carbohydrates pass through the intestinal tract intact and help to move waste out of the body.Total fiber intake among children and adolescents is well below the recommended amount. It is important to help slow the digestion of foods. With active individuals, this slowing of digestion helps provide sustained energy over a longer period of time and increases the absorption of nutrients.

“Think fiber, not carbs.” Not only is this important if a child is very active in sports and recreational activities, but also for providing sustained energy and increasing the absorption of nutrients so they can think more clearly during school and as they’re developing mentally.

Examples of Good Sources of Dietary Fiber

  • Certain cereals and other grains – read the label for fiber
  • All fruits and vegetables
  • Beans (cooked) and nuts

 

Proteins

Protein is an essential nutrient for a variety of reasons. While most focus solely on the “muscle building” effects of protein, it’s essential for:

  • Physical performance because of its role in building and repairing muscles
  • Improving the immune system
  • Manufacturing hormones that regulate metabolism, maintain fluid balance, carry oxygen and nutrients in and out of cells
  • Regulate blood clotting

real food signWhen we eat these types of foods, our body breaks down the protein and utilizes the amino acids, which are known as the building blocks of protein.  Some amino acids are essential which means that we need to get them from our diet, and others are nonessential which means that our body can make them. Protein that comes from animal sources contains all of the essential amino acids that we need. Plant sources of protein, on the other hand, do not contain all of the essential amino acids.

When you do not consume enough calories and protein from your food, your body uses its own protein (muscles) to make up for the lack of fuel. Therefore, you may not have the energy and protein you need to perform at your best.

Recreational exercisers and athletes have higher protein needs than sedentary individuals because of increased protein breakdown and also to improve muscle protein synthesis (necessary for building muscle).

Athletes need to make sure to consume enough protein and calories to fuel the body, or strength goals will be more difficult to achieve. The risk of becoming ill or injured also increases.

There is no single best source of protein. Eating a combination of all types of foods is best.

  • fish plateChicken / Turkey
  • Lean red meat / Fish
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Organic milk
  • Cottage cheese / Cheese
  • Yogurt

Fats

Again, the key is to focus on the quality of the fat. Dietary fat provides essential fatty acids that cannot be produced by the body and must be consumed via the diet. More and more research is showing that healthy fats, namely omega-3 fats, are particularly crucial for children who are developing physically and mentally; essential fats are particularly important for properly developing minds.

A diet which is high in unhealthy fats will impair your performance and contribute to many health problems including obesity and diabetes.

What are unhealthy fats?

  • Saturated fats
  • Trans fats

Both can lead to weight gain and health problems. They primarily come from animal products as well as processed and packaged foods. Many of these same packaged and processed foods contain partially hydrogenated oils as well, including chips, cookies, pies, and other snacks. That means they contain trans fats. Trans fats and saturated fats are like putting sludge in the engine of a race car.

Essential Fatty Acids

Although fats have received a bad reputation for causing weight gain, some fat is essential for survival. We need it for:

  • Normal growth and development
  • Energy (fat is the most concentrated source of energy)
  • Absorbing certain vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, K, and carotenoids)
  • Providing cushioning for the organs
  • Maintaining cell membranes

nutsHealthy fats contain omega 3 fatty acids which may actually help to decrease inflammation, providing cushion for joints and organs – which can help with performance. And, a added benefit is that they’ll improve health too. The primary dietary sources of essential fats are seafood, flax oil/seeds, and mixed nuts.

Omega-3 fats are a family of essential unsaturated fats that have recently received a tremendous amount of press lately; they are touted for their heart health properties, potential aid in recovery, and reducing the risk of several other diseases as well. But when it comes to children and adolescents, the real “meat” of the research shows they help with the developing brain.

Omega-6 fats are also essential fats (primarily in vegetable oils). While these are essential fatty acids, the typical American diet is very high in omega-6 fats; it is recommended to boost the intake of omega-3’s through the food sources listed above and actually lower the omega-6 fat intake.

  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Oils – flax, fish, olive, canola, vegetable
  • Olives
  • Egg yolks

Micronutrients

Although macronutrients are very important they are not the only things that we need for survival. Our bodies also need water, and micronutrients. Micronutrients are nutrients that our bodies need in smaller amounts, and include vitamins and minerals. Vitamins are essential molecules that cannot be made in the body and therefore, must be eaten through food. Vitamin deficiencies reduce body function and impair health. This can also negatively affect performance. However, over consuming vitamins and minerals is also not healthy—nor will it enhance performance.

Eating a healthy and balanced diet, as described above, will help ensure that you receive adequate and essential vitamins and minerals. The more varied your diet is containing the healthy foods above, the better.

It is possible that you could eat a balanced diet and still be deficient in certain vitamins and/or minerals. Like I said earlier, we are all different and respond differently. That is where a blood test can be extremely helpful. It takes a lot of the guess work out of identifying a deficiency.

One More To Go…

rule of thumbUltimately, it is not important to know what macronutrients are and what they do. What is important is that you know what foods are healthy for you, and that is what you eat. Despite all the confusion and contradiction that goes on around us in the media and advertising, it really is simple. If it comes from the earth it’s good. Like Michael Pollan said in his book Food Rules, “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”

In the last article in this series I will give what I feel are good recommendations and advice on a broad range of nutritional topics. We’ve come this far, we’re feeling good because we want to eat healthy foods, so how do we start?

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Nutrition 101 Series

1  What's Out There?
2  Fast Food Industry
3  Hormones & Energy Levels
4  What Not to Eat
5  What to Eat

6  Important Points
7  Optimal Eating Blueprint
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Supplement Series

1  To Take or Not to Take
2  Best Supplements for Athletic Performance
3  My Supplement Recommendations
4  Supplement Products That I Use and Recommend

Nutrient Timing for Optimal Performance
Post-Workout Supplementation