It is very common for us to look at people who are ‘skinny’, such as the models in magazines, and assume they are the picture of health; however, this is not always the case. Low body weight is quite an inaccurate measure of health.
One of the best predictors of health is an adequate balanced diet. It can be quite alarming to know what some people do to keep a low body weight, and it is just that- body weight. The scales do not indicate muscle mass or bone density, two highly important factors which predict positive aging. However there two ends of the scale when referring to poor eating habits. It is not just underweight people who can be malnourished. In fact, you just cannot guess how healthy someone is from looking at them.
It is possible to be overweight and malnourished. It’s possible to be a little over weight, but still relatively healthier than someone of lower body weight who eats a poor diet. It’s also possible to be of a normal body weight and not be feeding your body what it needs to be functioning optimally. Cool story Hansel, but what am I trying to get at here?
Feeding the body with empty poor quality calories to the point of excess, will still leave your body starving for the nutrients it needs to function properly, and likely overweight or obese. Running your body on the bare minimum for extended periods of time leaves you open for poor health too. Both groups in the end are at risk of being what we call ‘malnourished’- their bodies are starving. Malnutrition is basically an imbalance of nutrition. This could be from too much of the wrong stuff, or not enough of the right stuff. Either way you end up with a body in need and how it reacts to these deficiencies if pretty nasty.
Malnutrition affects your body, your mind, your immune system and everything in between. Not feeding your body with proper nutrition from varied sources results in decreases in strength, lung function, heart function and fitness, increases depression, decreases immunity and ability to heal and even affects your body’s ability to regulate temperature. And it’s a slippery slope down into disease. If you don’t eat right, your body can’t absorb what you do eat properly and is forced to take from you stores, so the longer the poor diet/lifestyle choices go on for the more health debt you’re getting yourself into. ‘Holy bajeezuz’ I hear you say….I KNOW!! It’s just as much about what you doeat as what you don’teat. So why is there still resistance to a moderate approach to eating well? Probably because we don’t like moderate…it’s boring. And that you can buy pizzas with corn chips stuffed into the crust *palm to face*.
Then there is body composition change against changes to scale weight. If you really put your mind to it, you could lose 10% of your body weight before the start of next week. And people take this blind approach to weight loss on the regular, searching for any way that gets the numbers on the scale down. But you know what you get when you undertake extreme weight loss? Disappointment. You get a big fat dose of disappointment. This is because not only is that drop on the scale probably just a reduction in total body water and stomach content, from abusing whatever weight loss tea, cleansing juice or very low calorie/carb diet you chose, but it is also likely to come right back and then some the minute you crack and dive face first into a burger and fries. And if ‘toning’ is what you are looking for, I am sorry to say that there is no amount of curtsey lunges on the stair climber, 1kg dumbbell bicep curls or long bouts of low intensity stead state training that will build the lean muscle that is the real cause of appearing toned. Lean muscle minus excess body fat is what is commonly referred to as ‘tone’ and is goal number 1 on many people fitness wish-list. And if lean muscle is what we are after, then excessive calorie deficits and diets devoid of quality protein are not going to cut it. A well planned out training program, a diet that emphasises wholefoods and 20-30g of protein at least 4 meals each day coupled with good sleep and regular doses of enjoyment are what will get you that look- ask any Victoria’s Secret Model. And the older we get, the more attention we need to pay to this stuff.
The thing is, we can get away with a lot more in our younger years. Up until the age of about 30-35, our body does a really good job at buffering the abuse we throw at it. Be it inactivity, poor diet choices, chronic stress, drug and alcohol abuse or lack of sleep, our body will do the best it can to keep you going. But the problem is, disease progression starts long before you get the diagnosis. Meaning the behaviours which got you through your 20’s are not likely to cut it as you get older, so it serves you well to know how to properly feed yourself BEFORE you get the warning bells ringing in your ears.
The key point in all this is that, unless you are trained to know what to look for, what you see on the outside is a unlikely to give you the full story on what’s happening inside, so it pays to invest in your health earlier and to learn what your body needs and not just make changes at the last minute, when such changes are harder to make.
Being ‘healthy’ is as hard or as easy as you make it. There are a thousand choices we make each day and even if a handful of these are changed towards improving your health, you are a bit closer to good health and a bit further away from all the crappiness that poor health brings. Even just starting to think about the impact that each mouthful can make is a start. Is it adding to your overall health or is it taking away? Simple questions which may bring big results!
For further information contact Harriet at [email protected] or check her instagram out at @harrietwalker_athleticeating
Dietary Considerations From a Nutritionist’s Point of View.
It’s a new day. That means it’s time for another diet article on why you should change your diet to the newest most high-tech nutrition program on the market.
So while one of the most well established dietary approaches is back in the headlines, it is interesting to know that this particular dietary pattern dates back to the time of good old Pythagoras- you know, the triangle guy- and well beyond.
I am talking about vegetarianism (well, yeah…that’s what the title said…)
Although there is evidence of the vegetarian style of eating dating back to ancient times, the term vegetarianism was coined in the middle of the 1800’s.
This was a time when modern medicine was on the up and people were not just looking at surviving, they wanted to thrive.
However, it wasn’t originally about health. There is a long history of vegetarianism being taken up for moral and ethical reasons, which is a theme that still comes through strong today.
So the first question we need to inspect whether it is whether or not it is good for you.
The short answer is maybe (how annoying). Vegetarian diets can be very healthy, however, they do need some extra care when planning weekly meals to ensure that the individual is replacing the nutrients that they are not getting from animal-based foods. In particular, protein, iron, calcium, zinc, B12 and omega 3 fatty acids intakes need to be closely monitored.
As with all dietary approaches, it is going to feel good for some, while others may really not enjoy or feel good with a particular approach! So here is the basics to consider before you start.
There are a number of different sub-types of vegetarian and vegans diet such as semi-vegetarian, Lacto-vegetarian, and Lacto-ovo vegetarian diets, which when properly planned, can provide all of the nutrients found in an omnivorous diet.
The first thing to know is that just because vegetarianism is deemed healthy, doesn’t mean that you are automatically going to be bursting with good health. There are well planned vegetarian diets, and there are the less optimal ones (note- oreo’s and barbecue shapes are deemed vegan, but that does not throw them straight into everyday’ wagon).
Iron & Vegetarianism Considerations
It is very common to see poorly planned plant-based diets leading to deficiencies such as low iron. In particular, females, with and without a history of low iron, teenagers, pregnant and lactating women and athletes need to be particularly aware of their iron intake, this is because not all iron sources are equal.
Iron from animals is termed at ‘heme’ iron which is ready to be used by the body to carry oxygen around the body. Plant-based sources of iron are termed ‘non-heme’ and need to be changed before the body can use the iron in red blood cells.
For this reason, vegetarians and vegans need to consume about 1.8 times more than the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for iron when consuming a plant-based diet.
It pays to be across what foods are good sources of iron and assist absorption, as well as what may inhibit iron absorption. To enhance absorption, it can help to combine iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C, approximately 50mg such as tomatoes or kiwi fruit, to increase the absorption of the iron available in the food.
Eggs, legumes, spinach, and nuts are also substantial sources of iron.
Protein & Vegetarianism Considerations
Plant-based diets can provide a lot of high-quality proteins for fit and healthy people, however, it is important to get protein from a variety of sources as plant-based protein sources are not all complete.
Example: May plant-based diets have some essential amino acids, but not all. For a protein source to be deemed as high quality it needs to be readily digested and has adequate amounts of the 9 essential amino acids that our body cannot produce.
In a plant-based diet, amino acids of particular note are methionine and lysine. So, by ensuring you are up-to-date with what plant-based sources provide a good amount of protein, and eating a variety of these foods, you can ensure your protein intake is adequate.
As a rule of thumb, aim for 1-2g protein per kilo body weight depending on activity level. Refer to the below table for further information.
|Plant Protein Source||Serve Size||Gram of protein||Notes|
|Lentils||1 cup||18g||Also sources of fibre and carbohydrates|
|Beans||1 cup||13g||Also sources of fibre and carbohydrates|
|Sprouted grain bread||2 slices||10|
|Nut butter||2 tbs||8g||Also high in fat and energy dense|
|Soy milk||1 cup||7g|
|Vegetables||1 cup cooked||7 g|
Micronutrients & Vegetarianism Considerations
The list below outlines the major micronutrients vegetarians and vegans should be concerned with when planning their diet day-to-day.
By focussing on these nutrients initially, over time, you will be in the habit of regular consumption of these foods and will have to pay less attention.
It is a good time to note that if you are regularly active, to get blood tests on a biannual basis to ensure that your iron and B12 levels are on point.
As mentioned previously, vegetarian’s need 1.8 times usual RDI Iron (32mg daily for vegan/vegetarians) along with regular monitoring of Iron levels, especially during heavy training loads. 50mg Vitamin C with the meal (kiwi fruit/1 medium orange, ½ red capsicum, 50g tomato) will assist with absorption. Avoid tea/coffee with meals as they contain tannins which impede absorption of iron.
Zinc & Vegetarianism Considerations
8 mg (females) 14mg (males) daily with some research suggesting that vegans require upwards of this.
1 mg = 1 tablespoon of nuts, seeds or nut/seed butters • ¼ to ½ cup cooked beans • 1 tablespoon wheat germ • 1 cup cooked grain • 2 slices of bread • 2 cups cooked leafy green
B12 & Vegetarianism Considerations
2.4mcg per day required. Not found in plant foods, would look to requirement of supplementation for vegan diet.
Omega 3 & & Vegetarianism Consideration
(ALA = plant source converted to long chain DHA/EPA) Recommended at 100-300mg DHA supplement along with the inclusion of 2-5g ALA from foods such as flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds and enriched eggs.
Recommended 1000mg per day. Vegetarians can still get calcium from dairy foods. However, within the vegan population milk is removed from the diet, which can lead to an inadequate intake of calcium.
- Leafy green vegetables – broccoli, collards (cabbage family), bok choy, Chinese cabbage and spinach.
- 1cup of cooked spinach contains 100 mg, although only five per cent of this may be absorbed. This is due to the high concentration of oxalate, a compound in spinach that reduces calcium absorption.
- Broccoli contains about 45 mg of calcium, but the absorption from broccoli is much higher at around 50–60 per cent.
- Soy and tofu – tofu (depending on type) or tempeh and calcium-fortified soy drinks
- Nuts and seeds – brazil nuts, almonds and sesame seed paste (tahini). Fifteen almonds contain about 40 mg of calcium.
- Calcium-fortified foods – including breakfast cereals, dairy milk alternatives, fruit juices and bread. One cup of calcium-fortified breakfast cereal (40 g) contains up to 200 mg of calcium.
So, while it may not be right for everyone, if you keep an eye on the nutrients outlined in the article, it is very possible to not only survive on a plant-based diet but really enhance your health through focussing on nutrient-dense plant foods.
By no means is this the holy grail of diet, but vegetarianism is a dietary approached loved by many and when done properly can help you live out your years with that sparkly glowy skin you see insta-famous vegetarians have (or is that just good lighting?).
Starting a new training program is tough, there is not much else to say. However, beyond just grinding through the first few weeks, there are a few things you can do to make life easier for you as your body adapts.
Firstly, we need to understand that we can’t get more by giving our body less. Training is a stimulus that triggers a number of reactions in our body, all of which are geared towards making us fitter for the job at hand, next time we do it. It is supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t our body wouldn’t bother upgrading our machinery for next time. This is why, if you have failed to see results in previous attempts at hitting the gym, it is probably because you didn’t push yourself hard enough to set off the trigger of adaptation.
However the stimulus is not enough.
When you are trying to put an extension on a house, you cannot simply use the bricks from the front of the house, to build the new backroom. What you would end up with is the same size house, and a pretty shabby exterior!
The same goes for your body. When we are trying to build muscle, or enhance the machinery within our cells that make us go faster and longer, we cannot expect our body to be able to make the most of the messages to grow and adapt without providing extra materials and energy to make the repairs. We’ve all been in that situation in the work place when a staff member leaves and our lovely boss decide not to retired, instead stretching the team to cover more work. It’s fine at the start, and the team may be very motivated, however after a few weeks, months or longer, the cracks start to show and the team begins to spit the dummy and either get sick, eat their emotions or drink just that little too much. Yup, you guessed it- another analogy for the body.
Are you getting the picture?
What I am trying to get at here, is that when we start training, we need to also review our eating patterns and see if what we are doing is going to support the level of hardship we are putting it though and that we can make the most of the signals for growth and adaptation being sent out after training.
I recommend starting by tracking your energy intake for at least a week. Many people find this to be an arduous task, however, not only will it make you acutely aware of what is going in to your mouth, if will also help assess where you might need to add in or take away from your diet.
These are a few key points you can look for:
- Protein intake should be around the 1.5-2g per kilo of body weight each day if you are trying to gain muscle and lose weight. In practical terms this means aiming for a good chunk of quality protein at each main meal, and having some protein in your snacks. This might look like: A protein shake after training followed by 2 boiled eggs on sourdough (45g protein total), 100g cooked chicken at lunch in a salad with 30g feta brown rice (40g total protein), Greek yoghurt with 15 almonds and an apple at afternoon tea (15g protein) and 150g baked fish with veggies and sweet potato mash at dinner (35g protein).
- Ensure you are getting enough energy. Although many people are trying to lose weight when taking on a new program, there is a difference between creating a mild energy deficit that will achieve weight loss long term, but is sustainable day-to-day. There are equations such as the Harris Benedict and Schofield equation and online calculators that can help you figure out your daily calorie needs, however, and good rule of thumb to start out with is around 25-35 calories for every kilo of body weight for exercise expenditure <300-400 cal sessions (Exercise and Sport Nutrition. Nutritional Health. Edited by: Wilson T, Temple N. 2001). For higher energy output days – 600+ we should aim for upwards of 50cal/kg body weight to ensure nutritional adequacy and energy availability.
- Check out your carbohydrate intake. Low carb diets are tempting for quick weight loss, however if you are undertaking high intensity training, you are likely to feel pretty flat pretty quickly and are not gong to be able to max out in your sessions. Plan to have a good chunk of carbs 30-60 minutes before training so you can go all out, and then recover with another good chunks after (0.5/1g per kg bw is a good guide both pre and post)
- Eat lots of colour. Not only are brightly coloured fruit and vegetables good for use, the are rich in anti-oxidants to assist in reducing the damage naturally caused by training, are rich in fibre to help feed the good bacteria and boost your immune system, plus contains lots of the vitamins and minerals that help drive the reactions of adaptation. Aim for ½ a plate of colourful vegetables or salad at lunch and dinner, and have a variety of fruit as snacks (2 pieces per day).
- Skip the fried or processed fats and help your body to reduce inflammation with essential fatty acids found in oily fish and the healthy fats found in olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and egg yolks. Fats are essential for fat soluble vitamin absorption, most notable vitamin D which is critical for immune function, bone health and muscle development.
For any nutritional advice contact [email protected].au