Exercise & Nutrition go hand in hand!
If you are looking to make changes to your body with a fitness regime only, you may be highly disappointed. Unfortunately, exercise only makes up for 20% of the daily calories you burn, with the remaining 80% coming down to good nutrition and what your body needs to support the vital functions that help keep you alive! So, both exercise and nutrition must go hand in hand in order to see results!
In general, the Australian Dietary Guidelines and the Healthy Eating Pyramid (below) provide us with a guide on what good nutrition looks like by suggesting the types of foods we should eat and in what proportions different foods should be consumed each day from the five main food groups.
But, you may feel like you are eating right based on the five food groups above and exercising regularly, but you still find it hard to lose or maintain your weight. If this is you, it is important to remember that sticking to the healthy eating principles also means drilling down into the amount of food you are eating, and in particular the amount of macronutrients or sources of energy you are eating.
What are macronutrients?
Macronutrients are the types of nutrients that make up the bulk of what we eat and the amount of calories that we eat each day. There are three macronutrients – carbohydrates, fats and protein. Our bodies need a combination of all three in order to function properly. So let’s look at each one of these.
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. There are two main types of carbohydrates:
• Complex carbohydrates – in starchy vegetables, including sweet potatoes, beetroot and pumpkin; gluten free grains like quinoa, brown rice and buckwheat; wholegrain bread, oats and pasta; low GI fruits like berries, citrus and stone fruits; and beans and legumes. These foods have good nutritional value.
• Simple carbohydrates – the sugary ones, found in cakes, biscuits and sweets which are sometimes termed empty calories or calorie dense foods, as they give you no nutritional benefits. Other simple carbohydrates include white breads, white rice, cereals, and potatoes.
Essentially, we should eat less simple carbohydrates and more complex carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are not stored throughout the body like fats, but are used to power our muscles, which is why a healthy balanced diet should consist mainly of carbohydrates and why these make up the bulk of the healthy eating pyramid, especially before exercise.
So don’t be scared of carbohydrates as they are not the enemy. Instead, be conscious about your sources of carbs and vary it up a bit in order to support weight balance. If weight loss is your goal, enjoy starchy complex carbs at breakfast and/or lunch and then enjoy low-carb low-starch veggies at dinner. Don’t just rely on wheat/grains for these carbohydrate serves. Also keep the starches at dinner (e.g., 1/2 cup sweet potato/cooked brown rice) to twice a week.
Protein provides energy and helps to build and repair tissue. Proteins are mainly found in animal products such as meat, fish, milk, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds.
Protein takes longer for the body to break down so it can’t supply energy at the same rate as carbohydrates, and therefore should make up a moderate percentage of your daily diet, according to the Healthy eating pyramid.
However, if your fitness goals are to build lean body mass then protein is essential – increasing your daily intake can make a huge difference in energy and fullness. It also speeds up the metabolism and produces healthy hormones. The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for women is 45–60g and for men it’s 65–80g – as a guide 100g of grilled chicken is 29 g protein, so aim to have a palm-sized portion of protein at every main meal (around 100-150g), especially if you are consistently training and a ½ palm sized portion of protein for snacks. Consuming this protein 30-60 minutes after exercise is best to help repair your muscles.
Fats are important because they provide energy, provide warmth for your bodies and help to conserve body heat and protect our organs from injury. They are found in things like whole milk, cream, meat, biscuits, cakes, vegetable oil, coconut oil or olive oil or soft margarines, avocados, nuts and seeds.
There are four types of fat:
• Saturated Fats – these are mainly found in animal fats and are usually hard at room temperature e.g. butter, meat fats, cheese, ice-cream, coconut oil. These are the bad fats because they increase risk of disease and elevate cholesterol
• Trans Fats – these are also hard at room temperature and are also considered bad fats, e.g., pastries, cookies, donuts, muffins, cakes, pizza dough, packaged snack foods, fried foods, lollies
• Monounsaturated Fats – These are usually liquid at room temperature and considered good fats, e.g., olive, canola, sunflower, peanut and sesame oils; avocado; nuts; peanut butter
• Polyunsaturated Fats – These are the best type of fat for you and are found in oily fish and some oils and help lower cholesterol, e.g., salmon, tuna; soymilk; soybean oil, corn oil; walnuts; sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds; flaxseeds; tofu.
Although fats are a good source of fuel for the body, just like protein, they take longer for the body to break down, which is why the healthy eating pyramid suggests that we should limit our daily intake of these. But we need a moderate amount of good fats to keep you fuller for longer so cut the bad ones liked refined sugars and eat more of the good monounsaturated and polyunsaturated kind! Stick to one small serve of healthy fats per meal, and aim for less than 10g sugar per 100g (10%).
So which foods contain which macros?
Use this as a good summary of the kinds of macros particular foods contain:
• High-carb, low-protein: fruits and vegetables
• High-carb, low-fat: pasta, rice, cereal, bread, legumes, fruits, vegetables
• High-fat, low-carb: nuts, seeds, olive oil, cheese
• High-fat, low-protein: avocado, olive oil, coconut milk
• High-protein, low-carb: eggs, meat, fish
• High-protein, low-fat: non-fat Greek yogurt, cottage or cream cheese, turkey or chicken breast, lean ground beef, legumes, beans, whey protein powder
In upcoming blogs we will look at calories and how much of each of these macronutrients our body should be consuming, but for now the top tip is simply – eat well by not relying solely on carbohydrates but focusing on protein and lots of vegetable serves throughout the day as well as a small proportion of healthy fats. Do this for the majority of the time and you can allow yourself a small treat once or twice a week without the guilt!