WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “EAT HEALTHY”?

There I am, halfway through a run.

I’m starting to get dizzy and feel hot. I slow down. I feel nauseous.

I realize that I hadn’t eaten anything in four hours.

Oops. run aug

I walk to the next block, find a shop, and buy a bottle of apple juice.

Within two minutes, I’m good to go again. I finished the run, feeling strong and dove into some protein as soon as I got home.

Whether you’re a weekend warrior, an elite athlete, or a couch potato wanting to lose 10 lbs., there’s no denying that nutrition plays a huge role in whether or not you will succeed. Food is our body’s fuel, and it can make or break you.

Thinking of your ideal weight – what if I told you that 80% of weight gain/loss comes from your food, not your exercise routine?

Remembering your last race or event – being properly fueled is the key to securing that personal best; lack of proper fueling can cause you to “bonk” – losing all energy, or even being unable to continue.

Focusing on your goals – proper nutrition allows to be more alert, have a better memory, and has shown to play a role in treating depression and anxiety.

So what does proper nutrition mean?

Well, to start with – nutrition means being HEALTHY. I’m not going to get into a rant on “skinny culture” here (for more about that, you can check out this amazing video here about triathlon and body image) as that’s not the topic of this post. But being the best YOU that you want to be means giving your body the micro and macro nutrients that it needs to function.

Okay – we all know that. But what does it mean?

A quick science lesson.

Macro nutrients are the three categories of calories that you need to consume: carbohydrates, fats and proteins. On average, 1g of protein or carbohydrates equals 4 calories, and 1g of fat equals 9 calories. Your body needs carbohydrates, fats and proteins. No, carbs are not the devil. In fact, they are the main source of fuel that your body uses. The problem comes when your ratios get out of whack, or when you are eating unhealthy sources of carbohydrates.

Micronutrients are basically calorie-free nutrients that your body needs in small amounts. Examples include iron, potassium, sodium, and so on.

Back to macronutrients.deck aug

Your body can’t burn calories directly, so it converts carbohydrates + oxygen into something called ATP, which your cells burn for fuel. Your body makes about 30 ATP for every calorie you eat. Think of carbs as your paycheque and ATP as a cash withdrawal. ATP is what powers your cells. And you burn ATP all day long – while sleeping, eating, and training. Most people burn about 300 calories a day just fueling their big human brains – and more when they are learning – which is part of why babies eat so much.

If enough oxygen isn’t available, our bodies can manufacture ATP using a process called fermentation. Fermentation isn’t ideal though, because it’s much less efficient and produces lactic acid as a by-product, which is why your muscles hurt the day after a hard workout.

Your body primarily uses the protein you feed it to manufacture muscle tissue and hormones. Carbohydrates provide an immediate source of fuel, but your body can only store a limited supply. Fats provide a longer-term source of fuel that your body will use when adequate carbohydrates aren’t available.

So what does all this have to do with your nutrition?

The key to staying properly fueled is the amount of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that you eat. Our bodies are efficient machines that have evolved to store energy sources for times of need. So any excess carbohydrates, fats or proteins that you eat will be stored as fat. Which is great if you need the extra long term energy (for example, if you’re a long distance swimmer) but not great if you mostly need quick-burning sources of fuel (such as a sprinter).

So it’s not just the amount of calories that you eat that matters – but the amount of macronutrients that you burn.

For most people, getting 40-50% of their calories from carbohydrates is a good target to shoot for. The best sources? The least processed carbohydrates: think starches like yams and turnips, and whole grains like oats.  The remaining 50-60% is protein and fats, and is a roughly equal split, with the majority of fats being unsaturated (think avocados and wild salmon).Salmon

Here’s the thing: your body knows when it’s missing nutrients, and it will tell you that you’re hungry until you get them; even if you’re getting enough calories, your body needs an adequate supply of all three.  Which is why simply “counting calories” isn’t a great or terribly useful way to gain or lose weight: it’s easier to work with your body than against it. If you’re feeding your body what it needs, you likely won’t feel hungry. Another way to monitor your intake it to switch from eating three large meals a day to six smaller ones. You will be less likely to over-eat as you are getting a steady and balanced supply of nutrients.

So what does this look like in practice?

It will vary quite a bit depending on your lifestyle and personal goals. But what I find works for me is that I don’t worry about counting calories. I just focus on getting a good balance of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. And I eat as many whole foods as possible. I also remember that eating healthy means choosing healthy foods 80% of the time – 20% can be treats or whatever I feel like. That way I don’t feel deprived, and my body still gets what it needs.

Here’s a sample of a typical day for me. I don’t even pretend to be perfect, but here’s what works for me:

 

Calories Carbs Fat Protein
Breakfast
Bananas 90 23g 0g 1g
Coffee with Whole Milk 160 13g 8g 8g
Morning Snack
Smoothie: raspberries, vega one, almond milk 166 12g 7g 16g
Lunch
Salmon 217 2g 10g 28g
Greek Salad 38 3g 3g 1g
Jasmine Rice 75 17g 0g 2g
Broccoli 31 6g 0g 3g
Afternoon Snack
Smoothie: raspberries, vega one, almond milk 166 12g 7g 16g
Coffee with Whole Milk 160 13g 8g 8g
    and 1 tsp. brown sugar 17 4g 0g 0g
Dinner
Whole Grain Bread, 1 slice 100 22g 0g 5g
Chicken Beef Vegetable Soup (Homemade) 198 8g 7g 27g
Evening Snack
Tea with Honey, 1 tsp(s) 21 6g 0g 0g
TOTAL: 1,495 144g 53g 121g

A quick caveat – I am not a nutritionist, and any info here is for informational purposes only. Before making changes to your diet, talk to your doctor.

Happy eating!

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