Steady Eating Pattern First Step to Fueling Active Life
By Patricia Chuey, Senior Nutrition Consultant, SportMedBC
Gluten-free, vegan, raw foods, drink with meals, don’t drink with meals, dairy, no dairy… Mixed messages about what to eat or not for performance are at record high levels of craziness. You’ve made a decision to eat better this year and it can be super difficult knowing where to even start. Although there are as many different approaches to eating as there are people, fortunately science has proven a few solid basics that make for a logical starting point. Before even looking at “what” to eat, as a first step, focus on “how.” What kind of eating pattern are you currently in?
By the sheer nature of the digestive system, what goes in one end ultimately works its way through a complex system of organs as the body absorbs what it needs, stores what it needs and excretes waste. Sometimes that system may not readily recognize certain foods that are more a product of marketing and technology than something we have actually evolved to eat.
Assuming we’ve slept for at least six hours, we wake up in a fasted state, yet our digestive system is still working. Break that fast by eating within the first two hours of being up. If trying to lose weight, eat sooner than later to get digestion running smoothly and burning calories from the start of the day. Research has proven that people who start their day with a good breakfast have better energy, make healthier eating decisions, are less likely to graze in the evening and have fewer weight problems.
Instead of putting large volumes of food or fluid into the digestive system in an erratic pattern (no matter how good the quality of it is), allow no more than three to four hours to pass while awake and active without eating. For optimal hydration, with every meal and snack drink a hydrating beverage, ideally water. Avoid gigantic portions. It’s better to drink 6 to 8 ounces of water at even intervals with meals and snacks than to go hours without drinking and then gulp humungous amounts all at once.
Once a pattern of even meals and snacks starting with breakfast has been established, hone in on what is covering that plate. For athletes and optimal health, vegetables, fruit and whole grains such as bread, cereal, pasta, rice and quinoa form the category of carbohydrates. Carbs are the main fuel for active muscle and brain cells. A plate half-covered with vegetables with the other half shared between whole grains and lean protein (think lean meat, fish, poultry, lentils, soy beans, nuts, eggs) is a well-balanced energy-enhancing meal.
Because carbohydrates alone won’t optimize energy, quality protein and fat must also be daily constants. Include protein in meals and all snacks to assist in keeping blood sugar/energy levels steady and to feel satisfied longer. Fats from nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, nut oils and fish are examples of high quality fats to emphasize. With 9 calories per gram, compared to the 4 calories per gram in carb or protein foods, a healthy diet has about 25-30% of its calories as fat.
So work on fine tuning the eating pattern. Aim for a straight-line rather than an all-over-the-map approach. Next week, we’ll get more specific.