In today's society, what we are putting into our bodies is taking more importance as we learn the value of a proper diet. The emphasis on eating correctly should be important to everybody, but is more important to the athlete who is constantly challenging his or her body. A proper diet will help regulate energy levels. It helps in the resistance to colds and viruses, as well as speeding up the healing process from minor injury. Eating the right amounts of vitamins and minerals will decrease the chances of contracting several illnesses. Many diseases, such as scurvy and beriberi, are specifically tied to vitamin deficiencies. So, hopefully through education, we will learn how eating the proper foods can enrich our lives with better health, higher energy levels and an ability to compete at closer to our true potential.
Just recently, scientists have made several discoveries in the field of nutritional sciences. The value of fiber and a group of vitamins termed "antioxidants" are two of the most astounding, along with the specific uses of some natural roots and herbs. A proper amount of fiber has been shown to reduce the chance of contracting colon cancer. Some nutritionists believe that the antioxidants may hold the key to reducing or stopping the aging process, leading to longer life spans. Experts at all levels understand the ties between good nutrition and mental health. The ability to concentrate and overall attitude are bolstered through proper eating. Still, with all the known benefits of a good diet, most Americans don't eat well compared to the citizens of many other developed countries. If we can set good habits in place at an early age, there is a good chance that we can remain active well into our later years. This is a meaningful goal. Here we will try to relate a healthy diet to its applications for a competitive athlete, but its uses can be applied to most individuals. Whereas some of the information must be adjusted or ignored because of dietary restrictions, it is general nutritional knowledge that will be discussed.
Some people believe that proper nutrition will control weight problems, this is only partly true. In order to achieve physical fitness one must combine proper nutrition and exercise. Here I must remind you that weight should not be tied to your self worth. If you are generally healthy, you will have the ability to do many activities. How much you weigh should not decide how you feel about yourself. Take pride in the things you can do, that's what is important.
How your body works is very complex when you look at the overall structure. It is generally built to take care of itself. It has regulatory capabilities, waste disposal facilities and systems to fight invasion by illness. One of the few necessities controlled by conscious thought is the intake of fuel. The saying "you are what you eat" is actually right on target. From food, your body will take calories it needs for energy, both now and for the future. It will also absorb vitamins and minerals it needs to continue its many functions. To keep this in focus, we must remember that your body is just a chemical processing plant. It has needs, energy and chemicals, that it requires to keep going. If it is lacking the necessary fuels, it will have breakdowns. These will take many shapes. Illness, low energy and fatigue can be some symptoms. These have various degrees from mild to dangerous. If we can supply the correct fuels, these things can often be kept in check.
Each person has individual caloric needs based on one's metabolism. Metabolism is affected by age, size, sex, and level of activity. Throughout one's life a person's nutritional needs will change. For instance, as you grow older your calorie needs will decrease due to a natural lowering of your metabolism. Your body's first and foremost requirement from is energy. If you didn't move a single muscle all day, you would still need a certain amount of calories for your body to function. Your heart, organs and other essential systems need energy to keep going. Even though you are not moving, your internal parts are. Blood is moving, your lungs expand and contract and other processes, such as cellular repair and infection resistance, and taking place without conscious thought.
Almost all things you put in your mouth with the exception of water contain calories. This is basically an assigned number corresponding to the amount of energy that your body gets from a food. The values we assign have been scientifically measured and , assuming that the food is totally digested, the values are the same for everyone. An apple containing 100 calories for me will have 100 calories for you also. How easily or when your body uses these calories depends on the makeup of the food.
Foods contain carbohydrates, proteins and fats. How much of each they have dictates the overall amount of calories a food will have. Carbohydrates are the real energy source. Each gram of carbohydrate adds four calories to its caloric total. Proteins are broken down and used to repair and rebuild your body and its various parts. Each gram of protein also contains four calories. Fats are used for stored energy and insulation to regulate body temperature. Each gram of fat contains nine calories.
Carbohydrates are so named because of their chemical makeup. They contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They form chains that are converted to energy rather easily. Carbohydrates can be found in fruits , vegetables, breads and cereals. The calories in these foods are mainly derived from carbohydrates. A person involved in athletics should get 60-70% of their calories from carbohydrates. Proteins are made up of amino acids. When protein is broken down into these amino acids, they are used for cell repair, organ maintenance and other functions dealing with the upkeep of your body. Good sources of protein include meat, fish, poultry, bean products (especially soy), and some dairy products. Although proteins contain the same amount of calories as carbohydrates (four), a false assumption would be to eat more protein and not worry about the carbs. Protein breakdown is much more difficult for your body than the conversion of carbohydrates. Besides your body can only use a limited amount of protein. The rest will be washed out of your system. Protein calories should comprise 15-20% of your diet.
Fats will be put into storage for when your body has used its carbohydrate energy. People often ask how long this takes. A general rule of thumb is that you start burning fat after twenty minutes of aerobic activity. This is exercise where your heart rate is about 120-150 beats per minute. Fats come from oils, cheeses, and many other dairy products. Some fat is in most red meat. Fat calories should make up 10-15% of your daily caloric intake.
In order to balance your diet properly, you should easily be able to see that you need carbohydrates at every meal. This will help you get the 60-70% you require. It will also help you maintain an even energy level throughout the day. At this point we must discuss the two subsets of carbohydrates, simple and complex. They have different effects on your body. Simple carbohydrates, i.e. sugars, are broken down quickly because they require less steps to be broken down. They are released fast and furious into your blood system, thereby raising your energy levels quickly. But the effects are short lived and you will rapidly be down to your previous energy level or lower. Complex carbohydrates are broken down more slowly and have an almost time-released effect. You should be able to understand the importance of making most of your carbohydrates of the complex variety. The sources for complex carbs are potatoes, beans, breads, pasta and rice. These will give you an even energy level throughout the day.
People ask how many calories they should take in per day. For people in their teens an estimate is 15 times their body weight. As you get older that number will decrease. That means that a 150 pound person should take in 38g of fat per day, 394g of carbs, and 38g of protein. A person of this size can get his entire protein for the day from one six and a half ounce can of spring water packed tuna that contains 45g of protein.
The other things that must be derived from food are vitamins and minerals. These are chemicals that are in your food that help you maintain bodily functions and the upkeep of body parts. You have various needs for each of these chemicals. There are guidelines that have been set up by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that are considered recommended daily allowances (RDA). These do not generally take into consideration factors such as age, activity level, gender, or special heredity factors. There are two main types of vitamins; water soluble and fat soluble. These have to do with the way that they are stored. Vitamins that are fat soluble can be placed into long term storage and do not need to be taken every day. Vitamins that are water soluble will be flushed out of your system daily and will need to be replaced. Intake levels of certain minerals can be toxic and should be regulated. The following is a list of all the major vitamins, their sources and their effects on your body.
Vitamin K- Necessary for blood clotting, electron transport mechanisms and growth. Main sources include cabbage, cauliflower, soy beans, spinach, pork, potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, wheat, alfalfa and egg yolk.
Magnesium- Necessary for maintenance of nerves, protects against cardiovascular disease. Found in meats, seafood, green vegetables and dairy products.
Selenium- Acts as antioxidant, detoxifier and anti-inflammatory. Also is beneficial to the skin. Found in broccoli, mushrooms, cabbage, celery, cucumbers, onions, garlic, radishes, yeast, grains and fish.
The fat soluble (storable) vitamins are A,D,E and K. The last few minerals listed are sometimes known as trace elements. This is because there is very little necessary (trace amounts) in your system in order for your body to function properly.
If you look very closely at the sources of these vitamins and minerals you will discover that several foods are what is generally referred to as nutrient dense. The actual definition of nutrient dense is a high value of nutrients for a low calorie value. Many fruits and vegetables are at the top of the list of nutrient dense foods. Things such as spinach, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower are good examples. One point that must be addressed at this point, though, is the preparation of these foods. The over processing (i.e. cooking) of many of these foods robs them of many of their nutrients. For this reason, canned vegetables have only a fraction of the nutrients of boiled. Steamed is a step above boiled, but raw vegetables are by far the best. This same rule does not apply to meats, and very rarely do people cook their fruits. One more reminder, taking a perfectly good vegetable and covering it with oily (fatty) dips or sauces can defeat the purpose of eating the vegetables in the first place. This will also add dramatically to the calorie content of your meal and increase the percentage of fat in your diet.
At this point we will talk about planning your meals. Before we dive into this section, I would like to remind you that if you truly remember to get a wide variety of healthy foods into your diet and try not to overeat then you can very rarely go wrong. Remember when and how you eat will affect your energy level throughout the day and how you feel also.
You have heard that, "breakfast is the most important meal of the day". This is not far off base. It should always be a well balanced meal that provides the majority of the energy you will need throughout the morning. A good example of breakfast would include some type of bread or cereal, a low fat source of protein (milk or possibly a breakfast meat) and maybe a fruit or fruit juice (simple carbohydrates). It is important that you try to stay away from a breakfast that relies on sugar because it will give you the mid-morning blahs. This is the lull you feel if you have had a breakfast that wasn't quite up to the task.
At lunch, you will need to get the energy to get you through the afternoon activities in which you participate. You will also need a good source of protein for your body to break down for later use. A sandwich can fulfill many requirements. It can include whole grain bread (complex carbohydrates), low fat protein source (tuna, chicken, turkey), vegetables (leafy lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes). When matched with fruit or fruit juice and a possible snack of carrot or celery stick, your lunch can be as well rounded a meal as a dinner.
For most people, dinner contains their large protein source of the day, coupled with two or more kinds of vegetables, milk and another source of complex carbohydrates (potatoes, pasta or bread). This could easily fulfill the nutritional requirements you have for the day.
As Americans, we are constantly eating on the run. If you choose healthy snacks (fruits, vegetables, bread products) you can fill in the spaces you have in your nutritional requirements for the day. Make smart decisions and health will never be a problem. You generally don't have control over all of the things that you will eat in a day. Your parents will often plan and prepare your meals. You will have some control over your breakfast and lunch and especially your snacks. If you do your best to choose these things carefully, then you will have a good base for your nutritional welfare. Americans get an abnormal amount of their food from restaurants and especially fast food places. Most people say this is the cause of American obesity. Americans have a higher percentage of overweight people than any other industrialized country. If we choose the most healthy items that they offer, then we can possibly keep our fat and calorie consumption within the guidelines recommended for a healthy diet. Here are some alternative choices when eating on the run. Look closely, you will see the diference it can make.