All calories that we consume come from three sources, protein, fat and carbohydrate. These are commonly referred to as macro-nutrients or simply macros. All three have different and distinct functions within the body, and all three are equally important to maintain good health. In Diet Demystified I gave you some tips on how to structure your diet, today we will be taking a closer look at the science behind it.
Protein: This macro is essential for growth and repair of cells within the body. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of your cells. Your body constantly breaks down these amino acids to form new cells as required. When you exercise regularly, protein is particularly important. It is what helps you to build muscle mass. Additionally it is what helps your body repair itself and recover when you have that sore feeling. Protein is also associated with increased satiety, meaning it can help you feel more satisfied with your diet in general.
A gram of protein contains 4 calories. It is vitally important that protein be included with each meal. A palm sized portion with each meal is a good guide. So no, a slice of ham in your sandwich isn’t going to cut it. Sources of protein include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, nuts and lentils. If you want to be really specific with your requirements, active people should aim to have 1g of protein per pound of body weight per day. But really, unless you are an elite athlete, or competing, there’s not need to get that exact. I personally struggle to get protein in at breakfast, so I bring two eggs with me to work and have them mid-morning.
Fat: Fat has been much maligned over the years, but the truth is it is essential to the body and performs many important functions. It is import for energy. 1g of fat contains 9 calories, more than twice that contained in protein and carbohydrate, making it an excellent source of fuel. Fat also has an important role to play in the absorption of certain fat soluble vitamins, namely vitamin A, D, E and K. Fat is also important for insulating the body.
Again, fat should be incorporated into the diet on a daily basis. As a guideline we should be aiming to include about a thumb sized portion with each meal. Good sources of healthy fats include avocado, nuts and oily fish such as tuna and salmon.
Carbohydrate: Carbs have been the topic of much debate over the last few years, with some “experts” falling into the high carb or low carb camps. Carbs have become something to be terrified of and reducing them seems to be the advice a lot of people are being given. The fact is that carbs are also essential. They are the body’s main source of energy and maintaining chronically low levels can have a detrimental effect on both your performance and overall health. Carbohydrate also contributes to digestive health and helps the body to remove waste.
1g of carbohydrate contains 4 calories. These calories are the most readily accessible fuel available to the body. As a guideline, we should be aiming to consume about a fist sized amount of carbs with each meal. It’s important to remember, however, that all carbs are not created equal. Most of the time try to opt for whole, natural, minimally processed foods such as sweet potatoes, white potatoes, rice and fruit. Keep the refined flours and sugary treats for special occasions and emergencies.
Eliminate Elimination: In order for our bodies to function and remain healthy we need a balance of all the macro-nutrients. Elimination diets remove one of these from the equation, usually fat or carbs. By doing so you deprive your body of vital nutrients required for optimal health and performance. Furthermore, a diet that is very low in either fat or carbs will be very difficult to maintain in the long term. This is why elimination often results in yo-yo dieting, which can be detrimental to both your health and your sanity.
If it Fits Your Macros and Flexible Dieting: These are expressions that are widely used in the fitness and nutrition world at the moment. What they basically mean is that you can have flexibility in your diet, to the extent that you still reach your nutrition targets for the day. It is a way of thinking about our diet that gets us away from rigid and inflexible meal plans, and moves us towards actually evaluating what we eat.
It does not give us a license to eat crap all day every day provided that if fits our macros. It does, however, give us the ability to swap certain food items for others. An example of this might be having a protein bar and some fruit for lunch instead of meat and vegetables on a day when you are running between meetings and don’t have a lot of time.
The more specific your body goals are, the more regimented you will need to be with your food intake. For anyone competing, I would always suggest you work with a certified professional. For all the rest of us my advice would be to try to maintain balance. If you follow the portion guidelines, you won’t go too far wrong. Your body is unique and a certain amount of trail and error will be required in order to figure out what ratios will give you the best results. Be patient with it, enjoy the process and remember Rome wasn’t built in a day xxx
Over the last few years, images like these ones have become increasingly prevalent in main stream media and on social media. Images depicting how much exercise you would need to do in order to “work off” your favourite snack. Well, I want to call a halt to this. There are a million good reasons for people to exercise, but doing it as a punishment for eating is not one of them.
Sweet treats can be incorporated into a healthy diet in moderation. If your baseline diet and training program doesn’t allow for this, then it is fundamentally lacking. Feeling the need to punish yourself with a grueling workout after every indulgence can only serve to foster disordered thinking around food.
Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and there are so many good reasons to do it.
- It makes you feel good – Exercise releases endorphins which can make you feel like you are on top of the world. I can’t tell you how often I have felt exhausted walking into the gym and full of energy walking out having done a strenuous workout.
- It relieves stress – Often simply the act of getting out of your head and into your body for 30 minutes can work wonders for reducing your stress. Getting to a stage when training where you can only focus on the next step or the next rep allows little time for brooding over the days events.
- Increases confidence – There is nothing quite so empowering as the feeling of being able to do something today that you couldn’t do yesterday. Whether that be nailing the perfect snatch, doing your first pull up, loading extra weight on the bar, or even just being able to make it through the class without having to stop. These milestones are momentous and they show you how far you have come. I promise you they are far more motivational than any chocolate bar.
- See what you are made of – Exercising gives you the opportunity to see exactly what your body can do. Often times you will find it is capable of far more than you ever thought it could be.
- It helps you sleep – Training helps you burn off the excess nervous energy that keep so many of us staring at the ceiling at night. Clearing your head and tiring out your body will definitely help you drift off more easily
- It’s a social outlet – Whether you take a Crossfit class, a morning yoga practice or hit up a spin studio, your exercise session gives you a chance to be around like minded people and have a shared experience. Your energy can fuel their workouts, so it’s important to keep your vibe positive.
Exercise should never be used as a form of self flagellation. This will only make you dread your workout and you will form negative associations with it, which will make it nearly impossible for you to stay motivated to train.
Just as harmful as this is the practice of using exercise to “earn” food. Your body needs regular fueling regardless of whether or not you are training. You have earned your food simply by being alive. Feeling the need to justify your calorie intake by completing workouts is again disordered and unhealthy. As a good friend of mine would say “don’t reward yourself with food, you’re not a dog.”
As regular readers will know, I always stress the need for balance. In order to be able to stick to your chosen lifestyle and retain your sanity, there needs to be some flexibility. If you decide you want to have a chocolate bar, then by all means have it. No diet requires 100% rigid adherence in order to achieve results. Do the healthy stuff 80-90% of the time and with the rest of it, do what you like. But please, please if you do decide to indulge yourself, DO NOT frantically start trying to work out how much punishment you now need to endure in order to redress the balance.
Enjoy your training. Make it the best hour of the day. Make it the place to leave behind all your stress, it should not be a source of stress in and of itself. If your current training program feels like a chore, it might be time to make a change. Doing something that you enjoy is half the battle.
A healthy take on a timeless family favourite, this recipe gives you all of the tasty goodness of the Italian classic, in a way you can feel good about.
120g wholewheat spaghetti
For the meat balls:
400g turkey mince
A bunch of spring onions
A teaspoon of minced chili
For the sauce:
A tin of tomatoes
A teaspoon of minced garlic
A red onion
A tablespoon of dried oregano
A handful of chopped fresh basil
- Put a kettle of water on to boil
- Put your mince into a large bowl
- Add your chili
- Chop up your spring onions and add to the bowl
- Whisk up your egg and add about half of it to the bowl.
- Mix ingredients well and form into meatballs. You should get about 12
- Spray some spray oil onto your frying pan and put it on the heat
- Add your meatballs on to the pan to brown, this will take about 2-3 minutes per side
- Once browned pop them onto a plate and set aside
- Rinse off your pan
- Dice your onion and put it into your pan along with your garlic and cook until soft
- Add your tomatoes, oregano and basil to the pan and stir
- Add your meatballs back to the pan and cover with sauce and allow to simmer
- Put your pasta on to boil
- Once your pasta is cooked (this should take about 12 minutes) drain and serve into bowls
- Top with meatballs and sauce
- Add a little fresh Parmesan if you like and enjoy
Nutritional Information per Serving:
I remember when I was younger, hearing about people who had to travel for work, and thinking it sounded so exciting and glamorous. Now that I have done quite a bit of it for myself, I can tell you it’s anything but. More often than not, you are travelling alone, going through busy airports and feeling like you are spending an inordinate amount of time struggling with getting your laptop into and out of its bag. The whole thing tends to be highly stressful and exhausting.
For those of us trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle these stresses are compounded. Not only do we have to deal with the usual drama of travel, but we also worry about what we are going to eat and whether or not we can get a work out in. Up until very recently, dealing with the prospect of this would have almost overwhelmed me. I would have been stressing and planning every detail to the nth degree. The restrictions I had placed on myself meant I had very little room for maneuver when non routine things cropped up. Quite the opposite of being in control of my diet, it was in fact in control of me. But then I realised something, I can’t control everything in life!
There are however, some things that you can do to try to ensure your travel plans don’t derail your progress. I would stress though, that I mean travel, as distinct from holidays. Holidays are things you look forward to, plan, save for and should be enjoyed. Work travel is just work, so keeping it from getting in the way of your personal goals is important, especially if you are having to do it often.
Don’t launch into flight mode early: When I travel, I try to keep to my routine for as long as possible before departure. Most recently I needed to take an evening flight to the UK, so I still had my oats for breakfast and still brought lunch with me to work. Keeping these things in place made me feel a lot more in control. It meant that whatever happened at dinner, at least I knew I had two decent meals in the books. Similarly if you are catching an early morning flight, try to have your usual dinner the night before. With the hassle of packing and the rushing around it can be tempting to dial a dinner. But having a home cooked meal instead is a much better idea. A heavier meal than you are used to may disturb your sleep, which isn’t an ideal with an early start. It can also disturb your digestion, making you bloated and uncomfortable on your flight. In short, it’s best avoided.
Hydration is happiness: Before, during and after your flight drink as much water as you can. Flying is extremely dehydrating and hotels are often kept very warm, which doesn’t help. Allowing yourself to get dehydrated will effect how you feel and how you look. Often after taking even a short flight, I find myself looking very puffy and tired. Feeling that you look like crap will not motivate you to make good decisions about food.
Be prepared: I have often said that lifestyle change is about making small, incremental modifications. With this in mind, I suggest bringing a few basic survival items with you. Now, I am not saying you need to cook your meals and pack them in cooler bags to bring with you. That sounds like a wonderful idea, but let’s be real, it’s not entirely practical. There are, however, a few items you can take with you, which may help.
Protein bars can be a godsend. Work travel often involves long days and missed meals, so having a few of these stashed in your briefcase can really get you out of a jam. Plus they won’t raise too many eyebrows from your foreign colleagues.
Herbal teas are a great addition to the hand luggage. Lately, I have replaced my post lunch and dinner coffee with a peppermint tea. It aids the digestion and keeps me hydrated, all good news. Not so good news is that often herbal tea is the most expensive hot drink on the menu. So, I bring a few with me everywhere I go. Again, this is an easy thing to do and won’t alienate you. Cutting down on caffeine helps your body work better and helps you sleep better, which is especially important if you find it hard to drift off in a strange place.
Fruit and nuts are another easy option especially as most hotel breakfasts include a fruit basket. Don’t walk past it without grabbing something for later, you never know when that banana will come in handy.
Know before you go: It’s a really good idea to do a bit of research before you embark on your journey. Look up the hotel on line to find out if there’s a restaurant. Most hotels will have the restaurant menu on their website, so you can check to see if there is anything suitable for you to eat. If you plan on eating out, do the same thing with local eateries. Having some idea about the types of foods available to you will make you feel a lot more in control, and should enable you to plan accordingly.
It’s also a good idea to find out if your hotel has a gym or a pool available for guests to use. If there is, maybe make a plan to try to get to it. Be realistic with this. You are travelling for work, and you will most likely be busy and tired from travel. Don’t tell yourself you are going to hit the gym at 6am each morning, because if you don’t manage it, you will feel like a failure. Look at any workouts you do manage to get in as a bonus. Even if your hotel doesn’t have a gym, throw your trainers in your bag anyway. A gentle walk in the evening or on your lunch break will work wonders for your body and your mind.
Relax: This is probably the most important piece of advice I can give. Don’t stress and try to maintain some perspective. Most business travel is short in duration, and there isn’t that much damage you can do in a few days. When you think of it as a portion of your month or your year, you will see that having a few “off plan” days is not that big of a deal. The stress and anxiety that you will bring on yourself by trying to rigidly adhere to your routine can actually be a lot more harmful. Follow the tips I have laid out, try not to go completely off the rails and you will be just fine. Remember, you can’t control everything. Safe travels xxx
Last week we talked about Top Tips for Staying on Track. These were very much about your mindset around your lifestyle changes. Today we will be talking about some practical ideas to help you implement your positive changes.
Don’t shop or stop hungry: You have probably all heard the advice about not going to the grocery store hungry. You will be rushing around, throwing any old thing into your trolley, so that you can get home to eat. You won’t make good choices and the brain fog will mean you may forget half the things you went in for.
I would take this advice a step further and urge you not to make any stops when you are hungry. Back when I was working and training in Dublin, I would often be out of the house for more than 12 hours at a time. Once a week I would need to stop for petrol on the way home. This was usually at around 8pm, and I would have last eaten at about 3pm, so suffice is to say I would be starving at this point. I developed this little habit of buying myself a Chomp bar to have in the car on the way home. Not alone this, I would feel guilty, so I would buy one for my husband too. But then I would think, “what am I going to do when he is having a nice coffee and his bar?” so, I would buy myself another one!
You might be thinking a couple of Chomp bars are no big deal, and she’s always saying that there needs to be flexibility, and you’d be right. Except, these indulgences, however small, were not planned and inhaling a couple of hundred calories every time I stopped for petrol was definitely not going to get me to my goal. Simply making my petrol stops at a different time of day eliminated this temptation.
Build effort barriers: Getting rid of all the junk food in your house sounds like a great idea, but it might not be practical for everyone. It can be nice to know if a friend drops in for a coffee, that you at least have a plain biscuit to offer them. So, how can you prevent these treats from turning into threats? Simple, put them out of sight. Don’t have them front and center every time you open the fridge or your cupboards. Put them as far out of reach as possible. I would suggest gathering it all up into a biscuit tin and putting it on the highest shelf, or better yet, on top of the cupboards. So high that you will have to pull a chair over to get them. This is a hassle and it will give you that few seconds pause to think “do I really want this?” before you eat it. It will also mean kids won’t see them and pester you for them.
Brown bag it: I can’t overemphasize the importance of bringing your lunch to work. I have a canteen at work, and some days the dish of the day will be lovely chicken and veggies, but equally it could be taco fries. I don’t want to have to rely on what is on offer at work, so I bring my own. I firmly believe that if you are not preparing your own food, you are giving control of your nutrition to someone else. And, guess what? That someone doesn’t care about your goals! That’s not to say that if your office always go out for lunch on a Friday, that you shouldn’t join them. But most of the time, aim to bring your own.
Your lunch doesn’t have to be extravagant and making it doesn’t require huge effort. Just make a bit extra at dinner time and bring the left overs for lunch. Not only will bringing your lunch mean you are much more in control of what you are eating, it will also help you to control your spending. I know that lunches can be something people struggle with, so I will be issuing some recipe ideas for lunches over the coming weeks.
Plan ahead: Believe me, nothing will have to reaching for the Just Eat app quicker than coming home tired and hungry and finding only an egg and an onion in your fridge. Your nutrition weeks starts with your food shop. Get this right and your week will be so much easier. So, before you go, take a little time to plan it. Give yourself a rough idea of what you want to cook during the week, and build your list around that. This is actually easier than you might think. There are seven dinners in each week, I try to build in at least one two day dinner (like chili or spaghetti, or anything that reheats well.) So, now I am down to six! I usually go to my butchers first for the protein, and once I have that bought, I build the meals around it.
Lunches, for most but the truly inspired, will be roughly the same every week. So once you have this dialed in, just put it on repeat. Make sure you buy plenty of fruit and veg and you’re most of the way there.
Don’t carry cash: If you have access to vending machines in work, which unfortunately most of us do, you may find yourself drawn to its siren call when that 3 o’clock slump hits. What’s the best way to avoid this? Don’t carry cash. If you find it difficult to avoid the junk machines, just don’t bring what you need to feed them. Or at least don’t bring change. Again, it’s an effort to go find coins or head out to the shop, and you will probably have talked yourself out of it before you get there.
Don’t drink your calories: There has been a lot of talk in the media over the last while about the amount of sugar to be found in hot drinks from high street chains. What I found most surprising about this, is that people were surprised. If a mocha-choca-latte is your poison, that’s fine, but just be aware that they are sugar and calorie laden. If you are trying to drop weight, or lose body fat, there are probably better ways to be investing your calories. Like with everything, once in a while is no big deal, but I certainly wouldn’t be recommending you have one every morning.
Making significant and lasting changes to your lifestyle can be a very daunting process. It can feel like nutrition, hydration, exercise, sleep, stress etc. are all part of a very complicated puzzle. The pieces can be difficult to grapple with and putting them together can seem an impossible task. My advice is simple. Tackle it as you would any puzzle, start with the easy bits!
Why not try taking on just one of the above ideas this week, and see how you get on with it. If it works, you can tackle another one next week. I would love to hear how you get on, or any other feedback you might have. Feel free to contact me on the Face page www.facebook.com/arwenlouise