In part one of this pair of articles, we told you all about protein and carbohydrates. This article delves a little deeper into nutrition…
Probably the most contentious subject in nutrition, fats are often maligned and misunderstood. Fat is used as energy when we are exercising at low levels of intensity (i.e. aerobically) and is also vital to our health. Fats come in 4 varieties and this is where the problem with fat lies – some types of fat are, as previously mentioned, vital to our health whilst others are very detrimental. Labelling all fats as bad is a mistake!
Saturated fat is generally found in animal products, like all fats, contains 9 calories per gram so it’s very calorie dense. The body likes to use saturated fats for energy and energy storage. If you have fat around your stomach – that’s saturated fat! The main problem with saturated fat is that if consumed to excess it can make you gain weight and being overweight has many associated health risks. Being fat is actually more of a health risk than actual saturated fat consumption.
Unsaturated fats are always liquid at room temperature and come from vegetables and nuts. These fats are very healthy and are associated with improved cardiovascular and brain health. Unsaturated fats come in 2 forms – mono unsaturated (e.g. olive oil) and polyunsaturated (e.g. fish oil) and both have a variety of health benefits. Unsaturated fats are very reactive and don’t respond will to heat, light or air and especially in the case of polyunsaturated fats should not be exposed to high heats as this can damage them and make them less healthy.
Finally, trans fats are considered the “bad-boys” of the fat family and are best avoided altogether. Trans fats block healthy mono and poly unsaturated fats from doing their job and are thought to be the main cause of a variety of diseases such as CHD and hypertension. Trans fats occur in small amounts in nature but by far and away the greatest source of dietary trans fat is processed foods. When a mono or polyunsaturated oil is heated excessively or processed, trans fats are often the result. Foods like many margarines, pre-packaged meals, pies, takeaways and junk food often contain large amounts of trans fats and are best avoided.
Vitamins and minerals
The food we eat should provide us with more than just energy. Although they contain no energy themselves, vitamins and minerals are the spark plugs that cause the health giving chemical reactions in our bodies to occur. The general definition of a vitamin or mineral is “a substance that, if missing from the diet, may result in ill health.” Vitamins and minerals power virtually every reaction that occurs in our bodies…vitamin C keeps our immune system working properly, vitamin B helps with the breakdown of carbohydrate for energy, vitamin D is essential for bone health, as is the mineral calcium. Zinc keeps our hormonal system working properly, iodine helps regular thyroid levels and iron is needed to transport oxygen in the blood. Vitamins and minerals are best obtained by eating a wide variety of whole foods especially fruit and vegetables but, for hard training sports people, supplementing with a good quality vitamin and mineral complex may be a good idea.
Without water, none of the chemical reactions necessary for life would be able to occur. Water is the massively important to our health and well being. We use water as a medium for moving substances around our bodies, lubricating our joints and digestive system, regulating our body temperature and flushing waste out of our bodies. On average, we need 2 litres of water (about 8 tall glasses) a day but if you are a regular exerciser, you may need more than double that amount. Dehydration can cause a major drop off in performance and is best avoided if possible. Thirst is a very late indicator of being dehydrated so is best avoided by drinking plenty and often.
So now you know a little more about the food groups. Try not to obsess over what you eat, after all eating should be one of life’s pleasures, but remember that food is fuel for your training and competitions so it’s worth eating as healthily as you can.
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