Good nutrition is essential to maintain good health and top physical and mental performance. Eating right throughout the holidays can be a challenge, but with a little knowledge, eating healthy doesn’t have to be impossible.

Carbohydrates

Low carbohydrate diets have been the craze for some time now, but don’t be fooled, carbohydrates are not the evil fat maker some may have you believe. Carbohydrates provide the body glucose, a simple sugar that provides energy to fuel your body. This glucose is stored in the muscles and liver in the form of glycogen. Carbohydrates include sugars, starches and dietary fiber. For our purposes, we will break them down into two categoriesof carbohydrates:

  • Refined sugars and
  • naturally occurring carbohydrates

Refined sugars are the carbs we want to avoid. Refined sugars are found in candy, cakes, jellies and jams, and syrups and are in abundance this time of year. This type of carbohydrate provides calories without other important nutrients they are often referred to as empty calories.

Naturally occurring carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, and grains. Because these carbohydrates are found in foods that provide vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber, they are the carbohydrates of choice. Aside from providing the body’s main source of energy, carbohydrates also improve the efficiency of protein and fat metabolism.

Protein

Protein is the building block of the human body. Aside from growth and repair of all muscle, protein also carries out many other vital functions in the body. Proteins in the form of enzymes, antibodies and hormones, carry oxygen and vital nutrients throughout the body, fight disease, and regulate the body’s metabolic processes. Protein is also a source of energy.

A molecule of protein is made up of hundreds of amino acids. There are a total of twenty-two different amino acids. The nine essential amino acids are obtained from protein sources in one’s diet. The remaining thirteen are nonessential amino acids which the human body can produce. Protein found in animal sources are known as complete proteins because they contain all nine essential amino acids. Vegetable sources of protein are incomplete proteins because they don’t contain all essential amino acids. This is important to note for Vegetarians. In order to get all the amino acids needed to make new protein and thus to keep the body’s systems in good shape, vegetarians need to consume a variety of protein-containing foods each day.

Fat

The health risks associated with high fat diets are well documented. However, fat is a necessary nutrient. Fatty acids are needed for many important body functions such as maintaining cell integrity, and carrying fat soluble vitamins. Fat is also a good source of energy and helps control hunger. Very low fat diets often lead to extreme hunger which can lead to binge type eating.

Water

Virtually every chemical reaction in the body relies on water. Including metabolizing fat.  The average adult needs approximately 1 ml of water for every calorie of energy burned. Keeping hydrated is important, not just for health, but dehydration increases the effect of fatigue on the body and can contribute to muscle aches and spasms.  Try to get a minimum of half your bodyweight in ounces a day in water (200 lb person = 100 ounces of water).

What is calorie free, sugar free, and contains no harmful chemicals…?

By replacing just one can of soda (or sweet tea or fruit juice) per day with a glass of water you can cut out over 240 calories from your diet. Since roughly 3500 calories equals one pound of fat you can lose over 25 pounds a year by simply drinking water instead sodas or other sugar filled drinks.

Water is 100 percent natural and free of aspartame and other artificial sweeteners that have been scientifically proven to be harmful to your health.

Thirst is not an accurate indicator of fluid requirements. Better indicators include frequency and concentration of urination and body weight. A person should be urinating at least 4-6 times per day and urine should be light yellow in color. Less frequent urination or darker more concentrated urine may be an indication that fluid requirements are not being met. Recent research has indicated that almost any type of liquid aside from alcohol will help to keep you properly hydrated. Keep in mind that the body is around 75% water, other liquids have “other‟ things in them that have “other‟ reactions within the body. When in doubt, drink water. It is also important to maintain your fluid intake during exercise. A good rule of thumb is to drink 6 – 8 ounces of water for every 20 minutes of strenuous exercise

Vitamins and Minerals

Eating whole foods rich in vitamins and minerals is essential for optimum health and peak performance. Vitamins act as co-enzymes to jump start all of the body’s metabolic activities. There is much research supporting antioxidants, vitamins and their effects against cancer, heart disease and other diseases associated with aging.

Minerals are necessary for the body to carry out many vital functions, such as neural conduction, muscle contraction, blood transport, fluid balance, and energy production. Minerals also serve as building blocks for bone and other body tissues.

Stress hormones sap the body of important nutrients, such as B vitamins, which help keep our nervous system working efficiently and helps convert food to energy. Vitamin C supports our immune function. Vitamin A (carotonoids) helps to support good vision and brain health and helps to prevent cancer.

The mineral magnesium which helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps heart rhythm steady, keeps bones strong and also helps support a healthy immune system. Eating good healthy foods including a wide variety of fruits and vegetables along with whole grains and nuts will help to ensure you are getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs to say physically and mentally at the top of your game

Caffeine

A few studies also indicate that caffeine may slightly enhance the metabolic rate of people who exercise and maintain a low-fat diet. Research shows caffeine may act as an appetite suppressant as well as help add a slight boost to ones metabolism.

Caffeine has also been scientifically proven to help increase attention and focus as well as physical performance. As good as the research sounds, caffeine is definitely not a miracle drug.

There is still much question as to how much of an impact caffeine actually has on weight loss and far too many people rely on caffeine to provide energy that they are missing because of poor eating habits and lack of rest.

Alcohol

Alcohol has been shown to have some healthful benefits. Red wine and dark beers are rich in antioxidants and moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to decrease risk of heart disease, improve circulation and possibly lower the risk of diabetes and gallstones.

Moderate drinking is defined as two drinks a day if you’re a male under 65, or one drink a day if you’re a female or a male over 65. The negative effects of over consumption of alcohol are very well documented, including those embarrassing moments from your past, and include increased risk of many cancers, liver and pancreatic disease, as well as brain atrophy.

written by dave radin, bs, cscs