While we go into greater detail in our 1-on-1 client meetings, I think it’s important to at least touch on some basic nutritional strategies for active adults. Whether you’re participating in a strenuous exercise program or working a physically vigorous job, proper nutrition is important in keeping you healthy, maintaining energy levels, and meeting goals related to body composition. While none of the information is to be used solely as individual nutritional prescription, it should serve as a good broad-strokes guide to a healthier you.
- MONITOR YOUR CALORIC INTAKE. Counting calories is the easiest way to make sure you’re not overfeeding yourself. Keep in mind that the 2,000 calorie diet is not for everyone. As active individuals, it’s not unthinkable to require 3,000 calories just to maintain weight. Your Basal Metabolic Rate is essentially the amount of calories you need to stay alive if you stayed on the couch all day. You can calculate your BMR using the Harris-Benedict Equation here. From there, you can use a variety of phone or online apps to determine how many calories you burn throughout the day through work and/or exercise. Got your number? Good. Consume this many calories per day if you are trying to maintain weight. Subtract 500 calories per day if you are trying to lose weight. Add 500 calories if you are trying to gain weight. Adding milk to your diet is an easy way to add quality calories. DISCLAIMER: Your number will change if you aren’t working out or have a lighter work day. While all calories aren’t created equal, this will give you a good jumping off point. Which brings us to…
- MACRONUTRIENT BALANCE DOES MATTER. Eating the right proportion of carbohydrates, fat, and protein can make all the difference in keeping you energized and healthy. Despite what some fad diets and the like would have you believe, there isn’t one ratio that works perfectly for everyone. A decent guideline of acceptable ranges of daily caloric intake would be: Carbohydrates (40-60%), Protein (10-30%), and Fats (20-30%). Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy. Cutting them out completely is a nightmare for your nervous system. They are quick-burning, quick-storing fuel that, when consumed in large quantities, can be stored as fat. In other words, try to keep carbohydrate intake under 50 grams per meal/ snack. Protein is good for everyone! I’m not talking about supplements, but whole food. Protein doesn’t provide a readily available source of energy except in the direst of circumstances, but is essential to build and repair at the cellular level. Animal proteins are an easy source of complete protein. If you are vegetarian/ vegan, you’ll have to find the right combinations to get all of your essential amino acids. To make sure you’re able to use all you consume, try not to eat more than 20 grams per snack/ meal. As long as you’re cooking with fat (butter, olive oil, etc.), you don’t need to add additional fat to your diet. Fat produces the largest amount of energy/ gram, are the predominant fuel-source during long bouts of aerobic exercise, and should not be removed from your daily diet.
- FAT/ CARBS ARE NOT YOUR ENEMY. Touching again on #2, low-carb/ no-fat diets out there it’s hard to keep it all straight. I’ll make it simple, neither one is your enemy. Your only enemies are large quantity and poor quality. Make sure your carbohydrates are complex and nutrient-dense. Make sure your fats are non-hydrogenated. Check the labels to ensure you’re making the right decision. Because of their importance to the body’s energy systems, removing them from your diet is not an option, especially for an active person.
- DON’T SOUR ON PROCESSED FOODS JUST YET. If you’re extremely active, chances are you’re busy. Unless you’re Martha Stewart, very few of us have time to bake our own 100% organic protein bites. Processed foods have gotten a bad rap lately. Most of the evidence against it is circumstantial and incomplete. While I’m not denouncing 100% natural foods, the fact remains that most of us can’t afford it in the quantities necessary to keep us happy and healthy. Processed foods have given us incredibly inexpensive vitamin- and mineral-enriched food products. People on the go, rely on snack bars and shakes to keep energy levels up. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to stay alive and until more convincing evidence arises, processed foods are a great way to stay nourished. Just remember there is a light side and a dark side to any kind of food you eat. Which leads us to…
- CUT DOWN ON EMPTY CALORIES. I’m not saying cut them out completely. All reasonable fun-loving people enjoy wings, soda, or beer. I’m just saying to cut down on the quantity or alter the quality a little. As easy examples, try baked wings, or a lighter calorie beer. Don’t knock diet sodas either. Much like processed foods, artificial sweeteners have received a lot of negative attention undue of the limited research supporting these claims. While it may turn out that they’re bad for you, there isn’t enough evidence to support that claim. Right now, they are a great way to occasionally enjoy the taste of soda while reducing the empty calories consumed.
- THE EASY WAY TO MICRONUTRIENTS. It’s hard to find the time to monitor all of our RDAs and cross-reference them with meal planning. Make it simple. Put something of color into every snack and meal. The darker the fruit or vegetable, the more dense in nutrients it is. Add some variety as well. Find a roster of 5 fruits and vegetables you either like or can at least tolerate and rotate them into you food line-up. This will help you to get an appropriate amount of vitamins and minerals into your diet.
Remember, as a strength and conditioning coach and sports nutrition specialist, I can only give dietary advice. The information in this article is to be used for educational and guidance purposes for apparently healthy people only. If you want to dive more deeply into this subject matter or have any specific medical conditions, please contact a registered dietitian or licensed nutritionist. Happy eating!