Food for Fuel
When it comes to exercising a fundamental aspect of your training will be your diet. If you’re over eating your workout will be in vain, and if you’re under eating you won’t have an effective training session.
I have been to the gym on minimum food in the past, thinking to myself, if I eat less I’ll lose weight and tone up faster. Wrong. Having only eaten a bowl of porridge and a carb-free lunch all day, my evening workout could not have gone worse. I was exhausted. My body was trembling and I had to reduce the weights I was lifting because I didn’t have the energy to maintain my usual strength. In fact, I didn’t even finish my workout, I left early. My plan to eat less to achieve results failed. For a healthy and effective effort to lose weight and/or gain muscle you must eat regularly, but eat the right stuff. I’ll explain a bit about eating the ‘right’ stuff later, but I first want to continue with another common mistake when training and diet.
This mistake is of course overeating. There’s a common saying, ‘I exercise so I can eat what I want’. Sorry to burst the bubble, but having a good sweaty workout won’t burn off that twelve-inch pizza you plan on eating that night. When I first started training, an hour on the treadmill meant plenty of drinks and takeaway food outside of the gym. I created an illusion of how I’d look after a month of going to the gym, and it was very different to how I actually looked. I didn’t look slim or healthy. Granted I hadn’t gained weight because my diet hadn’t changed from before I went to the gym, but there was no improvement. My workouts felt pointless because I wasn’t seeing results. It was only when my diet changed that I noticed changes; my training improved and my body started to show the results.
Let’s go back to eating the ‘right’ stuff, and what this actually means. I was once a believer of the popular theory that carbs are ‘bad’. Now, there are definitely ‘bad’ or simple carbs such as white bread, white rice or any highly sugary/processed foods, but there are also very good and essential carbs, known as complex carbohydrates such as grains, vegetables and beans. Carbohydrates break down to give you the energy to carry out bodily processes, thus are essential for effective exercise. The more complex the carb, the longer it takes to break down and the more sustained energy you have for longer (and you’ll be fuller for longer!). Simple carbs are good if you need a quick energy release, but generally you want to be sticking to these complex carbs for effective training and results.
A balanced diet is key to health and fitness. The three main meals I tend to eat a day are: porridge; chicken/spinach/brown rice; meat/veg/sweet potatoes or another ‘good’ carb. This is by no means the staple diet for fitness, but what I’m trying to show you is the importance of balance in your diet.For me, the best way to maintain a healthy diet is to meal prep. For example, I make my lunches at the beginning of the week and have generally planned my evening meals. This stops the temptation to just grab something quick, and usually unhealthy, when I’m on the go!
Of course, life is for living. Eating well does not mean you say goodbye to all your favourite foods. Cheat meals actually help your metabolic rate, but just do it in moderation. Every week I will have at least one big greasy meal, which if I’m honest turns into a ‘cheat day’ as oppose to just a ‘meal’. Allow yourself this treat and keep yourself motivated in the week to not feel guilty about it.
I’m not a nutritionist, but I’ve experienced the two ends of the spectrum when I’ve trained and neither have beneficial. Balance is important. Eat to be happy and healthy, whilst giving your body the energy it needs for exercise.