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Nutrition and Lifestyle Choices.

Does success in your activity come from a healthy diet or is it associated with an active lifestyle where exercise plays a big part? It does remain very true that the vast majority of people do not take part in any exercise or lead a very sedentary lifestyle and added to that, eat very unhealthily and drink too much alcohol.

In order to make long term changes to our lifestyle a commitment to change is required. Time and effort to new activities must be manageable within the constraints of normal lives and the issue of weight management and fat loss can only be achieved by looking at the correct foods to eat.

To stay healthy our diet should include adequate amounts of nutrients, minerals, fibre, proteins, carbohydrates, fats and most importantly, water.

Protein is essential for the growth, maintenance and repair of the body tissues. We need to eat protein daily to keep our cells topped up with amino acids which are found naturally in lean meat, eggs, milk and cheese, cereals and nuts. However, although protein is needed for many functions of the body, it is not often used for energy production. A generalisation of how much protein is required is between 10-12% of your total calorie intake.

Carbohydrates main function is to provide energy to the body cells, carbohydrates are converted into glucose before being utilised by the cells and come in two forms, simple sugars such as sugar, jam and sweets and complex sugars such as starchy foods, e.g. cereal, bread, pasta, vegetables and rice. There is no real difference between the two other than sugar will leave you feeling empty whereas a complex potato will fill you up and provide energy for longer.

Fats are essential to the health of the body as it protects the internal organs and is a temperature controller. It insulates our nerve cells, which is vital for our nerves to conduct electrical messages and is responsible for our growth development and repair of the body tissue. In females, the storage and modification of reproductive hormones takes place in the adipose tissues, so if a woman’s body fat percentage drops too low, her reproductive function will be compromised.

There are two types of fat, saturated fats (which tend to be solid) which mainly come from animal sources and unsaturated fats (which tend to be liquid) such as olive oil. The total amount of fat that should be consumed should be no more than 25%, as this carries high amounts of cholesterol which potentially could cause the hardening of arteries or coronary heart disease (CHD) and obesity.

Fibre or roughage comes in two types, insoluble (wheat, bran and wholegrain breads) which hold water in the digestive tract thus increasing bulk. Fibre can prevent illnesses such as constipation, haemorrhoids and may even help in preventing colon cancer. The other type, soluble (oats, beans, fruit & vegetables) helps to lower blood cholesterol levels. The recommended dose to consume daily is 30grams.

Vitamins & Minerals are essential for a varied range of functions such as bone growth and development, regulating calcium levels in the body, vision, blood clotting and protection of the body tissues against chemicals. Most of our vitamins will be found naturally in the food we eat such as fruit and vegetables, especially the brightly coloured ones, eg. green leafy vegetables like broccoli and spinach or red and yellow peppers, carrots and apricots.

Calcium intake is essential for muscle contractions and nerve transmission and is the main component for strong, healthy bones and can be found in foods such as yoghurt, milk, cheese and cream.

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The body requires adequate nutrition not just to keep healthy but in order to keep going throughout the day. Without adequate nutrients you can feel permanently tired, depressed, experience headaches and performance levels will be compromised. So in order for our body to provide all the energy to our organs and in particular our muscles, we need to look at output. In order for our muscles to contract they need a supply of a chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This is a high energy compound which when broken down inside the muscle cell to a lower level energy called adenosine diphosphate (ADP) will release energy. This allows myosin and actin inside the cell to slide over each other bringing about the shortening (contraction) of the whole muscle. Unfortunately, ATP cannot be stored in the muscles and has to be made fresh on demand. ADP can be stored in the muscle as long as there is sufficient fuel stored. This fuel can either be carbohydrates or a mixture of carbohydrates and fat. Protein is not normally used for energy except in long, endurance activities.

Another compound found in the muscle can be used to generate ATP, called creatine phosphate (CP). Whether CP, fat or carbohydrates are used depends on the duration and intensity of the activity. CP is used to make ATP only when an all out effort (100%) for a short period of time, eg. 5-10 seconds is required. Carbohydrates are stored in the form of glycogen in the liver and muscles. High intensity, anaerobic exercise of a fairly short duration will rely on carbohydrates, as fat cannot be used in the absence of oxygen.

Aerobic exercise will use a mixture of fat and carbohydrates depending on the intensity, but no matter how low the intensity or how aerobic the exercise is, the body cannot burn fat alone, it can only be used for energy alongside carbohydrates. For most people, under steady state aerobic conditions the ratio of fat to carbs used will probably be about 50:50 but this can be improved with training.

That feeling of hunger is a result of blood glucose levels falling and if ignored both the brain and the muscles will not have enough energy to keep going. So if the body has to exercise when glycogen stores are low, the results will be a lowered efficiency of fat burning, very poor performance and a break down of lean tissue. Glycogen stores will only last for approximately 60 to 90 minutes of moderately hard activity. Another point to remember is that if you wait until you feel hungry you end up eating bad calories of the wrong sort or larger amounts of food. Try to eat little amounts but often throughout the day.

Water is probably the most important nutrient our body requires as it is the transportation system moving oxygen, vitamins, nutrients and minerals to where it is needed and also takes waste products to the excretory organs. Water will regulate body temperature during activity transporting it to the skin surface to cool the body down. If not enough is drunk, it can seriously compromise the body’s performance levels and can even be fatal. The body’s metabolism slows down and therefore the energy generated to the muscles will be tired leading to low blood pressure and a lack of blood flow to the brain. Water can be found in the food we eat so eating plenty of fruit and vegetables will replenish a lot of this water loss, by drinking plenty you will stay hydrated and experience the benefits immediately.

Try to avoid too much coffee, tea or alcohol and sugary drinks as these contain a high content of caffeine and these can force water to leave the blood and enter the gut. Try drinking an isotonic drink which has the same concentration of the blood or hypotonic drinks which has a lower concentration. Remember, thirst is not an indication of fluid status as thirst is a response to dehydration, so by the time you feel thirsty, it’s already too late.


Choosing a healthy lifestyle is a personal choice but it can be achieved with the proper education, determination, commitment and lots of effort along with plenty of sleep. Try to do some form of exercise at least three to fives times a week and choose a well balanced diet and you will immediately start to reap the benefits.

Teresa Harman

Positive Sport