Eating right isn’t glamorous. In-fact, sometimes it plain sucks. It requires discipline and the willpower to resist temptation at every turn—in the check-out line at the grocery store, at sporting events, or even as you walk down the street (you can’t deny that a stop at the chip truck is mighty tempting).
For most people going to the gym, taking yoga, or playing pick-up basketball is the easy part of making a lifestyle change. It’s far more difficult, however, to change bad eating habits—habits that you may have picked years ago as a child. And sound nutrition is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. You won’t see the results you want—whether it’s losing weight, building muscle, or simply maintaining a decent standard of fitness—without eating correctly. Unless you’re a professional athlete, and are burning an insane amount of calories daily (think Michael Phelps), you cannot simply overcompensate for poor eating habits with more exercise.
Having a good nutrition plan does require discipline, but it’s not about starving yourself, or being scared to leave the house for fear of slipping up. It’s about making the right choices—sensible, educated choices—that will see you complement and enhance the hard work you’re putting in at the gym.
Here are five nutrition tips that will aid with keeping up a healthy lifestyle.
Eat little and often
Most of us have been brought up with the traditional ‘three square meals a day approach’ to eating—a breakfast, lunch, and large dinner-type of eating schedule. But eating 5-6 smaller meals a day, spread out every 3-4 hours, provides immense benefits. Firstly, eating little and often can have the effect of boosting your metabolism—the rate in which your body burns calories for energy—which results in healthy weight loss and the conversion of fat to muscle. Secondly when you binge on large meals—for instance, when you eat a huge dinner after not having eaten for a while—your blood sugar levels tend to spike, followed by a crash and the fatigue that comes with it. Eating smaller meals, at regular intervals, helps maintain steady and healthy blood sugar levels.
Don’t forget your protein
Of course, what you’re eating in those smaller meals is just as important as the frequency of those meals. In your meals always try to combine protein with the carbohydrates that you’re consuming. If you’re eating a banana as your mid-morning snack, try eating a handful of almonds with it, or try pairing that rye toast with a couple boiled eggs for breakfast. Carbohydrates break down in your body as sugar and are used for energy, but they break down far slower when consumed with protein. This has the effect of giving you a steady level of energy for a much longer period of time, as your body is converting your calories much more efficiently.
Water is the criminally neglected component of a healthy lifestyle. Most people simply don’t get enough of that wonderful H2O. Our muscles are around 70% water so it’s a bit of a no-brainer to state that proper hydration aids in muscle growth, but many people are unaware of the importance of getting enough fluids. Water lubricates our joints, helps with maintaining good energy levels, and even aids with our ability to think quickly and rationally. At worst, being dehydrated can be fatal, but at the very least, not drinking enough can make you lethargic, and thus unable to put in your maximum effort in the weight room, or on the basketball court. What’s more, many people when feeling fatigued, reach for a sugary energy drink, or pop, when all that is needed for an energy boost is the stuff that runs out of our taps.
Prepare your food from scratch
Ever read the back of a frozen meal and wonder what 80% of the ingredients are? Yeah, that isn’t a good thing. Generally speaking the less ingredients that go into making something, the better. And if you need to consult a dictionary to find out what’s in that microwavable meal (what the hell is butylated hydroxytoluene?!), it might be better off putting it back in the freezer. Buying fresh ingredients and preparing your meals from scratch, as opposed to buying pre-packaged meals, which are high in sodium and saturated fats, is the way to go. If you want pasta sauce, for example, try making your own with fresh tomatoes as opposed to buying the very sugary variety that comes in a can. Fresh is always better than processed. And even when you think you know what’s in that frozen meal, you still might be eating something very unappealing—see the British horsemeat scandal for details.
Give yourself a break
Sticking to a good nutritional plan isn’t easy and you deserve a reward once in a while. If you attempt to completely deny yourself all that bad stuff then you’re far more likely to cave in at some point and go on a demoralizing junk-food binge. Give yourself one day a week—preferably a Saturday or Sunday—when you can relax and forget about healthy eating (within reason, of course). Have a couple beers, eat some pizza, or go for that slice of chocolate cake that you’ve ignored all week. This way you’ll be able to fully appreciate the hard work that you’re putting in during the week, and it’ll have the effect of demystifying those guilty pleasures that you’ve done so well to leave behind.