Yesterday I drove my college-age daughter and her friend to the mall. They both have their licenses but somehow I ended up driving and we laughed about it because it reminded them of the days when they were younger and their parents had to drive them places. Pretty soon they will both be back at their respective schools. They had a lot of catching up to do.
My daughter’s friend mentioned her mom was getting very healthy as in vegan. This got me thinking. We each have a definition of healthy and that definition is certainly not the same all around especially when it comes to food.
When I get into discussions about being vegetarian or vegan or fill-in-the-blank with clients, it’s as delicate as discussing politics or religion. My goal is to make sure they nourish themselves to live as well as they can for their activity, health, fitness goals and enjoyment.
There are certain basic principles for nourishment that we should all follow regardless of our style, beliefs, preferences and way of getting there.
1. Eat as close to the earth as possible. When you walk through the aisles of your grocery store look for foods that are in their most natural state.
2. Be realistic. Some processed foods are necessary. Aim for the highest quality possible and read the ingredients. Make sure you understand all of them and why they are in your food.
3. Begin your meal or snack or menu with a vegetable, seasonal if possible. This automatically starts you with the most nutrient-dense healthy foods we have available to us and you can build the rest of your meal from there.
4. Timing of meals. There’s evidence that keeping blood sugars stable throughout the day by eating more frequent, small, balanced meals is beneficial to your health regardless of whether you have diabetes or not. There’s also evidence that intermittent fasting is beneficial — one of the many examples of how nutrition can and should be optimized for you, your genes, your lifestyle and your beliefs. Whatever you choose for timing, make sure that you choose what provides you with the best energy throughout your day. Mental fog, lack of motivation or poor sleep can all be signs you are not timing well.
5. Daily energy balance. Ideally you eat enough to balance your energy needs throughout the day but not too little or too much. One way to help is aim to eat until satisfied, not full. Satisfied is enough for your energy needs and you feel good. Full is when you feel weighted down with a heavy belly.
6. Athletes need carbohydrates. Your body needs the nutrients found in carbohydrate to perform, recover and to reach your optimum health and performance. They can be found in lots of processed foods so choose wisely. Whole grain, starchy veggies, fruits and legumes are all great sources of carbohydrate.
7. Athletes need protein. Especially those who know how important strength training is to their overall health and performance. Protein contains the building blocks your body needs to take care of muscle. Protein is not stored like fat and carbohydrate. Protein is necessary in the diet and in each of your meals and snacks throughout your day. This will help you maximize protein synthesis to repair and build muscle. There’s a limit to how much you can actually absorb so there is no need to go crazy on the protein either. As with everything, it’s a balance.
All these tips can be a part of a vegan, vegetarian, paleo, mediterranean, and so on diet. My hope is that however you choose to nourish yourself it’s with care, attention and enjoyment.
Deanna Pomfret has coached fitness enthusiasts, runners, swimmers and triathletes since 2005. She is a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach, Road Runners Club of America Certified Running Coach, Certified Functional Strength Coach and Owner and Swim Technique Analyst with Athletic Pursuits LLC. Deanna presents at clubs and symposiums on various fitness and motivational topics.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.