Fuel for Energy

Food Habits that will make you train and hike hard and stay healthy!

Habit: Something that you do often and regularly without knowing that you are doing it.

A wise person once said 'we are what we repeatedly do'. And one thing we do more than anything else is eat food. Every food choice we make works its way into becoming a habit. Whether that's nailing your pre and post training nutrition, eating three proper meals every day or taking the darker path of too much alcohol every night and lunching in junk food every day. Deciding the 'right' way to eat can seem overwhelming and confusing for many people. So here are some food habits to make you hike and train harder and recover better for more enjoyment of everything you do.

F*@k the Fads

Intermittent Fasting, Ketogenic, 5:2, Low carb. No Sugar. You don't need an extreme trend to get your health and performance on track. In fact, many of the fad eating programs will increase inflammation in the bod, ensure you don't meet all your body's vitamin mineral and macronutrient needs and increase disease risk.

Its important to reflect on what you want from your nutrition and lifestyle programme. and also what this programme can offer you. A sense of control and direction can be just as easily gained by adding things into your eating, instead of imposing restrictions and rules. Build your eating on:

  • Three cups of vegetables and salad, every single day

  • If you're a meat eater, aim for red meat a maximum of twice a week

  • Aim to have fish more than twice a week

  • Eat some plant based protein ( lentils, beans, chickpeas, quinoa etc) every day

  • Add in some dairy ( or dairy alternative that is calcium and protein fortified) before sleep at night, make sure you have some fermented dairy every day (e.g Plain Greek Yogurt)

  • Aim for protein and carbohydrate at every meal

  • Eat as much real food as possible - (as close to nature as it can be)

Dont Skip Carbs. There is a definite trend to low-carb eating, but for 99% of active people and athletes, a low-carb diet just doesn't add up. We need carbohydrate for performance. Performance is getting up over that rock scramble or tackling that next hill with a full pack. Not to mention getting through each day of your life feeling good.

Low -carb without a high-quality diet can also result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies and reduce antioxidant intake, which is essential for recovery. And fibre from carbohydrate- based foods helps protect against bowel cancer.

Carbohydrates provide us with a ready supply of fuel in our blood stream by maintaining glycogen stores in our muscle and liver, for repetitive, high intensity bouts of exercise and resistance training. i.e. Hiking, trail running, climbing and training for these. They will also help reduce our perception of effort.

When we have carbs on board we feel a little easier - some studies on runners have shown that a mouth wash of a carb solution reduces the perception of effort.

A lack of carbohydrate and too much fat adaption can impact your muscles' ability to produce and sustain force. Something essential for hiking with a heavy pack or any training that requires exertion. Low-carb eating encourages intramuscular fat storage = increased storage of fat. They also increase cortisol levels (because the body doesn't have enough glucose to support metabolic functions) and cortisol increases catabolism. When you have enough carb going in to meet your needs, you replenish muscle glycogen and create an anabolic (muscle building) environment. When you don't have enough, your muscle glycogen is depleted and you create a catabolic environment that increases protein breakdown and there is less protein synthesis. And finally, lack of carbohydrate can increase muscle breakdown due to decrease in insulin levels in the body.

Fuel your Sessions & your Day. How many of us have turned up for a gym session straight from work or first thing in the morning, tummy empty and rumbling ?

It's easy to let your psych override the knowledge you haven't eaten in hours. And while all of us are capable of getting through two hours of hiking or an hour of interval training without a snack, how much better would your training session have been if you had some fuel?

We need fuel to keep our bodies running. We need the right mix of fuel to stay healthy and injury free long term. Pre-session and through our hiking day we most definitely need some carbs. The longer the session the more we need to add in some protein too. So always take time to plan some food to support your training session or day.

Nail your Protein. Getting protein intake right starts when we wake up and ends when we go to sleep. Its easy to focus on post-training and load up on protein shakes, but there is so much more to it that that.

Timing is essential. We need to spread protein intake over the day, aiming for four 'hits' of roughly 20g protein (20g at breakfast, then lunch, and then dinner, plus some with snacks) If we skip breakfast, we skip our first protein 'hit'. So no skipping meals.

Aim to get this protein from food. When we eat whole foods (instead of a protein shake), we are getting a bunch of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants fibre, fats and carbohydrates as well as the enjoyment of eating a meal, which we don't get from powder mixed with water.

Variety is the key. Plant-based proteins are essential for gut health. Dairy provides us with quickly-absorbed whey protein (particularly good post-training) and more slowly-absorbed casein, which prolongs muscle-protein synthesis. Fish contains n-3 fatty acids that help reduce inflammation and support brain function. Other animal based proteins give us things like iron and other essential vitamins and minerals.

Fads are the antithesis of habits. Fads flash bright in the pan, but burn out quickly to be replaced by the next shiny object, only for the cycle to continue ad infinitum. If you are constantly chasing fads you're not going to be able to perform at your best in the short term or stay healthy in the long term. Habits stay with us, ingrained into the way we think and behave. But just as chasing fads can be counterproductive to performance, so too can ingraining the wrong habits can bring you undone. You are what you repeatedly do, so diversify your protein, don't demonise carbs, fuel your sessions, f*@f the fads, and eat to perform.

Thanks to Vertical Life Magazine and Nutritionist Amanda Watts

Accredited Nutritionist and SDA Sports Dietician at Thrive Nutrition and Dietetics

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