|Eat for Energy
--by Melissa Joulwan
Turn on the TV or flip through a magazine and you're bombarded with
conflicting messages about what you should eat, when you should eat, how
much you should eat, and how you should feel about it. It can all be very
confusing -- and discouraging. Despite what supermodels and superstars
may say by their actions, skipping meals, smoking cigarettes, and
exercising 2-4 hours a day with a personal trainer will not lead to a
perfect body and life-long bliss. It's unhealthy to analyze the food we eat
and to calculate just how many miles we have to run or how many hours we
have to exercise to rid ourselves of it. Happiness, energy, and a strong,
realistic body-image are nurtured through a combination of sensible
exercise, adequate rest, and good nutrition.
What You Should Eat
There are four basic building blocks of nutrition that your body needs
everyday: protein, carbohydrates, fat, and water. Give it these things
regularly, and it will run like a zippy little sports car fresh from the
A funny thing has happened in recent years. There was a time when we all
ate way too much protein; eggs-and-ham, burgers, and steaks were
considered healthy because they "put meat on your bones" and had
lots of iron. Then everyone became more educated and health-conscious;
meat was a no-no and pasta was going to save us all. Now, the pendulum
seems to be swinging around again toward a higher-protein diet.
Diet fads may come and go and come back again, but the healthiest way to eat is the same as it has always
been ... balanced among the essential nutrients with a wide variety of foods.
Adequate protein is essential to keep your body functioning properly. About half of our dry weight --
including muscles, hair, nails, and skin -- is composed of protein. Our cells and immune systems rely on
protein for maintenance and re-building. Our bodies don't have the ability to store protein or synthesize all the amino acids
(building blocks of protein) we need -- that's why eating some protein every day is so important.
Aaah, the lovely carbohydrate. Who doesn't think of bagels and pasta as
two of the primary food groups (along with chocolate and pizza, right?).
As wonderful as carbohydrates are for providing energy quickly, too many
carbs can send us into a tailspin of low blood sugar from an
insulin dump. It's the job of insulin to lower our blood sugar levels
when they get too high; insulin does this by taking the excess sugar in our
blood and storing it as fat. Insulin doesn't know the difference between plain white sugar and a really wonderfully chewy bagel -- if there are extra carbs there, the insulin wants it. See the cycle developing here?
Too much sugar --> insulin --> low blood sugar --> fat storage --> "I'm tired & hungry."
The easiest and best way to avoid extra fat storage and dipping energy
levels is to eat the right amount of high-fiber carbohydrates so that the sugar in these foods enters our blood slowing, thus keeping the pancreas
from releasing high quantities of insulin into the bloodstream.
If there is a big, bad wolf of nutrition, it is surely fat. We can hardly
say the word without disgust entering our voices. Yet fat is an excellent
form of fuel for energy. It's concentrated; we've got lots of it in
storage; and it's easy to include in our diets. So how can we make peace
with the enemy?
The key to making fat part of a healthy, sensible diet is to eat the
right kind. Any fat that is solid at room temperature is not our friend
-- it's saturated and brings with it the risks for all kinds of health
problems. The best sources of fat come from vegetable sources and are
mono- or poly-unsaturated: peanut, canola, olive, walnut. This, of
course, doesn't mean that we should feel free to drown our salads in
olive oil; moderation is the key.
Is water the greatest thing on the planet, or what?! It tastes great. It
has no calories or fat. We can drink it warm when we're cold and cold
when we're hot. It goes with everything, and can be found just about
It's also essential to keeping us happy and healthy. Next time you
feel inexplicably crabby, think back to the last time you drank a glass
of water. Dehydration can lead to crankiness and a whole host of other,
more serious, conditions. As a rule of thumb, we should try to drink a
minimum of eight glasses of water everyday -- and more on workout days. A
big glass about 10-20 minutes before a workout, and 4-8 ounces every ten
minutes during a workout, keeps us feeling good and functioning optimally.
Drinking enough water is especially important for aiding fat loss. The liver is responsible for metabolizing fat. When our kidneys don't get
enough water to perform their functions, they recruit the liver to help
them out. If the liver is busy helping the kidneys, it can't do its own
job of using up that stored fat for fuel. In addition, our bodies need
water to keep cool during exercise, and to help in digesting the food we
When You Should Eat
My brother has a wonderful gift for eating when he's hungry. It seems
like a simple enough concept, but anyone who's ever devoured a slab of
chocolate cake after a filling meal will understand that eating only when
hungry doesn't come naturally to everyone. But bear in mind, any time we
are physically hungry, we should eat. There is no good reason to go
hungry -- particularly for athletes. To keep our metabolisms humming and
our muscles fueled, we need to eat ... about every four hours or so. If
time between meals stretches longer than that, a balanced snack will save
the day. This part of my advice is not optional; if we "starve" our
bodies between meals, irritability, fatigue, and slowed metabolisms are
unavoidable. Stay fueled up.
Eat within one hour of waking in the morning to jump-start the system and
restore blood sugar levels. They dip during sleep (because we're going
without fuel for 6-10 hours) and need to be supplied in the morning. A
light, balanced snack an hour or two before bed not only allows for a good
night's sleep, but also supplies fuel for our bodies to repair and
re-build during the night.
How Much You Should Eat
There are no hard and fast rules on how much we need to eat. Sure, we can
read charts and calculate calories-needed based on calories-expended, but
I think it's naive and presumptuous of us to think an organism as
wonderfully complex as our bodies can be described by a formula in which
we multiply our weight by some arbitrary number devised by some guy in a
Roughly speaking, we should eat about 1-3 ounces of protein at breakfast
and 3-4 ounces at lunch and dinner -- keep in mind that 3 ounces of fish,
chicken, lean beef, or pork is about the size of a deck of cards ... it
will fit comfortably in the palm of your hand. A little over, a little
under -- it's not critical. What is crucial is that we get some protein
every day and at every meal or snack that we eat.
Along with that protein, we get to have the fun stuff -- carbohydrates and fat. Carbs that enter the bloodstream slowly (like fruits and vegetables, thanks to the fiber in them) should be our first choices. Not only do we get the vitamins and minerals they naturally supply, but the fiber in them makes us feel full. A balance throughout the day between grain-based carbs and fruit / veggie carbs is the best way to feel great. In
addition, a small amount of fat (the equivalent of 1-2 teaspoons of oil
per meal) will keep the rate of sugar absorption down and keep our
energy at optimum levels.
How You Should Feel About It
We all should feel great about food. It's the source of our power and our
strength. What's a birthday party without the celebratory cake? And
what's the end of a race without the
"these-are-the-best-bagels-and-orange-slices-ever" found at the finish
line? We all need to get over our fear of eating the wrong thing or
eating too much and listen to our bodies. If we pay attention, our bodies
will tell us just what we need to know. I hope these guidelines help your
body to "speak up."
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