Foundational Nutrition - The skills and habits to get started on a healthy diet.
When it comes to nutrition we always hear the same things whether we are athletes or just someone looking to be the healthist they can be. Things like:
"Eat Whole Foods."
"Don't eat gluten."
"Shop the perimeter of the store."
"Eat more protein."
And so many more that I can't even wrap my brain around it.
However, what we really need to be doing is keep it simple and address some foundational deficiencies in our diet. This includes things like the perception we have about food and our bodies as well letting go of all things we have read on the internet.
When it comes to entry level nutrition I like to focus on a few things. These things are level one nutritional habits and behaviors that often times are all that's needed to become significantly healthier and perform at a high level in whatever endeavor you pursue.
- Nutritional deficiencies. Things like hydration, protein, vitamins and minerals, and essential fatty acids.
- Food amounts. This includes portion size of the meal in its entirety as well as the portions of macronutrients on your plate, like fat, carbs, and protein.
- Food intake frequency. When do you eat and why? How is your energy balanced through the day.
I'll briefly break each of these simple first steps to fixing your nutrition.
The first thing that we all need to take note of is the simple things.
How is our hydration? Many times this is extremely underestimated and often times a leading cause for a lot of issues. An example would be how mild dehydration produces changes in specific cognitive functions such as concentration, alertness, and short-term memory. This can be a major issue for your work, relationships, and energy levels throughout the day.
I think it's clear why hydration is so important.
Other things like protein are the building blocks of everything in our body. We need to make sure that our protein levels, whether from meat or plant sources, are a priority. Things like vitamins and minerals are also often deficient. Vitamins like vitamin D is chronically low in a large portion of the population and is a major contributor to your energy levels. But adding Fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon can boost these numbers. Also eating fortified foods like some dairy products, cheese, and orange juice can bust these numbers. The other option would be to supplement but only after speaking with a professional.
Lastly would be the effects of essential fatty acids. We all hear about Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids and they are vital. These are fatty acids we can't create on our own in our bodies. These fats are critical for things like the formation of healthy cell membranes, proper development and functioning of the brain and nervous system, proper thyroid and adrenal activity, hormone production, regulation of blood pressure, liver function, immune and inflammatory responses.
So you can see why all these things are critical for the foundation of your health.
The second important aspect is portion control. We underestimate how much we eat, and more often than not it's a lot more than we think.
This leads to being told what is thought to be the simple concept of calories in verse calories out. So we try to count our calories only to find out that the labels on our food can be 25% off in either direction. That's 500 extra calories on a 2000 calorie plan.
This is no way to live life.
The simple fix is to utilize simple portion recommendations and adjust based on the results you get. For example, the average male should have two palms of protein, two cupped hands of vegetables, two fists of healthy carbs, and two thumbs of healthy fat at each meal. For a female, this is cut in half to one portion of each.
From there it's trial and error. Try it for two weeks and see how you feel and how the scale moves. If it's in the right direction for your goals you're on the right path. If it's moving in the wrong directions make adjustments, like maybe half the portion of healthy carbs if you're trying to lose weight.
Lastly, it's meal frequency.
Eat before you work out. Make sure you have protein within an hour of your training. Breakfast is the most important meal. Don't eat after 7 o'clock. (There will be another post about this)
These are all fine pieces of advice for level 2 and 3 eaters, but we are not there yet. We need to get a grip on our eating habits and understanding of what they do for us.
My recommendation is always to first set some type of schedule. This isn't etched in stone so don't worry, but have some guidelines. Don't worry yet about post workout, pre workout, or any of that. Set 3 or 4 meals out throughout your day and nail down their content. Use the guide above and master it. You may feel hungry because it's not normal for you currently however, HUNGER IS NOT AN EMERGENCY!
Something to understand is we are designed to handle hunger. We can go quite long without food. This does not mean starve yourself. What it means is the previous meals energy content was not enough to fit your activity level. So grab a healthy snack and adjust the volume the next day to make it to your next meal without pain.
These tips are the foundation prior to the fine-tuning of a healthy diet. If you don't have these things mastered right now then work to make them a regular part of your life. These are the crawl before you walk skills.