Our diet and training habits can greatly influence the amounts of fat and muscle in our bodies. These amounts are particularly important for those involved in sport, as our body composition can influence our performance. When we consume more energy (calories) than we use, this can result in weight gain over time. Similarly, if we use up more energy than we consume, weight loss results. Our food provides calories, with the macronutrients (‘macros’) carbohydrate, protein and fat containing various amounts of calories (kcals). Per gram, carbohydrate provides 4 kcals; protein 4 kcals; and fat 9 kcals.
Our goal for body composition will depend on the type of exercise we are involved in. For example, those who are light with a lower percentage of body fat typically have an advantage in endurance activity such as long-distance running. Heavier individuals with a high muscle mass can have an advantage for resistance against opponents in team sports; or for providing strength for throwing and sprinting.
DIET MATTERS TO EVERY BODY
Whether you want to shed a few pounds, put a few on, reduce your body fat or add muscle, the healthy way to do it is through exercise and diet. As a rule of thumb, consuming more energy (calories) than you use will result in weight gain, while consuming less energy than you use will result in weight loss.
Two easy ways to check your weight status
Body Mass Index (BMI)
This is a simple calculation which involves dividing your weight (in kilograms) by the square of your height (in meters) i.e. weight(kg) / height m2.
- HEALTHY NORMAL
- Less than 18.5
- 18.5 to 24.9
- 25.0 to 29.9
- Greater than or equal to 30.0
Position a measuring tape around your waist and measure waist size (circumference) at the halfway point between your lowest rib and the top of your hipbone. Check your measurement against the figures below.
- INCREASED RISK
- Greater than 40" (102 cm)
- Greater than 35" (88 cm)
Healthy Eating for Active Living
Whether an elite athlete, involved in a local sports club or a dedicated gym bunny; a healthy, balanced diet is essential for meeting energy and nutrient demands. A variety of factors influence our individual nutritional needs such as gender, age and body size. The type, amount and timing of food will also depend on the competitive level you are involved in and the specific demands of your training schedule. The first step for optimum performance nutrition is to ensure that nutrient needs are met by including a variety of nutritious foods across meals and snacks. The Department of Health’s Food Pyramid is a useful tool to guide balanced, healthy eating choices. The second step is to focus on the timing of food and fluid intakes around training sessions, matches and competitions.
- Include complex carbohydrate in meals and snacks to help ensure energy stores are well-fuelled.
- Include protein foods (e.g. milk, lean meat, eggs, beans, lentils, yogurt, cheese, fish) at each meal time to ensure hard-working muscles have a constant supply of protein throughout the day.
- Include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables across meals and snacks for a good range of vitamins and minerals.
- Avoid too many processed foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt e.g. biscuits, cakes, crisps.
- Avoid or limit alcohol as it can dehydrate the body and impair recovery.
- Get cooking! Preparing and cooking your own meals will give you control over what you eat and is a great life-long skill. Batch cooking healthy meals for the freezer can help you stick to your healthy eating plan on busy days.
- If playing sport or exercising at a frequent or intense level, consider seeking advice from a sports nutritionist/dietitian who can tailor food and fluid advice to your specific needs and goals.