The naked truth about diet and exercise

By admin
16 October 2013

Combining a good workout with a balanced diet is what your body needs to get you on the move daily.

We can’t talk about health if we don’t consider both nutrition and exercise. Overall, any improvement in weight (what the scale says) and body composition (what the mirror says) is 80 to 85 per cent diet and 15 to 20 per cent exercise. This is because we’re eating almost 21 times a week (maybe more) and only working out about three to five times a week. There are a few key principles to remember if you’re committed to finding a healthy and long-lasting balance between diet and exercise.

1. Exercise alone simply isn’t enough

It’s indisputable that regular exercise has many benefits. However, when it comes to weight loss exercise is just an adjunct, albeit a rather important one. Research has shown that those who watch their diet AND engage in regular exercise don’t necessarily shed more weight in terms of kilograms on the scale, but they definitely lose more fat mass (which is really what counts). More importantly, they manage to maintain this weight loss for far longer than those who only diet and don’t follow an exercise regime. Therefore, your first priority must be to pay careful attention to what you eat and how much you eat. The blood, sweat and tears in the gym will do the rest.

2. You can’t ‘exercise’ your weekend binge away

Exercise isn’t a miracle potion and won’t compensate for the weekend’s overindulgence or last night’s take-away meal. Research suggests the average person easily overestimates the amount of activity they’re doing by about 30 per cent, while underestimating the amount of food they consume by about 30 per cent. It’s an illusion to think you can easily shake off those extra calories you took in during your next training session. On top of that, if those calories come from junk food there’s no spinning class, treadmill or boot camp training session that will get rid of that. If your health really matters to you, then every meal should matter too. Exercise is an adjunct to a healthy diet, not a substitute.

3. Empty promises in your ‘energy’ bar

Big promises are made by manufacturers of energy drinks and nutrition bars. You can look forward to increased energy levels, alertness, concentration, extra nutrition and even improved sport performance. Sounds like something all of us desperately need. The problem is that what you’re mostly getting is an overdose of sugar and caffeine. Although sports shakes, bars and drinks can provide an effective and convenient meal replacement or extra nutrition once in a while, it can’t replace a balanced diet. Mostly these supplements lack key nutrients including phytochemicals, antioxidants and fibre. You should therefore limit the intake of these supplements to the absolute minimum and also realise you don’t need this at all if you follow a healthy diet. Don’t let “smart” marketing campaigns lure you into thinking you can’t achieve healthy lifestyle goals or better sport performance without these products.

4. Put the fruit juice down

Unfortunately fruit juice isn’t always what it seems to be. In most cases, it’s a mixture of water, lots of sugar and some kind of fruit concentrate. Even if you’re drinking real, 100 per cent fruit juice, it’s still loaded with sugar ? mostly the same amount you’d find in a can of Coke. Furthermore, it’s easy to consume large amounts of juice in a short time and unlike whole fruits that take some time to digest; the sugar of fruit juices is immediately released into the blood stream, causing large spikes in blood sugar levels. What goes up must come down! With the inevitable drop in your blood sugar, you’ll experience those familiar symptoms of sleepiness, lethargy, lack of concentration and worst of all, hunger. Having regular spikes in blood sugar levels may also lead to insulin resistance which may make it really difficult for you to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

5. Fuel for your workout

When it comes to eating and exercise, everyone is different. Some people can’t go without food, while others can’t tolerate anything in the stomach before a workout. The truth is that too much eating before exercise or not eating at all will both slow you down. It’s all about timing. Either have a large meal at least three to four hours before exercising, or have a small meal two to three hours before your session. You may also want to consider a light snack just before your workout, however, if this makes you nauseous during the first 10 to 15 minutes of exercise, rather go without anything. Just remember, exercise on an empty stomach won’t make you burn more fat, as you probably won’t be able to exercise for long or at a high intensity before your blood glucose levels drop significantly and you hit the proverbial wall. The bottom line is to pay attention to how you feel during your workout and let your experience guide you.

-Prof Elmarie Terblanche, head of the sport science department at Stellenbosch University

Elmarie Terblanche was born in Cape Town and completed her high school education in Johannesburg before returning to Stellenbosch in 1983 as a first-year student in physical education. In 1991 she was appointed as a lecturer in the medical physiology division in the faculty of health sciences at Stellenbosch University. In 1996 she received her PhD in medical physiology, in 2004 she was appointed associate professor in the department of sport science, and she was promoted to professor in 2008. Since 2006 she’s been the chairperson of the department of sport science. She has an interest in research of a practical nature and addresses questions that are of relevance to athletes at all levels. Elmarie publishes in national and international accredited scientific journals and she currently holds a C3 rating from the National Research Foundation.

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