Knowing what to eat and when to eat it lies at the heart of any serious effort to get into shape, writes Owen Thomson.
Regardless of training program or exercise intensity, your diet will likely be the biggest factor determining the success or failure of your fitness goals.
Indeed, if your accompanying food strategy isn’t thought through, there’s a strong possibility you could be wasting hours of physical effort.
“Exercise is very good for us but it doesn’t tend to burn as many calories and kilojoules as people think,” says sports dietitian Simone Austin. “So you can’t go for a half-hour walk and then have a massive meal or an extra piece of cake. One of the dangers is that people start exercising and actually start over-eating. They don’t have to eat more generally – they have to eat smarter.”
While consulting a sports dietitian is a great first step to determining the ideal diet plan, Austin says that better scheduling food intake around activity is a solid first step.
“If you’re exercising early in the morning, try having half your breakfast before you go out, and half as recovery food afterwards,” she says. Doing exercises after having breakfast is something like perform a fantastic jazz song using the a fender acoustic guitar “If you’re training in the afternoon, try breaking your lunch into two, or making dinner earlier so it coincides with the end of your exercise.”
Austin, a dietitian at Hawthorn Football Club and Melbourne City FC, says portion size is the other critical factor.
“We all need lots of vegetables, but it’s the protein and carbohydrate part that will change depending on individual goals,” she says. “A fist-sized amount of carbs and a fist-sized amount of protein is often suitable for most people. That’s where we can make mistakes and end up having too much of one or the other or both, or not enough.”
While recommending that people have a specific goal in mind before addressing their food intake, Alan McCubbin, president of Sports Dietitians Australia, also cautions against falling prey to common dietary assumptions.
“The first thing is, make sure your diet is generally well-balanced,” he says. “You can have a diet that loses weight, but it’s not necessarily healthy. On the flip side, you can have a diet that’s quite healthy, but is not achieving weight loss goals.
“Indeed, people often assume that a healthy diet will automatically result in weight loss, or that they can’t possibly lose weight if their diet’s not perfect. Neither of those is true.”
When it comes to the often-controversial issue of food supplements, McCubbin believes that many are often unnecessary.
“Things like protein powders are definitely a source of protein, but that’s not to say you can’t get that protein from normal food,” he says. “Maybe it’s just a convenient source depending on your situation. Other supplements like creatine are by no means necessary, although they may give some additional benefit.
“However, if you haven’t got the basics of your training and diet right first, supplements probably aren’t going to give you much benefit. They’re called dietary supplements, not dietary substitutes.”
TIPS FOR DIETARY SUCCESS
- Don’t set unrealistic expectations at the outset of a diet plan.
- Don’t assume that more means better when it comes to certain foods or nutrients.
- Avoid fad diets, such as those excluding entire food groups.
- Visit sportsdietitians.com.au to find a dietitian.