I get asked about how to eat healthily and what nutrients are most useful when working out (particularly when adding muscle or losing fat).
Sometimes these kinds of discussions can become technical and move too far away, in my opinion, from the pleasures of food and living a positive life, by which I mean turning conversations about what we eat into debates over which fuel is best for the body.
Going down this road reduces the value and joys that a healthy diet can play in our lives, whether in or out of the gym.
There are, however, some generally accepted principles where a healthy diet is concerned and which, interestingly cover both the physical and mental state. This latter point is important, in my opinion, as by pulling the focus back as much as possible from training and the gym floor, we can also support mental and emotional health and understand the role that diet plays in strengthening both.
There are principles I follow in this area, for example, and which I advocate others also follow. These include drinking and eating regularly throughout the day, and intelligently choosing the right foods when doing so.
This is important to reduce the risk of dehydration (which can affect the body and our cognitive processes or how we think), as well as to ensure we have enough energy to perform. The cells in our bodies and brain require water to function and not hydrating throughout a day reduces our ability to perform. Plus, if we do become dehydrated we can feel lethargic, which in turn can drive us to quick energy fixes, such as grabbing a coffee, which can lead to rushes of energy, accompanied by the need to urinate, which in turn will dehydrate the body further.
Eating at regular intervals (every three to four hours, for example) also maintains our blood sugar levels, reduces the risk of blood sugar spikes, and ensures that when we train we have the energy and focus to do so.
Overall, balancing hydration and a healthy diet has been demonstrated to not only increase our energy levels and maintain these levels through the day but also to maintain our mood and positivity. We fuel both the physical and the mental, which in turn enables us to resist the temptation of turning to heavily processed foods lacking in nutrition each day.
Most people enjoy such quick, take-away foods from time to time and there is nothing wrong with that. However, it is when these foods become a large proportion of our diet that the trouble can start.
Heavily processed foods can rob the body of the nutrients it needs, whilst also slowing digestion, leading to bloating, which in turn robs us of energy. There is also the accompanying risk of leaning on foods (and particular kinds of high fat, salt or sugary foods) at times of stress or tension. We have all done this at some time or another, but when this behaviour becomes a regular way to avoid dealing with the stressful issues in our lives, it can lead to long-term problems, some of which may require medical intervention.
The solution to this is to avoid such emotional-physical dependency and to recognise the danger it poses. Food is not a solution to our troubles, it is a substance we put into our bodies that can affect how our body and mind function. Breaking the link between the emotional and physical allows us to protect ourselves from the dangers that unhealthy foods can pose.
Related to this is the need to aim for diversity when building a healthy diet, and not relying on the same foods over a long period. A diverse diet, high in vegetables and fibre, as well as fruits and seeds, has been shown to reduced depression and increase vitality, together with the health of our gut bacteria (vital in the successful digestion of the food we eat).
What we eat and drink, when we do so and how we digest food is important to our health, how we feel and how we train. Getting the balance right between those principles is crucial both in terms of delivering a successful workout programme, but also in living a happy and authentic life.
Thinking forward, understanding our drives when consuming foodstuffs, and making the right dietary decisions are all key to being satisfied in life, and we can achieve that satisfaction simply by thinking before we eat or drink.