Your nutrition questions answered
Q: What type of diet should I follow?
A: If toning up and slimming down is your focus, you need a balanced diet that provides plenty of protein.
According to scientists at the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health in Aberdeen, diets higher in protein (lean meat, poultry and fish) are particularly filling and result in more effective weight loss. Protein is also important for the repair and renewal of lean tissue, so it’s a vital dietary component if you regularly challenge your muscles with resistance or cardiovascular workouts.
How exactly protein makes you less hungry isn’t yet known, but it’s possible it slows food transit through the gut or stimulates gut hormones, which promote the feeling of fullness.
High-protein diets may smack of Atkins-style carbohydrate deprivation, but this is only the case if you follow extreme versions. All we’re talking about for the purposes of your streamlined, fitter body is a slightly enhanced protein intake – 30 per cent of your calorie intake per meal instead of the 15–20 per cent that’s traditionally recommended. You’ll still eat good amounts of energy-giving carbohydrates, along with your five-a-day quota of fruit and vegetables.
Q: How many calories a day so I need?
A: To lose weight at a healthy rate of half a kilo a week, you’ll need to create a calorie deficit of 500 a day – which can come from a combination of reducing your normal food intake and expending extra calories by increasing the amount you exercise.
Most averagely-active women (for example, those following the workouts in this book) will lose weight at a healthy rate if they eat 1,500 calories a day. If you’re averagely-active, you’ll maintain your current weight on an intake of 1,750–2,000 calories a day.
Don’t go below 1,200–1,400 calories a day when you’re exercising, or you won’t have energy to work out and you could end up missing out on essential vitamins and minerals.
Q: When’s the best time to eat before exercise?
A: You’ll need to leave at least three hours after a big meal before you work out, but you shouldn’t exercise on an empty stomach either. Ideally, have a small meal (for example, a light lunch) or snack containing slow- to medium-releasing carbohydrates and perhaps some protein one to two hours before your workout.
Plan to have a pre-exercise snack if you need to – a banana, or wholegrain mini pitta with a tablespoon of reduced-fat houmous will only supply around 100 calories and are ideal sources of energy. If you’re exercising first thing in the morning, have a small snack 40 minutes before your workout and save your breakfast for afterwards.
Q: What should I eat after exercise?
A: This is a crucial time to eat, as, to maximise recovery, you need to refuel within two hours with carbohydrate and protein (which, research shows, helps carbohydrate storage. If you’re not eating a meal within that time, have a snack instead. Post-exercise, your carbohydrates should have a higher GI, so this is one time you could go for white bread and sugary foods.
Some ideal post-training snacks that combine protein and carbohydrates include:
– 20–30g of nuts and a banana.
– A boiled egg or chicken sandwich (no spread and, ideally, the white of the egg only for protein without fat).
– A protein bar and a small glass of fruit juice.
Q: What should I drink?
A: Eight glasses of water a day is the much-quoted ideal and it’s a useful guideline to ensure you’re hydrated before exercise. You don’t need to stick to it religiously though, nor does everything you drink need to be plain water – tea, coffee, juice, soft drinks and milk count too.
During exercise itself, the range of fluid intake most people need to perform well is between 400 and 1,000ml per hour, depending on the conditions and your activity level.
Water is fine if you plan to exercise for less than an hour and aren’t sweating heavily. And if you’re only working out for half an hour or so, you can just drink at the end of your workout, providing you made sure you were well hydrated beforehand. If you plan to exercise for longer periods of time, are sweating a lot or just find water unpalatable, an isotonic sports drink can be good for speeding fluid and energy back into the body and replacing lost sodium and potassium.
Q: Do I need sports supplements?
A: If you’re doing only moderate levels of activity, such as the workouts in this book, a healthy balanced diet should give you all the nutrients you need to fuel your workouts and stay healthy. However, isotonic sports drinks and recovery bars can be useful sometimes, especially if you’re eating on the go.