Why do we need food?

Imagine your body is a car (bear with me on this 😀). You know that if you want to drive to the local shops a few miles away, you’re going to need to put some fuel in it to get you there. You also know that if you have a petrol car, you’re not (hopefully) going to put diesel in it. If you’re planning a journey to see some friends in Edinburgh, you know that you’re likely to need to stop on the way and put some more fuel in too.

You wouldn’t try to put half the amount of fuel you need in your car and expect it to do the same journeys, or even more would you? The same goes for your body. In order to do anything, it needs fuel the same way your car does (just don’t use petrol!). If you put the right amount of the right fuel in, it will get you where you want to go. However, put the wrong fuel in or don’t put enough and you’re in trouble. Anyway, enough of the car analogies. The point is that your body needs fuel or energy to survive which comes in the form of food. Energy is measured in calories (or kilo calories if you want to be exact but calories is easier to work with so we will stick to that). A calorie is a measurement of the amount of heat given off when your body consumes and metabolises food. Without enough food, your body won’t have enough energy. For example, did you know that an adult weighing 10 Stone burns around 450 calories overnight whilst sleep! Sound good? Maybe we should all sleep more? Food is made up of several things including carbohydrates, protein & fats (these are referred to as “Macro’s or macro-nutrients (big nutrients)”) and also vitamins and minerals (referred to as micro-mutrients). Don’t worry, we’re not going to go into too much detail around this, it’s just to put it into context.

  • Carbohydrates (or carbs) are your body’s main source of energy and for every gram of carbs you eat, there are 4 calories. The best source of carbs are unprocessed whole grains such as brown rice, wholewheat bread and also fruit and vegetables. Carbs should normally make up around 60% of your daily food intake.

  • Protein also contains 4 calories for every gram and are found in foods such as lean meat, fish, cheese, milk and eggs and should make up around 10-15% of your diet.

  • Fats however contain 9 calories per gram so more than double that of carbs and protein. It’s important therefore to watch your fat intake, but equally important to know that a healthy body needs healthy fats! Healthy fats are found in things like olives, hazelnuts, pistachios, olive oil, almonds, cashews, avocados and oily fish. Try to avoid saturated fat such as you find in sausages, ham, burgers, whole milk, butter and lard and also do your best to limit the amount of trans-fats that you eat to. Trans-fats are found in all the tasty, enjoyable food such as fried food, take-aways, biscuits, cakes and pastries ☹️

As an example, let’s say you have a calorie goal of 2,000 a day. One gram of protein is 4 calories. So if you eat 125g of protein, that will equate to 500 calories, leaving you 1,500 calories to split between fat and carbs. HOW EATING AFFECTS EXERCISE When it comes to exercising and eating, there are two simple rules – Carbs before and protein after. Carbohydrates are fuel for your ‘engine’. The harder your engine is working, the more carbs you need to keep going. As a general rule of thumb, it's best not to eat immediately before a workout because while your muscles are trying to do their "thing," your stomach is trying to simultaneously digest the food in your stomach. These competing demands are a challenge for optimal performance. And, even more of a factor, eating too close to a workout may cause you to experience some gastro-intestinal discomfort while you train. Ideally, you should fuel your body about 1 to 4 hours pre-workout, depending on how your body tolerates food. Experiment and see what time frame works best for your body. Here are some suggestions for pre-workout fuel:

  • A peanut butter and banana sandwich

  • Greek yogurt with berries

  • Oatmeal with low-fat milk and fruit

  • Apple and peanut or almond butter

  • Handful of nuts and raisins (two parts raisins: one part nuts)

After your workout Your body uses stored energy (in the form of glycogen) in your muscles to power through your workout, but after the workout finishes, you need to replace the lost nutrients. After a workout, focus on getting protein and some carbs back into your body. This gives your muscles the ability to replenish the glycogen they just lost through training and helps your tired muscles rebuild and repair. Try to eat within an hour of completing an intense workout. Post-workout meals include:

  • Post-workout recovery smoothie (made with low-fat milk and fruit)

  • Low-fat chocolate milk

  • Turkey on a whole-grain wrap with veggies

  • Low-fat yogurt with berries

The above ideas offer mainly carbs plus some protein and are convenient — with the first two liquid options also helping to rehydrate the body, which brings us to the next important point – Water! WATER The human body consists of around 50-70% water, depending on your age and how much muscle mass and fat you have. It’s possible (although not comfortable) to survive for a few weeks without food, but without water, your body will start to shut down in just a few days. Water is vital to everything your body does. It carries nutrients around in the blood stream, assists with digestion, regulates body temperature, lubricates joints and also helps to send messages between the brain and your muscles so you can move. The best source of water is tap water, closely followed by milk (but be careful about the hidden fat in full-fat milk). How Much Water do I need to drink? If you’ve ever wondered, ‘how much water should I drink a day, then it’s important to flag here that the ‘rule’ about drinking eight glasses of water a day isn’t technically true! Research published in the British Medical Journal in 2007 that the idea that we need eight glasses every day for hydration comes from a 1945 study, which stated we need 2.5 litres of water a day. What it also mentioned and which has since been forgotten is that most of this can be found in our food. It’s this last bit of information that has been forgotten over the years and so the study has been misinterpreted as claiming we need eight glasses of water a day. The NHS says we should drink six to eight glasses of fluid a day, about 1.2 litres. This includes water, lower fat milk and tea and coffee. And don’t worry about the fact that tea and coffee can cause dehydration. Although they are diuretics, which make you wee more often, a 2003 study by the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Loughborough University found there was no evidence that coffee led to dehydration. The study actually concluded that coffee actually had ‘similar hydrating qualities’ to water. Wee Test Yep, an actual wee test! A really quick and easy way to determine if you are drinking enough fluids every day is to compare the colour of your wee to this chart:

All I would suggest is don't print it and take it to the toilet with you to hold and compare....... 😁

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