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A Proper Diet Should Be An Essential Part Of Your Fitness Training

Quite often diet considerations do not play a big part in our training program. We tend to think that the exercise alone will keep us healthy. Of course this is not true, and you need to pay careful attention to your diet. Unfortunately, there are so many different ideas about the "right" diet it's difficult to know which is the best one for you. This article looks at the basic requirements of a proper diet to complement both your aerobic and anaerobic fitness training.

What to eat:
I think we are all aware of the importance of eating fresh produce, and getting the right combination of protein, grains and fruit and vegetables. Salads and raw vegetables are especially beneficial because they have not lost any nutrients due to cooking. Fish and chicken are better than red meat. Whey and soy products are a good substitute for animal protein. For the non-vegetarian eaters, I recommend having a 'vegetarian' day at least once a week. Your goal is to make sure you eat the best combination of foods to maintain a healthy body.

What not to eat:
All the bad things you hear about fast foods are true! They shouldn't be part of your fitness training diet. The amount of saturated fat and low quality carbohydrates in fast foods will not help your training, and in excess will be detrimental to your overall health. When I line up for my morning coffee it's easy to spot the people who have had too many donuts for breakfast over the years! Frozen meals as well have lost a lot of their nutritional value due to the preparation process. Ever notice the sorry-looking broccoli you find in some of the 'dinner' plates? Finally those two standbys, coffee and alcohol, should only be consumed in moderation.

High carbs, low carbs, no carbs?:
Complex carbohydrate intake from grains and pasta has long been recommended as the foundation of a trainingdiet. This of course contradicts the dietary counsel of anyone trying to lose or maintain weight. Since we are focusing on fitness training we have to look at your needs that could well be different from your normal diet. You definitely need to make sure you eat sufficient carbohydrates to help provide the energy you need during aerobic workouts.

How much is enough?
When I'm not training for a race I prefer a lower carbohydrate based diet. You need to assess the goal and the intensity of your own training. If you are a runner and you have high weekly mileage you need to have a fairly high carb intake. If you are doing strength training you need an adequate amount of protein to re-build muscle tissue. My recommendations in terms of percentage of your calorie intake are as follows:

> 50 - 65 % calories from complex carbohydrates
> 15 - 25% calories from fat, unsaturated as much as possible
> 20 - 30% calories from protein. Use the higher percentage if you are weight training

Of course this could vary a lot, depending on serving sizes. Usually though, we often end up eating too much animal protein, which can be very hard on your system if you overdo it.

The vegetarian:
If you are in this group you already know the many health benefits of a vegetarian diet. When you are training just make sure you are getting the complex carbohydrates you need, and also sufficient protein.

Carbo' loading vs. the Zone:
When I am not doing intensive training I am a strong believer in the Zone diet also known as 40-30-30. I highly recommend you read one of Barry Sears' books about the zone. Briefly said, we should be getting our calories in the following proportions:

> 40% from carbohydrate
> 30% from protein
> 30% from fat (mostly unsaturated)

When I first picked up a copy of Sears' book the thing that grabbed my attention right away was the fact that the women's US Swim team had followed his regime, and scored an unprecedented success in the Olympics.

Another advantage of this diet in conjunction with endurance training is that your body will get some of its energy from fat on a regular basis. The body's switchover from burning calories from carbohydrates to fat is going to happen anyway, and is one cause of "hitting the wall" in an endurance event. On the zone diet your body gets more used to this, and will reduce the impact when you are actually working hard

Alternative Fast Foods:
Given the fast pace of modern life, we often don't have the time to prepare full meals. Here are a few alternates to the burger choice:

> Chicken Caesar makes a quick nutritious meal, add some carbohydrate.
> Nuts make great snacks and are packed with nutrients and vitamins
> Bananas make a simple snack and also contain potassium
> Soups like lentil soup have a lot of nutritional value and are also very filling!

Fruit and vegetables:
Fruit and vegetables are full of vitamins and are a great nutritional source that will contribute to your overall well-being. Since I started to watch my diet more carefully, and increased my intake of these foods I have seen many benefits. I have more energy and vitality; I don't get that afternoon tired feeling, and generally feel more positive about things.

I bought a juicing machine several years ago, and I am convinced this is a great way to get all the benefits from vegetables, without having to eat huge servings. We enjoy a carrot and apple juice combination most mornings. Since the vegetables are juiced raw, you don't lose nutrients either. If you are in a hurry this is also a quick complement to a light meal. There are many books available on this topic if you are interested.

We've all heard of the 8 glasses a day rule, but how many of us actually do it? The benefits of drinking lots of water are well known. Being properly hydrated will replenish the fluid lost through sweating.

Vitamin Supplements:
If you ate a good diet all the time you probably wouldn't need any supplements like vitamin "C" or "E". My take on this is that some supplements can be very beneficial and are worth the cost. I usually take vitamins B, C and E about four times a week. For men, Saw Palmetto extract is supposed to help guard against prostate problems. For those over 50, calcium supplements in moderation are good for guarding against osteoporosis.

Fish Oil:
Remember your grandmother telling you to take your teaspoonful of cod liver oil. Well there are plenty of studies showing the benefits of a regular intake of fish oil. These include:

> Helping your oxygen uptake
> Fat burning
> Helping the body's joints to function better.

You can get these in capsule form for easy ingestion.

Benefits of a 'good' diet:
We all have different opinions about what to eat, so ultimately it's your choice! I believe following basic principles like...

> Balanced proportions of carbohydrate, protein, fat
> Increase your carbohydrate consumption as your aerobic training intensifies
> Moderate calorific intake
> Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
> Moderate alcohol and coffee consumption
> Less sweets, and 'junk' food

...will make you feel better, and will help to keep you in shape.

About the Author: Mike is co-author of the book "Marathon Training Tips". His website "26.2" about marathon training is part of Ipcor Publishing and can be found at Marathon Training

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