Proper nutrition is imperative for good health, efficient body function and performance, proper energy supply, proper organ activity and healthy aging. It is also a key factor in maintenance of a healthy weight and proper body fat ratio, as well as strong and healthy muscles. When one does not achieve proper nutrition, significant consequences can ensue both physically, mentally, and even unseen internally.
The type of food we eat as well as portion size and frequency is important for proper balanced nutrition. It should be recognized that each person is unique, so there are variations in what works well for each particular person. There are basics of proper nutrition for the general population and there are also special considerations for athletes. Adequate hydration, supplementation, and the 80/20 rule will also be discussed. Many theories exist regarding nutrition or diets, some of those hold truths while others are debatable, however most nutritionists agree on the basic tenants of a healthy diet that will be discussed in this article.
In general, the type of foods we eat should be mostly focused on protein, vegetables, good fats and complex carbohydrates (carbs). To use an understandable and visual way to describe the portion size and ratio of each of these in a healthy meal, this will be described in terms of a person’s hand. The amount of protein one should eat should amount to about the size of the palm of their hand. Some examples of protein-rich food sources are meat, fish, eggs, and lentils. The amount of vegetables that should be included should be the size of two fists. Examples of vegetables are broccoli, spinach, carrots and asparagus. The complex carbs should be the amount of the size of one fist. Some healthy complex carbs are grains, quinoa, brown rice and sweet potatoes. Simple carbs such as sugar and fructose should be limited. The good fats should be relative to the size of a person’s thumb. These consist of coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado. There can also be fruit added to the diet, however be aware of the sugar and carbohydrate content of the particular fruit. Usually these are advised to be consumed as part of a healthy diet, however limited in portion size as well.
The amount of food we eat and calorie content in one meal is also important. Each main meal should be no more than 400-600 calories total, and there should be three main meals per day (breakfast, lunch and dinner). Those meals should be nutrient-dense and contain the correct balance of protein, vegetables, complex carbs and good fats. These are usually listed per serving, and you will often find information that contains the amount of calories, grams of protein, grams of fat, and grams of carbohydrate. The Dietary Reference Intake is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. This amounts to 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man and 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman. In terms of fat, the recommendation is that this should be between 44 and 78 fat grams a day. The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends keeping saturated fat to less than 10 percent of calories a day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that carbohydrates make up 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories. So, if you get 2,000 calories a day, between 900 and 1,300 calories should be from carbohydrates. That translates to between 225 and 325 grams of carbohydrates a day.
The items to be aware of when looking at a balanced meal are also how many grams of sugar it contains (keep this low) and grams of fiber (keep this high). American Heart Association recommends most American women eat no more than 100 calories per day of sugar (six teaspoons or 20 grams). For most American men it is recommended they eat no more than 150 calories per day (or about nine teaspoons or 36 grams).The national fiber recommendations are 30 to 38 grams a day for men and 25 grams a day for women between 18 and 50 years old. Another general guideline is to get 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories in your diet.
There should also be two additional “snack meals” per day, and the frequency of meals is also important. For example, there should be a “snack meal” mid morning and a “snack meal” mid afternoon. These meals should be lower in calories than the main meals, with no more than 200 calories in each. Some examples of healthy snack meals are a handful of raw nuts and seeds, vegetables dipped in hummus, or fruits like berries, pears and green apples. Thus, one should eat at least five meals per day including the snacks. For most people, the goal is to stay under 2000 calories per day to maintain their weight.
Proper nutrition for an athlete may entail additional and special considerations. During sport season or training times, the athlete is burning more calories than a sedentary person, and needs to fuel their body for their sport. The goal is to eat three balanced meals and three snacks a day, with the last one being about two to three hours before a practice or game. When an athlete does not eat enough or properly, their body can actually begin to break down muscle as fuel instead of building it up. Within 30 minutes post-exercise an athlete should have a snack that consists of carbohydrates and protein for improved recovery.
Lakeview Health Foundation recommends that the athlete consume half or more of their daily calories in carbohydrates, eating 350-500 grams. They suggest protein should be 15-20% of the diet and fats 25-30% of the diet. Also, these athletes should consider their own body weight in terms of the amounts of carbs and protein that they need to consume. For example, high school endurance-sport athletes like runners or cyclists need to consume between 3.6-4.5 grams per pound of carbs and 0.5-0.6 grams per pound of protein. The particular sport requirements may impact their nutritional needs as well.
Adequate hydration is also extremely important for the general population as well as for athletes. The general population should drink half of their body weight in ounces per day to stay properly hydrated. For example, if someone weighs 200 pounds then that person should drink 100 ounces of water per day. For a high school athlete, they should drink 90-100 ounces of fluid each day. During heavy training of more than two hours of intense workouts, when one may be losing more fluids by way of sweating, they need to be drinking even more water and fluids. Generally, an additional 24-48 ounces of water per hour of intense training is a good rule of thumb. Additionally, caffeine may have a dehydrating effect and should be limited due to this. The body works most efficiently when one is properly hydrated, and is an important part of the equation to achieve proper nutrition.
Supplements and vitamins can be a beneficial aspect and addition to achieve and maintain proper nutrition. Often, a daily multivitamin is a great addition to one’s intake. There is also good indication and more research presenting itself that most people would benefit from consuming a supplement of fish oil, probiotics, and vitamin D, however one should always consult with their healthcare professional for particular guidance.
Although overall nutrition is extremely important, it is also suggested that an 80/20 rule can be successful for the majority of people. This means that 80% of the time you are following the specific dietary guidelines and the other 20% of the time you are allowing yourself to stray just a bit from the strict guidelines, in moderation. However, the more consistent one is in terms of proper nutrition, the better. One reason for this rule is that often when we are very strict with our diets it is difficult to maintain.
Consider the information and suggestions listed above in this article and decide what is going well for you in terms of your nutrition, as well as potential areas for improvement. Are you eating the proper type of food? Are you eating proper portion sizes? Are you eating at the proper frequency? Are you adequately hydrated? Do you know which supplements you should be taking, if any? If you are an athlete, do you know the additional considerations for your nutrition especially during sport and intense exercise? Often, if one is lacking in certain realms in regard to proper nutrition, this can affect the body and mind. Every individual is unique, and it is important that you find what works for you. Proper nutrition should be a key focus for adequate health and wellness, and it is achievable with these particular tenants. I invite and strongly encourage you to take the steps toward your proper nutritional goals and use these guidelines to help you get there.
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