The start of another year inevitably sees many of us commit to a series of health and fitness resolutions, with plans for this being the year in which we become leaner, fitter and healthier. However, by the time you read this, many of us will have already broken most of them. If this sounds like you, then you’re not alone. But don’t despair, you can get back on track. All you need to do is incorporate some simple yet powerful dietary changes into your lifestyle which offer numerous benefits for your weight, health and wellbeing long-term.
Commit to Planning
Planning is the key to dietary success – having the foods you need on hand to eat well, most of the time. Planning ensures that you do not get stuck without the right protein-rich snack choices; planning ensures that you have healthy meals most of the time, and planning ensures that as an athlete you have the right foods with you for recovery, training and competition. Take control of your food and your nutrition simply by setting aside 20-30 minutes each week, preferably on a Sunday, to plan your meals and snacks for the week ahead. This is all you need to do to take significant control over your nutrition.
Commit to the Right Breakfast Balance
While the importance of eating breakfast may be well known, less understood is the importance of getting the right nutritional balance at breakfast. Too many of us still overdo the carbs at breakfast choosing processed breakfast cereals, white bread and juices which leaves our protein intake a little on the low side. A protein-rich breakfast is crucial as it helps to regulate the hormones that help keep us full and satisfied and less likely to overeat later in the day. Protein-rich foods which can be eaten at breakfast include eggs, baked beans, cottage cheese, protein powder and natural yoghurt. And remember, the earlier you have your breakfast, the better it is for metabolism.
Commit to Vegetables
Unless you are enjoying two to three cups of vegetables or salad at both lunch and dinner you are not eating enough of them. The more vegetables and salad we eat, the more our weight and our health will benefit. Increase your intake of vegies by aiming to include a soup or salad every lunchtime. Snack on vegetables throughout the day and base your evening meal around two or three cups of vegetables or salad every single night.
Commit to Protein-Rich Snacking
Often when we think of snacks we think of biscuits, cakes, potato chips and numerous other packaged ‘snack’ foods. Unfortunately these foods are often high in fat and/or refined, highly processed carbs and offer little nutritionally. Shift your snack focus to include protein-rich foods including natural yoghurt, cottage cheese, reduced fat cheese, nuts, tuna or skim milk. Do this and your snacks will become more nutrient-dense and will be digested more slowly than carbohydrate-rich snack foods, hence helping to control your calorie intake.
Commit to the Best Quality Carbs
Athletes naturally require more fuel in the form of carbohydrates than the average person, but this still means that the quality of carbohydrates is just as important. While you may be burning plenty of calories, wholegrain varieties of carbs, whether it is rice, pasta or bread, are still a much better option nutritionally than white, high GI versions of these foods.
Commit to Recovery
With just a 30-minute time window immediately post any training session or competition to consume both carbohydrates and proteins to ensure optimal muscle recovery, getting into the habit of having the right recovery foods on hand for every single session is crucial. Carry your recovery foods with you. Protein shakes or bars, peanut butter sandwiches, nut bars, fruit and yoghurt or meat/cheese wraps are all good choices.
Commit to the Right Liquid Calories
Juices, soft drinks, cordials, vitamin waters and energy drinks are generally just sugar-based fluids which few of us need. Not only are liquid calories less likely to be compensated for, leaving us vulnerable to consuming too many calories when we drink them, they are also highly acidic and not great for the teeth. Focus your fluid intake on water only and also be mindful that milk-based coffees such as lattes also contain calories and hence cannot be consumed freely.
Commit to Less Alcohol
There is nothing wrong with enjoying a drink or two on occasion but a nightly drinking habit of three or four glasses of wine, or binge drinking on weekends is a nasty habit that can be hard to break. Not only does alcohol have almost as many calories as fat, but when you are drinking, your body is so busy processing the alcohol that you are likely to be storing any food calories that you consume while you are drinking. Be mindful of your drinking habits and aim to consume just two to four drinks not more than five days each week for both liver health and weight control.
Commit to Compensation
You are human. There will always be times when you overdo it whether it is at a special occasion or simply because you are craving higher fat, higher calorie foods. The secret to balancing some food indulgences with weight control long-term is learning to compensate when you have overdone things. To eat a lighter meal if you have overeaten, or eat more soups, salads and skip the alcohol for a period of time if you have had several days of overdoing it. Regular monitoring of your weight will also ensure that you are aware when things may be starting to creep up so you can pull back when necessary.
Commit to Quality Over Quantity
Perhaps one of the strongest nutritional messages that will be of benefit throughout your life is one of always aiming for quality over quantity when it comes to your food choices. An amazing homemade hamburger rather than a fast food meal; the best quality Belgian chocolate rather than the dodgy ‘2 for 1’ at the service station and a little French cheese or pâté rather than half a block of cheddar. Each time you go to overindulge, ask yourself, ‘Is this really worth my calories?’, if the answer is no, you will find it easier to cut back when you need to and indulge a little when it really is worth it.
Susie Burrell’s new book, ‘Lose Weight Fast’ published by Random House is out this month – Check out www.susieburrell.com.au for more information.