Food is an essential part of daily life. As essential as it is, a lack of knowledge and advertisements for particular diets can make nutrition confusing.
Providers at King’s Daughters Medical Center have looked at the impact of nutrition and diet not only on life, but also on fitness and sport. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Brock Johnson explained how food fuels the body for sports and helps in the recovery process.
A group of dietitians answered questions together in a document submitted to the Daily Independent. Megan M. Cook, Kirstin Anderson, and Heather Jenkins contributed responses.
Calories, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins come up when discussing healthy eating or the latest diet trend. It is important to know the role that each of these elements plays in the body.
“Carbohydrates, fats and proteins make up all the calories in our diets,” according to the group of dietitians. “Calories are what the body needs for energy for daily tasks and to survive. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy. Fats help certain vitamins do their job and provide essential fatty acids. proteins help maintain muscle mass and promote wound healing.
The number of calories has a role. “Generally, consuming more calories than we burn will cause us to gain weight, and burning more than we take in will cause us to lose weight,” Johnson said. “I would like to point out that not all calories are created equal.”
Dietitians and Johnson point out that calorie composition is important.
“It’s important to focus on the big picture of nutrition,” dietitians say. “Three hundred calories from a candy bar versus 300 calories from nuts and seeds will differ in nutrition and macronutrients.”
They advise finding foods that contain all three macronutrients – carbohydrates, fats and proteins – as well as vitamins and minerals.
“Calories are simply a measure of how much energy a particular food contains,” Johnson said. “The same amount of calories can be obtained by eating a double cheeseburger as by eating carrots. Certainly, it would take a lot of carrots.
Johnson said high-fiber, high-protein foods “may help you feel fuller and fuller for longer than processed foods high in fat and carbohydrates.”
It all comes down to fueling the body to achieve goals.
“As a rule, I wouldn’t usually get too caught up in calorie counting,” Johnson said. “A balanced diet with healthier foods tends to be best. Avoiding processed foods, fast foods, sugary and fatty foods is important for achieving fitness and weight loss goals. As with all things, moderation is key.
While the number of calories in and out plays a role in fitness and health goals, dietitians also emphasize better food choices and proper nutrition for weight goals.
“Adequate nutrition is important for any weight goal,” according to dietitians. “If you’re trying to lose weight, more of your calories should come from low-fat, nutrient-dense foods, such as lean protein, fruits, and vegetables.”
This should be done in combination with exercise, he says.
“On the other hand, if someone is trying to gain weight, increase the calories in foods high in fat and protein,” dietitians say.
Each of the macronutrients carbohydrates, proteins, and fats play an important role in the daily functioning of the body, as well as in setting and maintaining fitness goals.
“What we put into our body matters to what we can get out of it,” Johnson said. “In general, a well-balanced diet that ensures you’re getting adequate amounts of essential vitamins and minerals is the most important thing. Each food group is important for performance and normal functioning.
It helps to know the basics of how each type of these macronutrients work to fuel the body based on the type of activity, such as running or weight lifting.
“Our bodies use different sources of fuel depending on the type and duration of exercise we engage in,” Johnson said. “Sugars and simple carbohydrates are the fastest and most available source of energy.”
Loading up on carbs before a run or other similar activity can be a popular tip. Johnson explained the idea behind it, even if it’s flawed.
“Our body also stores carbohydrates that it can use for energy, especially in short-duration aerobic exercise such as long-distance running,” Johnson said. “The effectiveness of ‘carb loading’ is a bit controversial, but the idea is to make sure your body has plenty of stored carbs to use for energy.”
It’s not uncommon to see a weightlifter with a protein shake or something similar.
“Protein is an important macronutrient for weight lifters and those looking to bulk up,” Johnson said. “It’s not necessarily as important as a source of energy, but for recovering and building new muscle. When we lift weights, we break down our muscles. It is in the recovery phase that our body repairs and strengthens our muscles to adapt to increasing resistances and loads. It is this repair and recovery that depends on protein.
Johnson shared more about recovery and how macronutrients play into the body’s response after physical activity.
“During the recovery phase of training, our bodies need lots of protein to repair and build muscle,” Johnson said. “Carbohydrates are important for replenishing stores after more intense activity. Even fat plays a role, especially in long, aerobic interval training.
Paleo, keto, low-carb, and other extremely reducing diets can often have dieters eliminating a substantial portion of one or more of these macronutrients. It can be dangerous to your health in many ways, and they are not sustainable in the long term, according to dietitians.
They are dangerous and unsustainable because a person lacks essential nutrients in their diet.
“The person is also at risk of developing health problems such as kidney failure, high cholesterol and blood sugar problems,” according to dietitians.
As plant-based diets gain momentum, dietitians have weighed the benefits. According to dietitians, relying primarily on plants for food and nourishment can reduce the risk of heart disease, reduce the risk of diabetes, help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of cancer.
For those opting for an entirely plant-powered lifestyle, such as vegetarians and vegans, dieticians have said they should have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day and base their meals on potatoes, bread, pasta and other starches. They choose to add whole grains.
Dietitians also recommend dairy alternatives such as soy or almond milk for vitamin and mineral supplementation.
Diet and nutrition do not have a single clear answer. It’s individual. KDMC dietitians said everyone has a different schedule, lifestyle and eating habits.
“Everyone leads a different life. What works for others may not work for you,” dietitians say. “Talking with a dietitian can help determine the most appropriate habits for better health.”
For those seeking personal advice on diets, supplements, vitamins, or other nutritional issues, dietitians advise consulting a family doctor for lab work. Following the results, “the physician may suggest a plan of care which may include outpatient appointments with a registered dietitian for diet education,” according to the dietitians.
“Healthy eating habits can be incorporated into every person’s life,” the dietitians said.
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