Nutrition and Fitness: Eating for Health

Written by: Isabelle Cárcamo

Eating an adequate amount of food is not just about satisfying hunger, but is a fundamental aspect of promoting overall health and well-being. Undereating is a common consequence of diet culture and to counter the effects, a nutrient-dense balanced diet is crucial. Balanced nutrition provides the body with essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. These nutrients are required for the basic metabolic and physiological functions of the body. Macronutrients are the building blocks for energy production, cell repair, immune system function and overall maintenance of our organs.

Weight stigmatization in media is prevalent within the social media sphere, but there is little guidance on nutrition for women that is not catered towards weight loss – and focused on health outcomes. In a study by James Mckendry and Mikkel Ocfeldt of McMaster University, female athletes are suffering from low energy availability impacting their performance and their metabolic rate. The study suggests that fewer than 50 percent of professionals such as coaches and physiotherapists can identify low energy availability – stressing the need for women to consume balanced nutrition to serve both their bodies and their fitness outcomes[1].

When exerting energy through physical activity, an increase in caloric intake is crucial. According to the University of Saskatchewan, carbohydrates play a significant role in providing energy for athletes by aiding in the replenishment of glycogen stores, which are depleted during training and strenuous physical activities. These essential nutrients are found in various forms and are commonly present in vegetables such as broccoli and sweet potato[2].

Contrary to the negative portrayal of carbohydrates in social media diet culture, it is important to recognize their vital role in supporting overall well-being. While some diet trends may target carbohydrates as hindrances to weight loss, understanding the distinction between different types of carbohydrates and considering the broader context of one’s diet is essential. By understanding the different roles of carbohydrates, individuals can make informed choices about how these nutrients contribute to fueling their bodies effectively.

Retaining water and the inability to see the fitness results desired may be accounted for by salt intake. High sodium intake contributes to hormonal changes, which impact weight loss, and lead to an increase of storage of water in our body. Salt aids in the process of balancing electrolytes and fluids in the body but there is a necessity to consume the amount of salt for your body and dietary needs. There is no “enemy” food, salt is a necessity for a balanced diet.

Excessive sodium intake increases fluid retention which causes blood volume to increase and subsequently raise blood pressure. Water retention can create temporary weight gain and a feeling of bloat. Elevated blood pressure will pose a risk to cardiovascular health. High blood pressure puts strain on the Cardiovascular system to keep pumping blood, as well as can create arterial stiffness increasing the overall workload of the heart. Individuals partaking in fitness should be mindful of their sodium intake as this will hinder overall fitness progress and create long-term damage.

Maintaining sodium intake can be done in a variety of ways such as choosing whole foods, reading labels when purchasing food, staying hydrated, and cooking at home.

When choosing whole foods, opt for whole and unprocessed foods that are naturally low in sodium content. This can include fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, lean protein, and whole grains.

When in the grocery store, paying attention to food labels can inhibit choosing items with higher sodium content. There are hidden sources of sodium in packaged and processed foods to be cautious of – but by way of shopping consciously the awareness of these hidden sources will allow you to have more control over your nutritional intake of salts.

Hydration is key to a healthy body. Drinking an adequate amount of water flushes excess sodium from the body, and promotes a healthy fluid balance. 

One of the best ways to manage sodium intake is cooking at home, as this allows better control over ingredients such as salt. Cooking at home allows for experimenting with herbs and spices that enhance flavour without relying on excess salt – and is also a great way to connect with family and loved ones. Cooking a meal with others benefits both your physical health, and presents the opportunity to spend more time with those in your household or who you love spending time with.

When considering overall health and physical goals, eating a balanced diet and consuming calories that fuel your body is not in opposition to your goals – in fact, it is fundamental to reaching these goals. When deciding on food intake, it is natural to feel influenced by the ideology of eating less to lose more weight. This idea fails to take into account the nutrition needed to support healthy fat loss and muscle gain and to fuel the body that serves you daily.

[1]  Mikkel Oxfeldt et al., “Low Energy Availability Reduces Myofibrillar and Sarcoplasmic Muscle Protein Synthesis in Trained Females,” The Journal of Physiology 601, no. 16 (2023): 3481–97, https://doi.org/10.1113/jp284967.

[2]  Student Wellness Centre, “Carbohydrates and Proteins for Athletes,” University of Saskatchewan , June 15, 2023, https://students.usask.ca/articles/carbohydrates-for-athletes.php

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