A question I often hear from people hoping to gain some muscle in the gym or lose some fat on the tarmac, is ‘why is nutrition important when exercise is involved?’. The thing is, everyone knows how to exercise in the gym and why they need to lift weights in order to gain muscle or run in order to lose fat. What they don’t know however is how and why they need to eat to support all their good work.
A lack of basic nutritional knowledge is evident in the many fad diets that people try. Many people will compliment their new daily running programme with a diet that consists of stripping everything tasty from their plates. They will cut out all carbs and almost everything else, existing on just fruits and cereal bars to lose weight. The sad thing is these people obviously mean well and I admire their commitment, but that this diet is a) impossible to maintain b) the body doesn’t have the fuel and building blocks it needs to help you train and c) the body will go into ‘survival’ mode and begin to try even harder to store fat in case you’re going through a famine. You must always keep in mind that our body is designed for the lifestyle we had in the wild. Right now we are not fit for purpose – it’s like driving a BMW through a safari, and we need to remember our routes to overcome this slight mismatch.
Do you ever wonder why such a diet is so hard to maintain? It’s because your body is craving the things you’re forcing it to leave out. Your body wouldn’t crave carbs if it didn’t need them. It wouldn’t crave fats if you didn’t need them. You see everything we eat, we eat for a reason – we’re designed that way. If you’d eat it in the wild then, or if it’s made from natural ingredients, then you should still eat it now. That means no cutting carbs out of your diet or fats… but instead just limiting them and getting balanced amounts of everything.
So why is balanced nutrition so important when exercise is involved? It’s because every food group serves a specific purpose – and that exercise makes these purposes even more necessary when it puts strain on the body and uses up energy.
Carbs for example are our main source of energy – both simple carbs like sugar and complex carbs like bread. Our bodies utilise the glycogen in these to form ATP (andenosine triphosphate) which is then used as fuel for our muscles in the gym. If we eliminate carbs then we’ll burn out in the gym, or be forced to burn muscle for energy.
Vitamins and minerals play a large variety of roles including helping us to extract the energy from the carbohydrates, improving the strength of muscles and bones, and fighting illness allowing us to continue exerting ourselves.
Proteins are the building blocks of our bodies (and the amino acids they’re made up from). When you exercise you damage muscle (this is a good thing) but without protein this can’t be repaired (this is a bad thing). Protein then is absolutely crucial for exercise. Even fat plays a role and helps oil joints, improve brain power and utilise the amino acids in protein.
The simple rule then is this: everything in moderation. And that is why nutrition is important when exercises is involved.