Though it’s true that what we eat has an influence on our training and fitness potential, it’s important not to get obsessed with the detail
Sports nutrition, as it’s often promoted, runs the risk of leading us to believe that to be healthy and perform well on the bike we need to become obsessed with calories, weighing food and mixing shakes.
For most of us who simply want to be a little bit healthier, a little bit faster and wouldn’t say no to dropping a few pounds of body fat, this can seem to suck the joy out of eating, and make a healthy diet seem like a penance. If a healthy diet becomes an unhealthy obsession, then the balance has tipped too far.
In an attempt to simplify matters, we’ve distilled the key advice into six healthy eating rules. These are diet rules for life, so that you can live happily and healthily without having to deprive yourself or feel guilty about what you eat. Don’t worry about the details; if you stick to these simple strategies, everything should fall into place without having to put your breakfast cereal anywhere near the weighing scales.
However, if you have a lot of weight to lose, specific performance goals to meet — or you’re the kind of person who thrives on discipline — having your diet analysed by a nutritionist and getting a diet plan put in place will prove worth the effort.
1 – Love variety
Following any diet can feel restrictive. Not only can it make food and eating feel less exciting, it means that you aren’t getting the range of nutrients possible with varied and seasonal meals. There are lots of reasons you may not have a variety of food in your diet. Maybe you are too busy or lack the confidence in the kitchen to produce a range of meals, falling back instead on the old faithful of pasta and a jar of sauce.
It may be you feel that to keep a grip on your diet and calorie count it’s easier to eat the same things every day. If you are vegetarian and avoiding gluten or wheat, it may seem even harder to eat a varied diet. It’s not impossible, but it will probably require you to do greater amounts of food preparation and think more carefully about your weekly shopping list.
2 – Eat regularly
The old saying ‘breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper’ has some wisdom behind it. Eating regularly helps to stabilise energy levels and appetite, but many people stack the size of their meals and their calorie consumption the wrong way round. The key is to start big and get smaller.
If you regularly have a small salad or sandwich at lunchtime and a large meal in the evening, simply switching these will be enough to see you lose weight and have more energy in the afternoons or to ride home. You may even find you sleep better without a big meal sitting in your stomach. Eating more often doesn’t mean having to eat more food; simply split the same amount of food into five or six portions instead of three big meals.
3 – Stay close to the source
We all know it’s important to avoid extra sugar, added salt, hydrogenated oils, corn syrup and other nasties. You could try checking the labels on everything you eat and learn the names of all the must-avoid ingredients, but there is an easier method.
Food that comes unpackaged doesn’t require such close examination. While you may find a juice drink contains added extras, an orange is just an orange, nothing added. It’s a simple, but effective distinction to make.
4 – Respect your hunger
Getting in tune with your own hunger sensations can take some time if you have been ignoring them. Eating when you aren’t hungry, eating past the point of satiety or suppressing hunger pangs, may leave you unable to judge how much food you need and when.
Try to imagine a scale of hunger, with one being light-headed and faint and 10 feeling stuffed and nauseous. You should start eating when you reach four and feel repeated hunger pangs, but stop at around six or seven once you are satisfied, before you feel full.
5 – Enjoy your meals
Eating should be enjoyable. If you look forward to your meals, enjoy choosing or preparing them and take your time eating them, not only will you be more aware of your appetite but you’ll feel more satisfied too.
There is a lot of research that shows people ‘forget’ food that they eat when not concentrating: TV snacks, for example, or leftovers from someone else’s meal. Likewise, if you eat very quickly and without enjoyment, you can eat past the point of satiety without even noticing. Make eating your meal the focus of your activity instead of watching television or reading a book.
6 – Everything in moderation
Many nutritionists advocate a 90 per cent rule: taking one day off the diet each week, so that you can indulge a few of your vices without feeling guilty and the associated fallout.
The problem with guilt and eating ‘bad’ food is that it can lead to more destructive behaviour. Once the diet and your discipline is broken, it’s easy to feel you’ve let yourself down and to carry on eating ‘off-plan’.
However, if you have the occasional treat and, most importantly, really look forward to and enjoy it, you’ll find it a lot easier to stick to your healthy eating regime the rest of the time.