There is so much conflicting information out there in regards to nutrition, that we thought we would bring you some very simple and fact based nuggets of information that will hopefully allow you to see the wood from the trees when making your own choices in regards to nutrition. We asked a while ago for your questions, so the areas we have looked at here are based on that. If you have more, leave them in the comments below!
We are attempting to do this objectively and with no bullshit so here goes:
So what are they? Little units of evil that ruin our lives? Well no actually, they are simply units of energy which without, you would have no life and they are in no way the enemy. Calories are your fuel; they are the unit which we measure what we consume and expend.
So how many should YOU consume? There is simply no simple answer for this, but I can tell you it probably isn't 1200 calories...which many places will have you believe. Everyone is different; how much you should eat is greatly affected by how active you are, your weight, your height, your body composition and your metabolism. I am not the biggest fan of counting calories, but if you would like to have a better idea you could choose a number (make in sensible and not restrictive please), consume that amount of calories for 3 weeks and see what your body does. Now it isn't as simple as this; your macro-nutrients and training will affect it BUT it can give you a rough idea.
We are hearing more and more about macros being used as a form of weight management and it is actually incredibly effective at helping with everything from weight loss, gain, body re-composition* and maintaining weight, along with ensuring an athlete is fuelled correctly for their sport but it does require almost obsession-level attention to detail if done 100%. I have first hand experience of using macros and there were definite advantages but I have learnt to use it as a guideline and have balance...as its not that serious. (okay that was very subjective...I said I'd try...)
So what are macros exactly? Protein (rebuild and recover), Carbs (Fuel) and Fat (Protects vital organs and hormone development). All are essential in your diet and there will be various opinions in what kind of ratio you should have in your diet. This really is personal preference but we would really advise NOT excluding a food group.
[This is completely personal preference, but I tend to eat approximately my body weight (in lbs) of protein, 60-70g of fat and the rest carbs and about 2000 calories. Again, this is what works for me and I would do further research for your own personal goals and lifestyle.]
Again, I am wary of tracking too much as it can become obsessive BUT it can be a good tool to learn more about your body if done with balance and care. Myfitnesspal is easy to use BUT ignore the calorie recommendation it gives you, it does not know you or your story!
Some good sources of vegetarian protein are nuts, pulses, lentils, quinoa, eggs, fish (if pescetarian), buckwheat, soy and veggie alternatives to name but a few. The only slight issue is a lot of non-meat or fish based alternatives are also loaded with other macros such as fat and/ or carbs. If you do not eat fish or eggs, it would probably be worth researching a protein supplement to increase the protein in your diet.
PROTEIN SHAKES AND PROTEIN BARS
This is totally personal preference but they can be so useful as an on the go snack. I personally like to eat as much of my protein as possible to avoid hunger, but I would totally grab a shake after a training session if I was between meals or a protein bar to tide me over. Be wary of false advertising on bars and check labels. I can't tell you how many products with the word PROTEIN in the name are actually just a ball of sugar with a touch of protein.
TO CARB LOAD OR NOT TO CARB LOAD
I'm of the opinion, you will prob lose nothing by doing it but could potentially burn out if you don't...plus its hella fun! I guess really this depends how carbs feature in your diet, if generally you eat low carb then your glycogen stores will be low and could affect your performance in a race. If you eat a decent amount of carbs, then if the race isn't long you'll probably be fine. But like we said, you lose nothing by carbing up pre-race.
CLEANSES & DETOXES
This is a loaded subject and in all honestly one I find hard to answer objectively. I'm not a fan, I can't see a place where they should feature in every day life and my personal opinion is they are bullshit for weight loss. Of course you will lose weight on a juice cleanse, you have no food in you. But you don't maintain it or sustain it. I don't know enough about the benefits for actually cleansing a body to really pass comment, but isn't that why we have kidneys? I did read this amazing article which probably has more knowledge on the subject. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/dec/05/detox-myth-health-diet-science-ignorance
Do you have any more questions? Post them below!
Coming soon: Optimising your nutrition for training
*body recomposition - generally increasing muscle and decreasing fat without really losing any weight on the scales.