NUTRITION // 5 steps to optimise your diet
Hands up if you want to feel healthier, have more energy and improve your performance at the gym?
These are my TOP 5 steps to implement if you are feeling lethargic, have hit a fat loss plateau or are just feeling a bit ‘meh’. While the temptation is to overhaul your diet in one fell swoop while you are motivated, I actually recommend making smaller changes over time to form long-term habits. Try tackling one step every 2-3 weeks to make sure it sticks. This way we are less likely to revert back to our old ways. Let’s stop the yo-yo-ing. Ready?
STEP 1. Cut down on sugars and refined carbohydrates
White or ‘beige’ foods (as I like to call them) such as pasta, cereals, bread, pastry and cakes are comforting, tasty and filling. However many people do not feel their best when they eat these foods, experiencing negative side effects such as:
– water retention caused by excess sodium. This often gives you a bloated appearance which is uncomfortable.
– blood sugar spikes – you get a burst of energy followed by a crash, leading you to crave more even though your body doesn’t actually need more food.
STEP 2. Replace these with more veg and complex carbohydrates
You can get majority of your carbohydrate needs from green vegetables, wholegrains (such as oats and quinoa) and starchy vegetables (such as sweet potato). These foods are often easier to digest, keep you energy levels stable and provide you with a variety of vitamins and minerals which help the body function more optimally.
If you think they sound boring to eat then you just need to get a bit more creative with cooking. It doesn’t have to be complex though! Here are some of my favourite simple game changers:
– cook grains in stock instead of plain water
– cut potatoes into wedges or cubes and roast them in olive oil, cinnamon, salt and smoked paprika.
– buy pre-made spice rubs from supermarkets for meat
– coat fish and chicken in almond flour and spices before cooking for a breaded texture
– red wine vinegar is my favourite zero calorie dressing
– making healthy alternatives to your favourite treats i.e. protein balls
STEP 3. Eat protein and healthy fats with every meal
When I am planning a meal I first decide what my protein source is, followed by my fat source. Why do I do this? For years before I developed a better understanding of what the body needs for performance I would just eat what I was craving, and for me this wasn’t things like eggs, fish and meat. Now I know that protein is great for muscle growth and recovery, so I prioritise it. As a general rule, you should aim to consume 1g protein for every lb of bodyweight per day.
Healthy fats include olive oil, avocado, egg yolk, nuts and seeds. They help us feel full, and are essential for cell growth, hormone regulation and organ function. Your body definitely needs fat. Aim to have at least 20% of your total daily calories from fats.
STEP 4. Up your water intake
Try tracking how much water you drink for a few days and see how you’re doing, you may be surprised to see that you are not drinking enough. Water can reduce hunger, and actually prevents you from holding onto water weight (giving you that bloated appearance). Don’t like plain water? Try these tips:
– add lemon or fresh berries
– use squash
– use sparking water
– add mint or cucumber
– drink warm herbal teas
Aim to drink 3 litres per day at least, and more if you are exercising.
STEP 5. Sleep like an athlete
The body needs time to repair cells, and regulate hormone production, particulary leptin and ghrelin which control our appetite. In a study from 2004, participants who slept under 7.5 hours had reduced leptin and elevated ghrelin compared to those who slept longer. These differences in leptin and ghrelin are likely to increase appetite.
Fun fact: many athletes sleep 8-10 hours a night.