My 5 Simple Guidelines to Eating Healthy

 

One of the most frequently asked questions I get when people discover I am a full-time athlete is,
“Do you have to stick to a strict diet and what sort of things do you eat?”

 My answer is generally along the lines of,

“No, I don’t stick to a strict diet as I like to enjoy my food. However, I have a good background knowledge of what is healthy and try to stick to this as much as possible.”
The diet of athletes’ seems to fascinate people.  It is for this reason that I have decided to start this blog.  Allowing people to see the sort of meals I eat, and why I choose to eat what I do.  It helps that I have a big interest in food.  Discovering new tastes and experimenting with food is a passion of mine.  I both enjoy cooking at home and eating out at restaurants.  I consider myself very lucky that my husband indulges me in both. When cooking, I like to take inspiration from recipes I find online, but am not very good at sticking to them.  It is one of the few situations in my life where I do not stick to the rule book.   Instead I often find myself adding a little more of this, less of that and adding a few extra ingredients as well.
As this is my first blog, rather than give you one specific example of what I have eaten, I thought I would give you a little insight in to some of the basic rules I try to stick to in order to ensure my food is nutritious, healthy and varied.

 

1. Aim for a minimum of 8 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

 

The government has for a long time now, recommended that we aim to eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day. However, there is more and more scientific evidence to suggest that this is not actually enough for us to reach our recommended daily amount of vitamins and minerals.  We should actually be aiming for between 8 and 10.  Vitamins and minerals contained within fruit and veg help to keep our immune system strong, keeping us fit and healthy.  As an athlete this is a priority.  Due to the amount of stress we put our bodies under when training, our immune system gets depleted.  We therefore need to keep it well stocked in order to avoid getting ill.  An easy option would be to take a multi vitamin tablet, as this contains all the vitamins and minerals we need.  The problem with this, is that it is not natural, and I am a big believer in getting as much of my nutrition as possible from natural sources.  It helps that I enjoy eating a good variety of fruit and veg.  In fact there are very few I can safely say I don’t like.

 

2. Avoid having the same carbohydrate twice in one day.

 

This rule is basically to prevent myself from having bread twice in one day.  I love bread, especially when it is warm.  However, bread tends to have a higher GI (glycemic index) than other carbohydrate sources, which means it releases its energy very quickly in to the blood stream.  This results in a blood sugar spike, rather than a gradual release of energy, which sustains the body for longer.  When I eat bread I try to ensure that it is wholemeal or multi grain.  Basically, the browner the better.  When compared to white bread, these breads contain a higher amount of fibre, have a lower GI, are less processed and thus are more nutritious.  Other sources of carbohydrate I use include rice, pasta, quinoa, couscous, oats and sweet potato.  Mixing it up like this ensures I get a good balance of nutrients and don’t get bored of eating the same thing all the time.

 

3. When possible weigh out portion sizes so that you are in control of how much you are having.

 

This generally refers to my carbohydrate sources again.  It is very easy to get carried away with quantities when cooking if you are hungry.  Weighing ingredients prevents this from happening.  This ensures you get the right amount of calories for your needs, rather than too much or too little, which will result in gaining or losing weight. As an athlete I want to avoid putting on excess weight, so controlling my calorie intake prevents this from happening.

 

4. Try to avoid having the same protein source for your evening meal 2 days in a row.

 

This again is to provide a variety of nutrients in my diet.  White meat (chicken or turkey) contains a high amount of protein and is very lean.  Red meat (beef), although higher in fat, is very iron rich.  Iron is a mineral we need to stay healthy, as it helps in the production of red blood cells, as well as lowering levels of fatigue.  Fish (Salmon, mackerel, tuna) is very high in essential fatty acids, which are vital nutrients for good health, particularly beneficial in cell repair.  As an athlete I am constantly pushing my body to the limit, causing my muscle cells damage.  Cell repair is therefore crucial to my performance.  Fatty acids are also important in keeping a healthy heart and respiratory system.  Again, as an athlete, I rely on these heavily.  Therefore, if I change it up throughout the week, I ensure I get a good balance of all these beneficial nutrients.

 

5. There must be one treat day a week.

 

We are not robots, we are human.  There are foods like chocolate and cake, which most of us really enjoy eating, that we know are not the most nutritious for us.  However, if we deny ourselves completely of these, we will only crave them more.  This will inevitably lead to feelings of stress and frustration.  Mentally this isn’t healthy, one day we will crack and binge on the food that we have been denying ourselves.  Feelings of guilt will follow, possibly even leading us to more comfort eating.  In order to stay mentally healthy, as well as physically, there needs to be an acceptance that sometimes we are going to eat food that is bad for us.  We therefore have to ensure that if we are eating something bad for us, we might as well enjoy it.  As long as it is only occasional then there isn’t a problem.  It is what we eat on a regular basis that makes us healthy, not what we eat as a treat.

 

In order to help me stick to these rules, each week I will spend a good couple of hours doing my online food shop.  Firstly researching recipe ideas and deciding what I will cook for each meal for the entire week. This ensures I can buy all the necessary ingredients I need in one go.  I can therefore be confident that, after a hard training session, everything I need to cook a nutritious meal will be ready and waiting with minimal stress and thinking required.
I am a big believer in planning. Some might say obsessively so, but I do love to come up with, and stick to, a good plan. It allows me to feel like I am in control. So although I don’t stick to a strict diet, I do like to control my diet while providing as much variety as possible.

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