Holistic Health: A balance between diet and exercise

You can’t out-train a bad diet – maybe some will disagree – but we’ve all met that kind of people who eat whatever they want and still seem to stay in good shape. The truth is, it’s not viable, or healthy for that matter, in the long run.

In the end, everything in life is about balance.

Finding a balance between diet and exercise can feel as difficult as trying to keep a kid quiet in a candy store. However, a good springboard can be to see a nutritionist and a professional trainer who can both help you to establish a healthy eating plan and exercise programme that will suit your body.

Another thing to keep in mind is that everyone’s goals differ. You might want to burn fat to fit into your jeans more easily, another might want to bulk up and gain muscle, and the other person might simply want to sustain his/her current weight.

Let’s look at those three scenarios more closely to see how you can balance exercise and diet to help you reach your specific goal.

Weight-loss/fat loss

First of all, it’s important to note that there is a difference between weight loss and fat loss.

Weight loss can simply be defined as lowering your body-weight, that is, the sum weight of your bones, muscles, organs and body fat.

Fat loss, on the other hand, is when you only want to lower the amount of fat in your body. A professional will be able to help you set your goal but usually, healthy men aim for 10% body fat and women for 15%.

Exercise: To burn fat, you’ll naturally require some form of aerobic/cardio exercise that will get your heart pumping. Fortunately, there are many ways to do this – you don’t have to torture yourself by going for a run if you hate running. According to Bodybuilding.com, “aerobic activity by its very nature requires fat to be used as a primary fuel source, with carbohydrates and protein being used to a smaller extent.”

Many professionals will tell you that high-intensity interval workouts are great for burning fat while maintaining (or even building) muscle. Remember, though, that too much cardio can eventually lead to muscle loss.

Eating habits: If you want to lose fat, you’ll have to pay attention to your portion sizes as well as the types of food you put in your mouth. Cutting and controlling your portions will be key to losing fat and there are many ways to do that without feeling like you’re going to faint from hunger.

Muscle gain/weight gain

There is a big difference between bulking up with muscle and bulking up with fat. Once again, it’s important that you consult a professional about your goals.

Exercise: Always keep in mind that muscle is harder to build and maintain as we age. A shocking fact is that most people start losing muscle around the age of 30, with a 3% to 8% reduction in lean muscle mass every decade thereafter (don’t kill the messenger)…

The good news is that there is something you can do about it! For adult men and women, regular resistance training exercises are the secret to building and keeping muscle.

To build muscle, you’ll need – yes, you guessed it – weights! There’s no getting around it, folks.

Some of the best muscle building exercises include bench presses, deadlifts, pull-ups, squats (with weights, of course), tricep dips, and leg presses.

Don’t be alarmed if the numbers on the scale start to climb. The reason for this is that consistent resistance exercises elevate the chances of you building muscle. When you can start to worry is if you are gaining weight and do not exercise regularly. That would be due to an increase in body fat percentage. Drinking wine on the couch does not count as bicep curls…

Eating habits: As mentioned in our previous post, protein is of the utmost importance when it comes to building muscle as protein provides the amino acids that are used as the building blocks of muscle protein.

Protein should make up 10% to 35% of total calories for adults. Try to eat lean animal proteins such as fish, chicken, turkey, beef, eggs, and dairy.

Don’t kill off carbs completely. They aren’t all bad. Carbs are essential for growth and are the body’s first choice for fuel, meaning more accessible energy. In addition, it boosts recovery post-workout and helps to keep cortisol levels low.

Men and women who are strength training roughly twice a week need at least half of their calories from carbs per day. Opt for good carbs that are low in fat, such as whole-grain bread and cereals. Low-fat milk, yoghurt and fruits and vegetables also are good options.

Lastly, remember a bit of fat in your food portions. Yes, you actually do need fat in your diet. Your body relies on fat to supply energy to the muscles. As a general guideline, fat should make up 20% to 35% of your total calories.

Focus on good fats such as extra-virgin olive oil, canola oil, walnuts, pistachios, almonds, avocados and fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and trout.

Sustaining your weight

If this is you, well, good for you! Many people are super envious of those who’ve reached their desired weight and it is inspirational to see people who’ve worked hard to get there.

Exercise: Regular exercise is imperative to keep your desired weight. Why? Because it speeds up your metabolism and burns calories.

If you commit to 30 minutes to an hour of moderate exercise (such as fast walking, jogging, yoga, or aerobics) a day once you’ve reached your desired goal, you are more likely to maintain your weight.

Eating habits: When your aim is to maintain your weight, you’re looking to achieve “energy balance,” which simply means you are burning the same number of calories that you consume. Even better is to consume negative calorie foods (foods that burn more calories digesting than they actually contain).

Once again, it’s all about balance. Also, remember that keeping muscle mass requires much less protein than building new muscle. Try to eat ample amounts of veggies and lean meats, and be sure to consume enough water.

Once you realise a healthy weight isn’t achieved through crash diets but rather a change of lifestyle choices, you are well on your way.

About My Health and Fitness

Welcome to My Health and Fitness, a rich source of articles to help you become the best version of yourself. From diet to exercise and general health, our content contributors (including Biokineticists, Physiotherapists, and Fitness Professionals) will cover all your frequently asked questions and more!

If you would like to join our content team as a health and fitness professional, please email us at info@myhealthandfitness.co.za

Disclaimer: Our articles are not meant to replace any medical advice as given to you by your doctor or healthcare specialist. Always consult your doctor before trying out a new exercise routine or making drastic changes to your diet, especially where pre-existing conditions are applicable.

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