Written by Fiyory Ghezae, a qualified personal trainer currently, working as a research assistant (The HYPE Project at King’s College London) and Dr Aoife Keohane (Programme Lead within Centre of Implementation Sciences and Teaching Fellow in Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London). Dr Keohane has a PhD in Neuroscience and certificate in Nutritional Medicine.
Now this blog really isn’t focusing on weight gain or loss but more on informing you on the importance of your nutrition and giving you helpful tips and tools. This blog will also hope to try and debunk some nutrition myths. But I also know that many of you may also like information on losing or gaining weight. So, let me start off by suggesting we focus on the basics and what you can control, your food and drink intake.
There are a few ways this can be done:
Some people may feel fine about counting calories, while others may prefer a different approach. For those who wish to count calories, there are many apps that can help you do this while also telling you how much protein to eat, alternatively, you can find calculations online to give you a starting point. The point of this is to eat fewer calories than your body burns during the day through exercise, day to day activities and internal body functions.
Golden Plate Rule
For those who are younger or who want a different approach you can think of the golden plate rule. Basically, fill half your plate full of vegetables, a quarter full of protein and a quarter full of fats and carbs.
You can also use the hand method. Protein should be as much as your fist size, carbs as much as your palm size, fats as much as your thumb size. Don’t forget an endless amount of vegetables. Also, be mindful of dressings on salads and drinks that contain high calories.
Now let’s focus on the three main nutrients: protein, fats and carbohydrates, what they are and why we need them?
Protein helps with muscle growth, foods high in protein give our body amino acids that our body can’t naturally produce. These are needed for growth, maintenance of health alongside providing energy. Studies have found that a good amount of protein intake can lower blood sugar1 and blood pressure levels2. Also, high protein intake boosts metabolism and keeps you full for longer. Now let’s all remember variety is also key, try and switch up your protein sources so it’s not just one source every day. Each source will have a variety of nutritious benefits and switching up your protein sources will keep your meals exciting.
MYTH: Avoid eggs because of their cholesterol content
- FACT: Because their evidence for and against this, we recommend that you base your decision on your personal health needs. However, if you’re at risk of having heart disease, already have diabetes or have had a heart attack it is recommended that you don’t have a high cholesterol intake and only have one egg or two egg whites per day3.
Provide energy and fatty acids that our body is unable to make. It is very important to have fat within your diet as it helps maintain a variety of biological processes. Don’t forget fats also carry essential fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins that can only be dissolved into the body through fats) and are very important for their absorption.
MYTH: Nuts are bad for you
- FACT: In moderation they can provide a variety of vitamins for your body. However, if you have a nut allergy or any other issue with nuts please do not eat them, you can find similar vitamins in other food sources.
Carbohydrates (carbs) provide you with energy. Unfortunately, they’ve been given a bad reputation for making people “fat”, however, carbohydrates are great for you. They’re a great source of energy after working out. Within this nutrient, there’s a term called fibre. Fibre is necessary and important for overall health and can potentially help reduce the risk of some diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes4. If that wasn’t enough, fibre also helps our digestive system and reduce risk of constipation.
MYTH: Fewer carbs make you healthier.
- FACT: Carbs are a great source of energy and should be part of a balanced diet
MYTH: Only fresh fruits count.
- FACT: Fresh, frozen, dried…they all count
MYTH: You should cut out all sugar from your diet.
- FACT: Natural sugars from fruit and vegetables are fine, just be careful when adding extra sugar for taste, using sauces or ready meals.
Now let’s talk about Water
I mean what do I need to say about this… it’s important so drink it! The NHS recommend drinking 6-8 glasses (1.2L) of fluids, mainly water, a day to stop dehydration. Did you know that water also helps improve your skin, boosts your immune system and increases your energy levels? If that wasn’t enough … it also has no calories and can keep you full. Sometimes when you’re hungry, you’re not actually hungry, your body just needs some fluids, so try drinking water, wait 30 minutes and see if that hunger goes away5. And if you’re thinking about weight loss, water will be your best friend, it has been found that drinking 500ml of water 30min before each meal increased weight loss by 44%6. You might as well drink water.
All these nutrients are important in aiding your body to function well, however, how you find these nutrients is also important. Now in theory you can eat processed junk food if it’s within moderation and you’ll be fine. Moderation would be one to two meals a week at most, however even these can increase your risk of obesity, diabetes and coronary heart disease7. Even when looking at it in terms of nutrition… it’s not the way forward. Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to stop yourself from eating it if going out with friends or if it’s the only option. However, having junk food as a primary source of food isn’t a good idea. Processed junk food is engineered in a way to taste great, but lacks protein, fibre and micronutrients needed for the body. They also don’t fill you up for very long, hence why most people end up eating more and result in gaining an unhealthy amount of weight leading to obesity. Food addiction has also been investigated as it is believed these processed foods have the potential to be addictive to many8.
Alongside processed food, another thing to be wary about is dieting. Dieting and restrained eating is one of the strongest predictors for future weight gain9. It is better to adopt a healthier lifestyle, learn what works best for you and your body. And if losing weight is a goal of yours then by all means look into calorie deficit or the golden plate rule but don’t restrict any foods solely to lose weight. It is meant to be a lifestyle and something you continue throughout your life, so it is important to have a healthy relationship with food. No food is bad, it’s all about moderation and what works for your body.
MYTH: Skipping meals is a good way to lose weight.
- FACT: This isn’t a healthy way to lose weight.
MYTH: Eating after 8pm causes weight gain.
- FACT: Doesn’t matter what time you eat, just be careful of aimlessly snacking while watching TV or being preoccupied.
Now that we’ve spoken about nutrition, let’s talk about other factors that are very important for your health; sleep and exercise.
Sleep is something that is overlooked by many but is super important. Poor sleep can cause insulin resistance (reduction in glucose tolerance)10. It can also reduce your physical and mental performance11, potentially, just as bad if not worse than under the influence of alcohol12. It has also been associated with weight gain in children and is believed to cause disruption in your appetite hormones13
Exercises such as resistance training; lifting heavy weights, can lead to improvements in metabolic health such as insulin sensitivity14. As well as improving strength and body composition.
Keep an eye out for a future blog as we will be diving into the world of sleep and resistance training and the behind the scenes of what they do and their importance. Don’t forget to follow us on our Instagram page where we share exercise videos, challenges, nutrition and fitness tips @up_running_heron. We also have a blog on physical activity and some great podcast episodes on a variety of topics Beyond The HYPE Podcast! Be sure to check them out!
Metabolism – “the chemical processes in living things that change food, etc. into energy and materials for growth”
Blood pressure – “the pressure of blood as it travels around the body”
Body composition – “Body composition is the proportion of fat and non-fat mass in your body. A healthy body composition is one that includes a lower percentage of body fat and a higher percentage of non-fat mass, which includes muscle, bones, and organs.”
- Gannon, M. C., Nuttall, F. Q., Saeed, A., Jordan, K., & Hoover, H. (2003). An increase in dietary protein improves the blood glucose response in persons with type 2 diabetes. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 78(4), 734-741.
- Altorf–van der Kuil, W., Engberink, M. F., Brink, E. J., van Baak, M. A., Bakker, S. J., Navis, G., … & Geleijnse, J. M. (2010). Dietary protein and blood pressure: a systematic review. PloS one, 5(8), e12102.
- Dennis, E. A., Dengo, A. L., Comber, D. L., Flack, K. D., Savla, J., Davy, K. P., & Davy, B. M. (2010). Water consumption increases weight loss during a hypocaloric diet intervention in middle‐aged and older adults. Obesity, 18(2), 300-307.
- N Gearhardt, A., Davis, C., Kuschner, R., & D Brownell, K. (2011). The addiction potential of hyperpalatable foods. Current drug abuse reviews, 4(3), 140-145.
- Lowe, M. R., Doshi, S. D., Katterman, S. N., & Feig, E. H. (2013). Dieting and restrained eating as prospective predictors of weight gain. Frontiers in psychology, 4, 577.
- Spiegel, K., Leproult, R., & Van Cauter, E. (1999). Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. The lancet, 354(9188), 1435-1439
- Goldman, S. E., Stone, K. L., Ancoli-Israel, S., Blackwell, T., Ewing, S. K., Boudreau, R., … & Newman, A. B. (2007). Poor sleep is associated with poorer physical performance and greater functional limitations in older women. Sleep, 30(10), 1317-1324.
- Williamson, A. M., & Feyer, A. M. (2000). Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. Occupational and environmental medicine, 57(10), 649-655.
- Magee, L., & Hale, L. (2012). Longitudinal associations between sleep duration and subsequent weight gain: a systematic review. Sleep medicine reviews, 16(3), 231-241.
- Winett, R. A., & Carpinelli, R. N. (2001). Potential health-related benefits of resistance training. Preventive medicine, 33(5), 503-513.