Principles of a Wellness-Based Diet
The term nutrition is the overall process of ingestion, digestion, absorption, and metabolism of food. All of these processes allow the nutrients from food to be assimilated and utilized by the tissues of the body. The guidelines for healthy nutrition apply to both physically active and sedentary individuals alike.
The needs of athletes and physically active individuals are primarily different from sedentary individuals in the fact that physical activity boosts caloric needs. With an increase in caloric intake, the macro- and micronutrients typically follow suit (assuming the additional calories don’t come solely from soft drinks, candy, and desserts).
However, certain guidelines and recommendations that differ from sedentary populations may apply to athletic populations (the timing of nutrient intake, increase carbohydrate consumption, etc). Therefore, it is important to understand the basic, underlying principles of nutrition and nutrients, so this information can be applied in practice.
The foods we eat provide nutrients. There are six categories of nutrients and each provides a different function in the body. Nutrients do not act independently of one another; they all work synergistically.
Carbohydrates play a number of roles in the body. Two of the primary functions of carbohydrates are to provide glucose for the brain and energy for working muscles. Carbohydrates are stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. Glycogen allows individuals to perform exercise for a sustained period of time, ride a bike, go for a run, etc.
While there are no essential carbohydrates, per se (meaning the body can make glucose from non-glucose sources during extreme situations, such as fasting, as described earlier), carbohydrates play a crucial role during exercise. Energy levels will decrease if carbohydrate intake is limited or carbohydrate stores in the body are low. Some individuals need higher levels of carbohydrates than others (endurance athletes vs. purely strength-trained athletes), but no one should eliminate or drastically reduce carbohydrates for non-medical reasons. Doing so will hurt mental and physical performance. There are two nutrients that cannot be obtained by any other food aside from carbohydrates: fiber and vitamin C.
There is surely much confusion about this wholesome macronutrient. Popular diets recommend avoiding them; they are often blamed for “fattening America” and nearly every food product on the shelf has a low-carbohydrate alternative. Individuals often follow what they hear in the media and questions arise: “Should I stop eating carbohydrates after 4 PM?
If I have too many carbs, will it make me fat? I can’t eat fruit, it contains too many carbohydrates, right?” So what is the truth? The truth is that carbohydrates are great for you; it is the type of carbohydrates that should be of concern, rather than carbohydrates themselves.
According to the recently released dietary guidelines, adults should get 45 percent to 65 percent of their calories from carbohydrates (for those who prefer calculation in grams, follow the guidelines later in this section). This range accounts for differences in lifestyles, activities, and goals. It also correlates to the Food Guide Pyramid which allows for some variation among food groups depending on activity level and preferences.
The three major types of carbohydrate:
Simple carbohydrates can also play an important role in your client’s diet when used at proper times throughout the day; however, they should comprise very little of the overall diet because they offer very little to nothing in terms of nutrients. Simple carbohydrates are more technically known as monosaccharides (mono means one) and disaccharides (di means two), which are single and double sugar molecules, respectively.
Monosaccharides are the simplest form of carbohydrate and include:
Disaccharides are made up of two monosaccharides and include:
- Sucrose, which is a combination of glucose and fructose.
- Lactose, which is milk sugar, a combination of glucose and galactose.
- Maltose, which is glucose plus glucose (two glucose molecules, together).
These are all forms of simple carbohydrates. Some real food examples of simple sugars include honey (glucose + fructose), table sugar (glucose and fructose), and soft drinks (fructose and glucose, often listed as high fructose corn syrup). All of the above mentioned simple carbohydrates rapidly convert to glucose, so the body can use them for fuel. This is appealing for many athletes because they each provide a quick source of energy; however, with that quick “pick me up” there also comes a quick fall of energy levels.
The only time that quick-acting, simple carbohydrates should be the focus of the meal is during and after a workout, when the muscles are hungry for glycogen (again, the stored form of carbohydrate). At this time, it is recommended to consume a rapidly absorbed carbohydrate source, such as a carbohydrate drink (e.g., Gatorade or Powerade) or 100% fruit juice along with some protein. Whole food sources work well too, but be sure to focus on foods that are high in the glycemic index chart (which is discussed in detail in subsequent pages). Sugar also goes incognito on food labels and often “hides” under the following disguises: (don’t be fooled, these are all essentially simple carbohydrates)
Common Names of Sugar found on Food Labels:
- Brown Sugar
- Maple syrup Sucrose
- Corn syrup
- Confectioner’s Sugar
- Date Sugar
- High fructose corn syrup
- Brown rice syrup
- Molasses powder
- Turbinado Sugar
- Fruit Sugar
- Maple sugar
- Chicory syrup
Starches and dietary fiber constitute the complex carbohydrates. These are known as polysaccharides (poly, meaning “many”). Polysaccharides are many sugar molecules linked together to make a complex structure.
Only plant foods that contain starch and dietary fiber (such as grains, fruits, vegetables, potatoes, dried beans) are considered complex carbohydrates. There is very little carbohydrate available in animal products. Complex carbohydrates should constitute the majority of the diet. They provide a large number of vitamins and minerals, in addition to fiber. In addition, aside from providing a more sustained source of energy, complex carbohydrates reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers.
Like simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates are also broken down into glucose and ultimately used for energy. However, because they contain more sugar molecules linked together, this is a more laborious process for the body, and it requires more work to digest complex carbohydrates. Thus an individual will often feel “fuller” for a longer period of time when eating complex carbohydrates, compared with simple carbohydrates.
How to Pick a Whole Grain
Whole grains are intact kernels loaded with health-promoting bran, fiber, vitamin and minerals (particularly the B vitamins, Vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc) and various antioxidants. The general rule of thumb is to pick carbohydrates where the first ingredient on the label has the word “whole” in it; 100% whole wheat, whole oats, etc.
Fiber is crucial for optimal health. The total fiber intake among adults in the U.S. is well below the recommended amount. This is unfortunate because fiber provides no calories, may lower the risk of heart disease, obesity, certain cancers, and diabetes. Fiber is helpful in slowing down digestion. For your client, this means that the slowing of digestion helps to provide sustained energy for an extended period of time. This is in contrast to the energy that would come from a high sugar source intake. This is also why it’s important to recommend clients to look for fiber on food labels, not carbohydrates.
There has always (and probably will always) be debate over the protein requirements of athletes. Muscle contains about 40% of the protein in the human body, which has led people to believe that eating dietary protein correlates directly to large muscles. The truth is that eating protein does not build muscle; it is the stimulus of exercise (resistance training) that ultimately builds muscles. Yes, dietary protein is crucial in the rebuilding and recovery process, but in and of itself, protein does not build muscle. This misguided belief is particularly true among strength athletes, who regularly consume an abundance of dietary protein, protein supplements, and amino acids, but many other athletes follow this mantra too.
Amino acids are called the “building blocks” of protein. This is because every single protein is made up of various amino acids, uniquely linked together by something called peptide bonds. The unique linkage is what makes a protein unique (e.g., steak and tofu will have different amino acid combinations and structures). While there are 20 different amino acids required by the body, the combination of more than 100 amino acids makes a protein (the 20 amino acids will repeat in a protein when linked together, getting to the minimum of 100 amino acids needed).
An essential amino acid (also called indispensable) is one that cannot be synthesized by the body. It, therefore, must be consumed via the diet. There are eight (and sometimes nine, depending on the reference) essential amino acids. A non-essential amino acid does not mean it is unimportant. It means it can be produced by the body and, therefore, is not required to come from the diet. Foods do provide both essential and nonessential amino acids, though. If a person does not consume enough food to provide a sufficient supply of essential amino acids, the body first struggles to conserve what it can. It slows the production of new proteins (muscles, organs, hair, nails, etc) until, at some point, it breaks down protein faster than it can be made. The results of this can be seen during starvation and extremely low-calorie diets.
Protein Quality: Animal vs. Plant Proteins
Animal and plant proteins can differ considerably in proportions of essential and nonessential amino acids. Animal proteins contain very high amounts of the essential amino acids. On the contrary, plant proteins (legumes, rice, etc) are low in one or more essential amino acids (called the limiting amino acid). Some say that soybeans contain all essential amino acids in sufficient quantities, but while higher than some beans, they are still much lower in the limiting amino acid (methionine).
Proteins that offer a complete amino acid profile are sometimes referred to as complete proteins, whereas ones that do not provide all the essential amino acids are referred to as incomplete proteins. However, this is not really a concern in developed countries. Assuming individuals are consuming adequate levels of calories and these calories come from a variety of foods, there is little concern for meeting protein needs. This is because eating a variety of foods offers the ability to consume “complementary proteins.” Complementary proteins describe when two or more proteins combine to compensate for deficiencies in essential amino acid content in each protein.
For example, rice and beans are each limited in different amino acids; when combined, however, all amino acid requirements are met. If someone was to live solely on corn as their protein source, for example, they would not obtain sufficient quantities of all essential amino acids. If all essential amino acids are not consumed in sufficient quantities, none of them can be used in the body, and it limits the amount of protein the body can synthesize.
For vegetarian clients, the take-home message is that it is very possible to consume adequate sources of high-quality proteins if an eating plan is carefully planned. In general, it is crucial to ensure that:
- Enough calories are consumed on a daily basis
- There is sufficient variety in the diet
- Diets must be sufficiently planned to ensure protein adequacy
If dealing with a vegetarian client, it is recommended that you work with a registered dietitian who can design and implement a healthy diet to ensure all nutrient needs are met.
It is well established that endurance, strength, and strength-endurance trained athletes have higher protein needs than sedentary individuals. Similarly, growing teenage athletes and those just beginning exercise programs have higher needs. However, the current debate focuses on the specific requirements for each group of athletes or individuals. What is understood, though, is that all of the aforementioned athletes need only slightly more protein than other people. It comes down to essentially the amount found in a piece of chicken, a few cups of milk, or other high-quality protein sources. Furthermore, there is no evidence that eating more than the requirements provides additional benefits. So although many believe that if some are good, more must be better, this is not true and additional protein will not be of benefit in and of itself. It will, however, provide additional calories, and for some, higher calorie content associated with a rigorous training schedule would be the only benefit. Of course, if extra calories are needed, these should come from whole grain, high fiber foods.
In the early 1990s, dietary fat received the same bad rap that carbohydrates are now receiving. It was thought that fat would be detrimental to performance, health while causing weight gain when eaten in excess. Contrary to this belief, though, scientists are now realizing more and more that fats play a crucial role in the body for performance and health. The key is to focus on the quality of the fat, maybe even more so than the quantity. Aside from protein, fat is the only other essential macronutrient; dietary fat provides essential fatty acids (like essential amino acids) that cannot be produced by the body and must be consumed via the diet.
Types of Fat
Fatty acids all have the same basic structure. They are a chain of carbon atoms with varying amounts of hydrogen atoms attached to each carbon. One simple way of describing the various types of fats is to think of the structure of fats as a chain; the chain itself is the carbon atoms all in sequence and all of the spaces are the hydrogen atoms. Some carbon backbones have open spaces along the length of the atoms strung together.
1. Saturated Fat (SFA): all the carbon atoms are full of hydrogen atoms making the “spaces” (gaps) on the carbon backbone full. No other atoms can fit onto the structure because there are no “empty spaces”. Saturated fats are easy to identify because they are solid at room temperature (butter, shortening, animal fats, etc).
2. Monounsaturated fat (MUFA) (mono, meaning one): This type of fat is characterized by having just one open “space“ on the carbon chain. There is room to fit more hydrogen because of the one open “space”. Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature (vegetable oils, olive oil, canola oil, etc).
3. Polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) (poly, meaning many): several of the “spaces” along the carbon chain are empty. Polyunsaturated fats are also liquid at room temperature (flax oil, fish oil, etc).
Trans fats are basically vegetable fats that have been changed chemically by a process known as hydrogenation. Remember the unsaturated fats from above had empty “seats” without a hydrogen atom. The process of hydrogenation or partial hydrogenation is when food manufacturers artificially add hydrogen to liquid unsaturated fats to provide greater stability and, ultimately, longer shelf life; hydrogenation makes liquid fats solid at room temperature. Trans fats should be avoided as much as possible. Beginning in 2006, all food labels were required to have trans fats listed on the food panel. In the meantime, if the words “hydrogenated” or “partially or hydrogenated” are listed on the ingredient list, the food contains some quantity of trans fats. Foods such as hard margarine, shortenings, and most commercially fried foods and bakery items usually contain trans fats.
Essential Fatty Acids
The essential fatty acids are labeled depending on their particular structure. Without delving into advanced biochemistry, the length of the carbon chain (like carbohydrates, all fats have a carbon backbone), deciphers the specific types of fat. The primary dietary preferred sources of essential fats are seafood, flax oil/seeds, and mixed nuts.
Omega-3 fats are a family of essential unsaturated fats that have recently received a tremendous amount of press lately; they are touted for their heart health properties, potential aid in recovery, and reducing the risk of several other diseases as well. The three omega-3 acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found in the plant sources of omega-3’s, such as flax and mixed nuts, while DHA and EPA are both found in the highest concentrations in cold-water fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel, lake trout, tuna steaks, and canned, anchovies, etc). ALA itself can convert to the more useful EPA and DHA, but the conversion rate is very low (~5-15%).
Omega-6 fats are also essential fats. The major omega-6 fatty acid is known as linoleic acid and is found primarily in vegetable oils, like canola and corn oils. While these are essential fatty acids, the typical American diet is very high in omega-6 fats; it is recommended instead to boost the intake of omega-3’s through the food sources listed above.
Hydration and Fluid Intake
Why is staying hydrated so important? When dehydration occurs, our bodies experience a variety of symptoms. Some of these are less concerning, but some can be severe enough to have lasting effects or can lead to death.
When you work and play, your body sweats. Sweating is a good thing because it’s the body’s natural cooling mechanism. However, sweating also results in fluid and electrolyte loss, which can lead to dehydration if fluids aren’t replaced. People often underestimate their fluid needs because they rely on thirst. Thirst is not a good indicator of fluid needs. Many people function each day while being underhydrated. Physical activity furthers the condition and by the time a person feels thirsty, dehydration has already set in. Levels of dehydration even as low as 1-2% of body weight can lead to premature fatigue and impair mental performance.
Causes and Risk Factors for Hydration Concerns
- Increased urine output
- Sweating, excessively
Dehydration results in premature fatigue and increases the risk of heat illness. Dehydration disturbs the body’s fluid and electrolyte balance increases stress on the heart and contributes to the effects of excess body heat.
Activity or work performance can also be negatively affected by sweat loss of as little as one percent of body weight due to dehydration, so proper hydration is critical. Dehydration due to physical activity and high temperatures can lead to heat-related disorders, ranging from simple heat cramps to life-threatening heatstroke.
Any time a person is ill, the possibility of dehydration should be considered. A few simple measures should be taken to help prevent dehydration from occurring:
- Provide adequate fluids to replace fluids lost during sickness and sports activities.
- Do not rely on thirst as a guide to hydration.
- Allow yourself time to become acclimated to your environment.
- Consume water at regular intervals throughout the day. It is best to not “gulp” large amounts of water at one time, as this can impact electrolyte balance in the body.
Hydration Intake Guidelines
Your client should consume 50 to 75% of their body weight in ounces per day. For sedentary individuals, the intake suggestion is 50% of body weight in ounces consumed. For active clients, encourage intake up to 75% of the client’s body- weight in ounces.
How You Can Help
Becoming a Certified Wellness Coach is the perfect addition for the fitness professional who wants to offer more all-inclusive wellness services to clients. The time is now for you to enjoy this exciting and rewarding career, which offers you personal fulfillment while improving the lives of others.
You can become a Certified Personal Fitness Chef and expand your current personal chef business, or add a new profit center for your fitness or wellness business. Many personal chefs cook and coach people in groups to help more people and earn more money per hour. Some chefs provide weekly meal prep service for health-minded customers and athletes.
Our programs are open to anyone with a desire to learn and help others. There are no prerequisites.
That’s it for now.