By Michael Martin
We live in a fast and furious world. Supplements have become so high-tech that our pre- and post-workout needs are satisfied by a few scoops of powder and a little bit of water. In this world of convenience and results, it's easy to overlook why overall nutrition is important to your health and fitness goals.
Whether you're looking to fuel your days, drop the quarantine 15, or train for your next marathon, here's what the experts say about the importance of good nutrition.
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We know the basics of nutrition, like how fruits and veggies are good and junk food is bad. But in what ways does good nutrition benefit us? Here's what you need to know.
A diet that consists primarily of whole foods helps you stay healthy, says Jinan Banna, Ph.D., RD, a registered dietitian and associate professor of nutrition at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "Fruits and vegetables, for example, are a source of fiber and micronutrients, and many also have antioxidant-like properties. Plant-based diets support the gut microbiome and overall health."
2. Supports fitness
"Good nutrition allows you to reap the most from your workout," says Abby Vichill, MS, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian in Cleveland, Ohio, and instructor at Case Western Reserve University. "If you're not repairing muscle and replenishing glycogen after lifting weights or going on runs, your efforts are being somewhat wasted. You cannot out-train a bad diet."
Getting the body composition you want isn't all about calories. "The quality and quantity of food you eat will determine whether your weight is primarily muscle or fat," says Vichill.
"Good nutrition can make the difference between living and living," says Jen Hernandez, RDN, CSR, LDN, a registered dietitian in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, who's board-certified in renal nutrition. "It's one thing to just get through life feeling fine, but the right nutrition can give you more energy, better health outcomes, and even better mood."
"People who report eating better often experience less emotional stress, feel better about themselves, and report having more energy to be physically active — a double win," says Mary Wirtz, MS, RDN, CSS, a clinical registered dietitian at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Good nutrition isn't achieved by just putting yourself on some crazy diet that you'll only be able to stick to for a couple weeks. Here are some tips on how to rethink your nutrition.
"Foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein provide your body with the nutrients it needs for optimal health and longevity," says Banna. "Keep in mind moderation, variety, adequacy, and balance, and choose mostly whole foods." According to Banna:
If you want to see results — or you're on a current nutrition regimen that isn't giving you the results you want — Banna says meal prep is the most important thing on which to spend your time and money. "Planning your meals in advance will help, as will shopping smart to get the best deals on high-quality food," she says. "Purchasing larger quantities can be helpful. You can often find discounts on food items if you purchase several of them, and if they are nonperishable, you can save them for some time."
Vichill concurs. "The number one most important thing to spend money on is enough food to prep for yourself or your family on Sundays" for the week ahead, she says.
When it comes to nutrition for weight loss, "some people are led to believe that particular foods are 'bad,' such as carbohydrate-containing foods such as fruit," says Banna. "In fact, all foods can fit in a weight-loss diet."
The right idea is to lower overall calorie intake by making fruit, vegetables, and whole grains the fundamentals of your diet. In the case of much-vilified carbs, "Carbohydrates are an important part of the diet generally, and foods such as fruit provide a lot of water and fiber important for weight loss," says Banna.
"It is important to get back to the basics with healthy eating rather than trying to overcomplicate it," says Wirtz. "The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages simply starting with small changes to make healthier choices that you will also enjoy." For Wirtz, those basics are:
You don't want to demonize entire food groups, but you don't want to lionize single foods, either. "Some may start to believe that they need to emphasize foods, such as grapefruit, and that if they consume a diet that mainly consists of this, that is the key," says Banna. The hallmark of good nutrition — whether you want to maintain, lose, or gain weight — is to eat various whole foods. "One still needs to obtain all of the essential nutrients, so that means consuming foods from all groups," she says. There are no magic foods."