Summer Olympics perfect time for Canadians to adopt good eating habits of athletes
June 18, 2012 – With the Summer Olympics set to take place in London next month, many of us are inspired to get into shape. Keep in mind, though, that the most successful exercise regimes start with what you eat, emphasizes leading Canadian dietitian and best-selling author Liz Pearson.
“Carbohydrates are the primary and most important source of energy for the body,” says Pearson, co-author of Ultimate Foods for Ultimate Health and author of Broccoli, Love and Dark Chocolate, to be released in Spring 2013. “Many people today have developed a phobia of carbs, but the truth is that carbs are actually good for us and we need to consume them every day, particularly when we’re active.”
In fact, the U.S. Institute of Medicine recommends that most of our daily calories – 45 to 65 percent – come from carbohydrates, with 20 to 35 percent coming from fat and 10 to 35 percent from protein. Pearson explains that our bodies break down carbs into sugar (glucose), which provides energy for our cells, tissues, and organs, and gets stored in our muscles for when it’s needed. Once storage is depleted, however, muscles quickly fatigue.
“anytime we exercise, we should adopt the mindset of an athlete and think of carbs as fuel for our muscles, but it’s critical to be aware that not all carbs are created equal,” Pearson says, explaining that 100 percent whole grain bread and pasta – such as Catelli® Healthy Harvest® pasta – fruits, vegetables, and beans are the best fuel for our bodies. Most of the carbohydrates we eat on a daily basis should be these ‘good carbs,’ she says. “Because they’re slowly digested, they provide a gradual release of sugar into the bloodstream, and contain valuable nutrients and plant compounds that protect health, guard against diseases and can save lives.”
On the other hand, “getting carbs from refined grains such as white breads and pasta, or cereals, cakes and cookies made with white flour, as well as highly-processed sugary drinks, candy and desserts, can increase the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, macular degeneration and some cancers,” Pearson cautions.
Given that the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week – with children and youth requiring 60 minutes per day – how can one best incorporate carbs into a diet to get a workout of Olympic proportions?
Citing research by the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Pearson suggests eating a meal consisting of good carbs three to four hours before exercising, followed by a carb-mixed-with-protein snack 30 to 60 minutes before getting started to optimize performance. Consuming another carb-and-protein snack immediately following exercise is ideal to enhance carbohydrate storage.
According to Pearson, examples of good carb options that help fuel muscles and provide energy are:
Three to four hours before exercise:
30 to 60 minutes before exercise:
If increasing energy levels isn’t incentive enough, Pearson emphasizes that good carbs are also excellent for brain health – including memory building, learning, and thinking – and may even promote weight-loss because of their ability to satisfy hunger. A recent Canadian Community Health Survey, for example, showed that of the almost 4,500 people studied, those who were at the lowest risk of being overweight got 47 to 64 percent of their calories from eating carbohydrates.
“Numerous studies reinforce the benefits of eating carbohydrates, including research that shows athletes who don’t consume a daily diet high in carbs experience fatigue and poor performance,” Pearson says. “So go for the gold standard in health and make sure you get enough carbs each day – your body will thank you for performing better.”