Committing to a regular exercise routine is a great step toward a better, healthier lifestyle. It improves your mood and energy levels throughout each day and lowers the risk of chronic disease in the long term. Simply finding the time for a workout in your busy schedule is an indication of proper time management on your part.
But over time, many new fitness enthusiasts will encounter problems. Even if you’re consistently working out, you eventually hit performance plateaus or experience diminishing returns. Suddenly your body feels tired, as though it’s no longer interested in the same old routine. Or after losing a lot of weight, you can’t seem to shed the next pound or two.
In response, you can increase the level of challenge, but you may find that your body isn’t up to the task. Or, it leads to temporary improvements, but these too will taper off. Here’s why good nutrition could be the key ingredient you’re missing to make everything go smoothly.
Dealing with natural mechanisms
Our bodies have evolved for survival. Millions of years of natural selection amid an uncertain environment have taught us, on a physiological level, that we should never take the next meal for granted. Primitive men might have had to walk miles in search of the next patch of edible plants or fruit. They would have had to coordinate hunts and engage in an intense pursuit of prey.
By comparison, the development of agriculture is relatively recent. Agriculture is what allows humans to have a food surplus. And with a food surplus, our bodies, which have been conditioned to deal with hunger and scarcity, get greedy. You only have to compare the typical sedentary city-dweller’s physique with images of the few surviving hunter-gatherers in the present day to see the difference.
The takeaway is that the human body adapts to changing conditions with an eye towards efficiency. With a dietary surplus, it stores fat. Fat has a survival function; it insulates us and provides an energy reserve. Increase your activity level, or go on a diet, and the body acclimatizes to avoid losing fat.
Being fit is not about shredding away every last ounce of fat. Sure, some people aspire to have toned abs or great muscle definition, but that shouldn’t be everyone’s goal. You might want to become stronger or stay within the healthy range for your body mass index.
But no matter what your goals are, managing your nutrition is essential to achieving and sustaining them. A pregnant woman can’t ignore her body’s new nutritional requirements. She has to take prenatal vitamins and eat a balanced diet to ensure the health of her baby.
Similarly, adding exercise to your routine changes the way your body metabolizes and demands nutrition. If you want to take your physique in a specific direction, whether it’s slimming down or bulking up, you have to pay attention to what you eat.
Aligning nutrition with goals.
The question is, what do you eat? And before you can answer that, you have to align it with your goals and the type of exercise you’re performing.
If you want to lose weight, for instance, the basic concept is to create a calorie deficit. Exercise and overall activity will consume calories; food intake replenishes them. By ensuring that you burn more than you consume, your weight will continue to go down.
But if you take the deficit too far, the body’s survival mechanisms will come into play and attempt to conserve energy. This is what leads to diminishing returns. So you have to ensure a balanced diet while keeping the deficit to 300-500 calories each day. Avoid sugars and simple carbohydrates. Take fats and animal products in moderation. The bulk of your nutrition should come from high-quality proteins, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
On the other hand, if you want to bulk up, that’s not going to happen if you aren’t eating more. Your body pays attention to what’s going on, and if you’re ramping up the intensity of your exercise without scaling up your consumption, you’ll stay skinny. For this goal, you need to have a calorie surplus within a similar range of 300-500 calories per day while maintaining balanced nutrition. You’ll also want to prioritize protein, which builds muscle and add more carbohydrates and fat.
Finally, once you’ve achieved your desired body weight, the right combination of exercise and nutrition can be used to boost your performance. If you have a competitive run or other sporting event coming up or want to set a personal record, you can consult with a fitness professional. They can give you precise advice on what to eat, and when, to achieve optimal results.