Keep the Body Moving –Part II: Dietary and Nutritional Principles
and Practices to Energize and Maximize Physical Activity
Michael Garko, Ph.D.
Host – Let’s Talk Nutrition
Physical activity in tandem with good diet and nutrition bears prevents chronic disease and creates good health. This is not to say that physical activity does not have an independent or stand alone health benefit because common sense and good science demonstrate that it does. However, synergistically speaking, the numerous scientifically established health benefits of regular physical activity are even more realized when fueled and fortified by sound dietary and nutritional principles and practices.
Last month’s issue of Healthful Hints presented Part I on Keep the Body Moving. The primary goal was to sketch the relationship among energy, food and physical activity, with a particular focus on energy, its characteristics, types and forms of storage in the body.
The March, 2008, issue of Healthful Hints presents Part II on Keep the Body Moving. The focus this month is on dietary and nutritional principles and practices to energize and maximize regular physical activity, whether that physical activity involves everyday actions (e.g., walking while shopping, mowing the lawn, climbing stairs, washing the car, etc.) or a regular exercise-regimen constituted of resistance or endurance training or both.
Nutrition – A Necessary Condition to Keep the Body Moving
In Part I on Keep the Body Moving it was contended that a poor nutritional status resulting in a suboptimal level of energy is one of the major barriers for people to engage in and sustain regular physical activity, notwithstanding their good intentions to live a physically active lifestyle. In other terms, it was argued that nutrition (i.e., the supplying, ingesting, digesting, absorbing and assimilating of nutrients containing and enhancing energy) is a necessary condition to keep the body moving. Without the energy derived from food, engaging in regular physical activity is impaired, no matter what form it takes or level of intensity at which it is performed. Moreover, supporting physical activity with a proper diet and healthy nutrition is a necessary requirement to help turn the tide in the battle against a sedentary lifestyle, one of the greatest nemeses to overall health in modern society.
Dietary and Nutritional Practices to Keep the Body Moving
Maintain Proper Fluid & Electrolyte Levels
Engaging in physical activity requires proper maintenance of fluid (primarily water) and electrolyte levels. There is always the real potential when engaging in physical activity to experience sweating which can result in the body becoming dehydrated or otherwise suffering from a body water deficit (hypohydration) and electrolyte loss. It is important to emphasize that any condition, such as sweating, causing the body to lose too much water can simultaneously cause an electrolyte imbalance.
One reason to stay well-hydrated during physical activity is that water is essential for maintaining optimal health and keeping the body moving. The human body is made-up of at least two-thirds water. It is implicated in nearly every major bodily process (e.g., circulation, digestion, absorption, elimination, etc.) essential for sustaining life, maintaining good health and keeping the body moving.
Becoming dehydrated and losing electrolyte balance are among the worst conditions to experience when engaging in physical activity. Dehydration can cause thirst, muscle cramping, lethargy, headaches, an inability to concentrate, drowsiness, impatience, irritability and fatigue, among numerous other effects that can contribute to a poor sense of wellbeing and an inability to sustain physical activity. Furthermore, water is responsible for transporting the electrolytes/mineral salts (e.g., sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, bicarbonate, phosphate & sulfate) to the cells, tissues and organs of the body. Electrolytes are positively or negatively charged ions responsible for keeping the fluids of the body in proper balance and maintaining such important physiological functions as brain function, heart rhythm and muscle contraction, all of which allow for physical activity. Nerve, heart and muscle cells use electrolytes to regulate and carry electrical currents and water across their membranes.
In terms of physical activity, there are at least three other reasons to stay sufficiently hydrated. First, water is a natural appetite suppressant. It creates a feeling of satiety/fullness, thereby, functioning as an appetite suppressant to help prevent overeating and becoming overweight or obese. Paradoxically, being overweight and obese are health conditions which can make regular physical activity more difficult but at the same time are two good reasons to become more physically active.
Second, a body that is loaded with toxins has to work harder metabolically and is less effective and efficient physiologically when using nutrients to supply the necessary energy to engage in physical activity. Consuming at least two liters of water daily is a natural way to help detoxify the cells, tissues, organs and systems of the body, ridding them of toxins. Toxins can stem from the (1) normal metabolic processes within the body, (2) outdoor environment (outdoor & indoor) in the form of hazardous chemicals (e.g., organophosphates – typically used as insecticides, organochlorides – typically used pesticides, carbamates – typically used as fungicides & herbicides, phthalates – typically used to soften plastics & prolong shelf life of fragrances & solvents) and heavy metals (e.g., aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, platinum & mercury), (3) indoor environment in the form of aerosol sprays, asbestos, bleach, carbon monoxide, paint, paint remover, plastics, tap water, tobacco smoke, to mention a few, (4) medical/dental toxins and (5) processed and preserved foods (see Watson & Stockton, 2006).
Third, staying well hydrated will assist the detoxifying systems of the body such as the gastrointestinal system (i.e., liver, gallbladder, colon & entire gastrointestinal tract), respiratory system (i.e., lungs, bronchial tubes, throat, sinuses & nose), urinary system (i.e., kidneys, bladder & urethra), lymphatic system (i.e., lymph channels & nodes) and integumentary system (i.e., skin) to work more effectively in removing toxins from the body, and, thereby, improving the body’s overall physiological ability to convert and utilize nutrients for energy to fuel physical activity.
Hydration tips. It is not a good idea to wait until one is thirsty to begin hydrating. A better principle to follow is to drink water directly before, during and after physical activity, especially sustained physical activity performed in hot weather. Given that many readers of Healthful Hints and listeners of Let’s Talk Nutrition live in warm weather climates such as cites located in the south, southwest and western U.S. hydration becomes an especially important issue. Sawka and Montain (1996) report the following regarding the effects of hypohydration (body water deficit) caused by heat stress on the performance of physical exercise and health:
Physical exercise and heat stress cause both fluid and electrolyte imbalances that need to be corrected. Generally, persons dehydrate during exercise in the heat because of the unavailability of fluids or a mismatch between thirst and water requirements. In these instances, the person is euhydrated (normally hydrated) at the beginning of exercise but incurs hypohydration (a body water deficit) over a prolonged period. Hypohydrated persons who exercise in the heat will incur significant adverse effects. Hypohydration increases physiologic strain, decreases exercise performance, and negates the thermoregulatory advantages conferred by high aerobic fitness and heat acclimation. If strenuous exercise is performed by hypohydrated persons, the medical consequences can be devastating (p. 5648).
It is also recommended to hydrate throughout the day, especially on those days when it is know that physical activity levels will be high, and to keep drinking fluids even after thirst has been quenched, particularly if severe dehydration has occurred.
Sports drinks vs. water. Research suggests that it may be a good idea to use sports drinks when engaged in high-intensity, continuous physical activity or exercise lasting 45 minutes or more. In addition to replenishing fluids and containing mineral salts to restore electrolyte balance, sports drinks often contain carbohydrates which can provide energy and, thus, fuel muscle cells, delay muscle fatigue and allow for sustained physical activity. Sport drinks containing electrolytes and carbohydrates seem to be absorbed relatively quickly by the body. They also seem to help retain fluids consumed after prolonged intense physical activity.
Other than sports drinks, water is a healthy and effective way to stay hydrated when engaged in moderate physical activity lasting for 45 minutes or less. Water is an excellent choice for recreational athlete engaged in exercise lasting 30-40 minutes (see AARP, 2008).
Eat a Balanced Daily Diet of Fresh Whole Foods
Eating a balanced daily diet of fresh whole foods is foundational to good health and wellbeing. It is also necessary condition to provide adequate energy for engaging in physical-activity so as to help create a healthy mind, body and spirit. According to Haas (1992), “Eating a balanced diet is probably the most important aspect of nutrition in regard to long-term health” (p. 516). Furthermore, in my view, it is the most important aspect of nutrition with respect to regular physical activity.
Balance of macronutrients. Macronutrients are the primary sources of energy. Diets high or low in one or the other of the macronutrients (i.e., Protein, carbohydrates & fat) cause all sorts of health problems and nutritional imbalances and deficiencies. For example, eating a diet high in carbohydrates will trigger insulin release. High insulin levels tend to result in the body storing fat. Eating complex carbohydrates and “good” fats will serve to counterbalance or otherwise offset the carb-insulin get fat effect. Eating a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates and fat results in other potential problems, some of which are low energy levels and feeling lethargic, constipation from an adequate amount of dietary fiber, an overworking of the liver and kidneys and diminished cognitive functioning from lack of proper nourishment (i.e., glucose & essential fatty acids) to the brain, all of which can disrupt the flow of having a good time during the holidays. All of these unwanted health and nutrition outcomes undermine the ability of the layperson and athlete alike to keep the body moving.
The Untied States Department of Health and Human Services and Untied States Department of Agriculture (2005) created the following guidelines for the consumption of macronutrients:
• 45%-65% of calories derived from carbohydrates
• 20%-35% of calories derived from fats
• 10%-35% of calories derived from protein
Balance of micronutrients. Micronutrients contain no calories or energy but serve as the activators of energy found in the macronutrients. They are the metabolic helpers of the body. Without them, life would not exist and physical activity would be impossible. There are approximately 52 essential nutrients. Essential nutrients are those vitamins and minerals and other micronutrients that the human body cannot synthesize or create in sufficient quantities which the body requires. They are nutrients obtained from food. Hence, this is why they are called “essential.” To ensure that that these essential nutrients are part of a daily diet, it is “essential” to eat a variety of fresh whole foods backed-up with a daily protocol of dietary supplements, which is discussed later.
In sum, without a sound and balanced daily diet of fresh whole foods to nourish and fuel the body with macro- and micronutrients, the chances of being successful in living even a moderately active lifestyle are reduced.
Augment Daily Diet with a Basic Supplement Protocol
It is important to take nutritional supplements daily so that the body is provided with the necessary nutrients to maintain an optimal nutritional status to meet the energy demands of engaging in regular physical activity. At a minimum, it is recommended that a good multiple vitamin and mineral formula. Use the multiple as the foundation of your supplement protocol. Among other benefits, a multiple vitamin and mineral supplement will help restore those nutrients depleted by sugar (e.g., chromium & copper) and stress (e.g., Vitamin A, E & C, the B vitamins, zinc, selenium, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, sulfur & molybdenum) and assist in keeping the body at an optimal nutritional level.
The multiple vitamin and mineral can be augmented with a greens supplement. This will assist in keeping the body in an alkaline state and provide the body with those phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, enzymes and other nutrients found in energizing green foods.
Augment the multiple vitamin and mineral formula with probiotics, digestive enzymes and a fiber supplement to help create a healthy digestive system. You are not just what you eat. You are also what you absorb. An unhealthy digestive system prohibits the proper absorption of nutrients to maintain an optimal nutritional status.
It is also recommended to take a potent antioxidant formula, immune formula and Omega 3 fish oil to keep the nutritional status of the body at an optimal level and neutralize the free radicals created during physical activity.
Eat At Least 35 Grams of Fiber Daily
It is not just what a person eats but what a person digests and absorbs that affects overall health and energy levels. Therefore, keeping the digestive system healthy with the consumption of daily fiber is a key to performing physical activities. Include fiber rich foods (i.e., grains, fruits, vegetables & legumes) or supplemental forms of fiber in the daily diet to increase the odds of staying healthy, generally, and digesting and absorbing nutrients to fuel or energize physical activities. It is recommended that at least 35 grams of fiber be consumed daily.
Many people who are physically active do not eat enough fiber rich foods to satisfy the minimum requirement of 35 grams of fiber a day. Therefore, using fiber supplements is a useful way to add more fiber to the diet and enhance energy levels. By the way, it is important to drink plenty of water when eating fiber to prevent constipation and improve digestion and elimination.
There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Each type of fiber has its own unique chemical and physical properties, which provide certain health and gastrointestinal benefits for those who live a physically active lifestyle.
Some of the health benefits of soluble fiber include:
• Helps regulate blood sugar/glucose and insulin levels by slowing down digestion in the stomach and small intestine, thereby, delaying the conversion of other carbohydrates into glucose which in turn delays the release and absorption of sugar and stabilizes blood glucose levels
• Helps increase the uptake of vitamins and minerals and other nutrients by slowing down the digestion in the stomach and small intestine and, thereby, allowing more time for food nutrients to remain in the digestive process and become absorbed
• Reduces blood cholesterol levels by dissolving in water and creating a thick gel which slows digestion and binds with cholesterol and bile salts preventing them from becoming absorbed
• Increases the feeling of satiety or fullness, thereby, helping to prevent overeating and weight gain
Some of the health benefits of insoluble fiber include:
• Promotes regular bowel movements
• Helps to move bulk through the intestine
• Facilitates or speeds up the transit time in the colon by adding bulk to the stool allowing for a faster passage through the intestine, removing toxic waste material in less time and allowing for fermentation to take place along the entire length of the colon including the end
It is recommended that a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes be eaten daily so as to incorporate the two different types of fiber into one’s diet. In order to achieve the greatest health benefits from fiber, soluble and insoluble fiber need to be eaten daily in a ratio of 50:50.
Limit Daily Intake of Refined, Processed Carbohydrates
Consuming refined processed carbohydrates is what gets people into a lot of dietary, nutritional and energy trouble. Carbohydrates in and of themselves are not bad. In fact, carbohydrates are essential to a healthy diet. They are the master fuel for the body. Carbohydrates can provide the necessary “good” calories, vitamins, minerals and fiber needed to meet energy demands of being physically active. The nutritional recommendation is to eat the “good” carbohydrates derived from fruits and vegetables. The “bad” carbohydrates are found in foods made from highly processed white sugar and white flour. Highly refined white flour and white sugar in the form of sucrose (table sugar), dextrose (corn sugar), and high-fructose corn syrup are found in many of the foods such as cakes, cookies, candy, crackers, soft drinks, pastries, potatoes and white rice to name a few. These refined carbohydrate foods contain lots of empty, non-nutritional calories, are high on the glycemic index (GI) scale and represent “cheap” fuel to energize the body. Moreover, eating foods with a high GI index rating will cause a rapid spike in insulin levels. Elevated insulin levels leads to the body storing more fat than it normally would, resulting in weight gain.
Sugar. When it comes to refined, processed carbohydrates, sugar deserves special attention. To say that sugar is toxic to the body and undermining to good health and regular physical activity is an understatement. The documented deleterious effects of sugar are almost too numerous to list. Nevertheless, some of the harmful consequences of consuming too much sugar would include:
• Suppressed immune system
• Elevated blood glucose and insulin levels
• Mineral imbalance (i.e., depletion of chromium and copper)
• Interference with the absorption of calcium and magnesium
• Interference with protein absorption
• Increase in systolic blood pressure
• Acidic digestive tract
• Increase in sodium and water retention
• Hyperactivity and anxiety
• Increase in cholesterol, triglycerides and homocysteine
• Increase in low density lipoproteins (LD)
• Decrease in lipoproteins
• Trigger food allergies
• Weight gain
All of the above mentioned health conditions undermine the goal to lead a physically active lifestyle and impair the actual performance of physical activities.
It is worth mentioning that the B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, chromium, L-glutamine can help to modulate sugar cravings and assist in sugar withdrawals. Also, a diet made-up of complex carbohydrates (e.g., whole grains & vegetables) and protein will help to stabilize blood sugar levels and blunt the craving for sugar.
Limit Daily Intake of Saturated & Trans Fats
Much has been written on the unhealthy aspects of saturated and trans fats. Suffice it to say that eating a diet containing high levels of saturated and trans fats is among the most deleterious dietary practices to overall health and wellbeing. High fat diets have been associated with cardiovascular disease (coronary heart disease in particular), cancer, diabetes, obesity, liver dysfunction and infertility, among other diseases and disorders. Becoming afflicted with any of these health disorders prohibits leading a physically active lifestyle and engaging in even moderately intense physical activity.
Being sedentary is an unnatural condition for the human body. Humans evolved such that they need to keep moving. Unfortunately, modern living is more characterized by a sedentary lifestyle than a physically active lifestyle. Experts offer many reasons as to why people are unable to sustain an exercise-training program or fail in their effort to be more physically active in their day-to-day lives (see February, 2008 issue of Healthful Hints).
My view is that too often people simply do not possess enough energy to live a physically active lifestyle because their daily dietary practices are such that they suffer from a suboptimal nutritional status. This month’s Healthful Hints offered six dietary practices to help the body become nutritionally energized to meet the physiological demands associated with physical activity and increase the chances of living a lifestyle characterized by regular physical activity leading to health and vitality of mind, body and spirit.
AARP (n.d.). The facts on water and exercise. Retrieved February 14, 2008, from http://www.aarp.org/health/fitness/work¬¬_out/the_facts_on_water_and _exercise.html
Haas, E. M. (1992). Staying healthy with nutrition: The complete guide to diet & nutritional medicine. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.
Sawka, M.N. & Montain, Scott (2000). Fluid and electrolyte supplementation for exercise heat stress. Journal of clinical nutrition, 72 (suppl), 564S-72S.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services & U.S. Department of Agriculture (2005). Dietary guidelines for Americans 2005. 6th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.