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Winter 2006 - Act•ionLine

Sustaining the ?Active? in Activism: Food as a Part of Fitness


Last issue, we discussed how important it is to keep our bodies healthy, and how to make exercise part of our daily routines. A healthy body will allow you to support your active, progressive mind.

Becoming more physically active will require a change in diet as well. As our activity levels increase, we must also pay attention to what we put into our bodies. Not only is food the body?s fuel; it?s made up of the building blocks of a future, fitter you!

While plant-based foods are no longer synonymous with health food -- note the abundance of delicious organic desserts and soy-based sandwich fillers -- we still need to focus on building up our new, healthy bodies with wholesome basics. We should focus on getting fresh fruits, beans and vegetables, and whole grains such brown rice, oats, quinoa, barley, and wheat. Treats -- even organic and vegan -- should be an exception rather than a habit.

To deal with cravings, replace the treats with healthful snacks. An apple or banana with a dozen almonds is actually a really nice treat, and won?t leave you with the inferior ?building blocks? of more commonly eaten cookies or chips. This doesn?t mean that cookies and chips can?t be eaten -- certainly not, the horror! -- but at the same time they shouldn?t be a daily fixation. It may take a few weeks, but with a bit of effort, we can look forward to the healthful snacks as much as we did for the not-so-healthful ones. It just takes a little imagination and retraining.

At various times it is just as easy to under-eat as it is to over-eat. The premise is simple thermodynamics: energy in versus energy out. The more active you are, the more calories you?ll need. Conversely, the less active you are, the less calories you should consume.

Shedding or Gaining Extra Weight: The Formula

To shed weight, one must decrease the calorie intake, and increase the calorie output by exercising the body.

It?s important not to cut out too much, or you?ll run into potential health problems or diminish your potential to drop weight. 500 calories is often considered the ?magic number? in weight loss. If your basal metabolic rate requires you to eat 1,800 calories, then make sure you?re eating at least 1,300 calories a day. But I?d recommend keeping the reduction lower and steadier. A 200-300 calorie deficit might be optimal. You won?t shed weight as quickly, but the change will be easier to sustain, and that?s a key to your success. This type of calorie deficit should melt one to two pounds (one-half to one kg) per week. Also, remember that if you?re working out, you?ll need to increase total calories to match your extra efforts and recovery. If you aren?t eating enough, you?ll likely feel tired and listless, and it will be hard to motivate yourself to be more active.

The reverse of this ? gaining weight -- requires an increase in calories (as well as physical activity). Simply eating larger portions, adding 50-100 calories per meal, will work for most.

Final note: If you start going to the gym, and find that your weight isn?t changing very much, don?t get discouraged. It?s very likely that you?re toning up and gaining muscle. Muscle is actually heavier than fat, and so enjoy watching extra fat melt away as your muscle tone starts to show.

Carbs Are Your Friends

Unfortunately, due to fads such as Atkins, carbohydrates have been given a bad rap. While there is some truth in the harm of eating refined carbohydrates, the carbs found in whole foods, from apples and bananas to potatoes and corn, are actually a very healthful and necessary part of sustaining an active lifestyle.

Looking around the world, the countries that suffer the same diseases as ours (obesity, cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes) are also quite high in protein and processed and refined carbs. Looking at the places where these diseases are rare or unknown, one finds that carbs are actually a large part of their diet, and protein is much lower on the scale.

How can this be? The truth is simple: unrefined carbohydrates found in whole foods, like fruits, vegetables and grains, are the main fuel source for our muscles and organs. The brain, for example, is fueled exclusively by carbohydrates! Perhaps this is why those on the Atkins diet are so confused.

Carbs are also essential for recovery from our athletic activities. While it?s true that protein is needed to rebuild muscles, it?s often overlooked that energy is also required to repair and heal. Think of it as building a house ? while bricks are needed, we?ll also need energy to use the bricks in building the house.

Once more, it?s important to stress the difference between carbohydrates. Processed or refined carbs include white sugar, white flour and white rice. In these, much of the fibre, vitamins and minerals have been removed, leaving mainly sugars or starches. Raw cane sugar, brown rice and whole wheat, on the other hand, leave these nutrients intact, and react quite differently in our bodies.

Fear no more, and banish your carbo-phobia, and enjoy all the healthy carbs out there!

Next issue:

Healthy fats and proteins!

Act•ionLine Winter 2006

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