Good nutrition for many people is a confusing topic—but it really shouldn’t be. Confusion has entered the equation largely in part because of mixed messages from media and advertising. There is far too much food available (at least in this part of the world) per capita, so there is huge competition among manufacturers to convince you to buy their products. Although taste and convenience may be great reasons to buy and eat something, advertising claims also convince you that you are making a contribution to your health by eating a certain product. These claims are most definitely just as effective as taste and convenience. Labels claiming such content as high fibre, low fat, trans-fat free, high in vitamin A/B/C/(insert your pick), high calcium, etc. are very persuasive. While these labels and claims might be true, they are mainly there to distract you—to distract from the fact that while something may be trans fat free (which is a good thing), it doesn’t mean that is fat free, low fat or that it is contributing anything of nutritional value to your diet. Perhaps one of the easiest tests of healthiness is the label itself, or lack of one. Real foods don’t tend to have labels because you don’t need to read something to see what it is or what it is composed of. Of course, there is also plenty of good food that has been prepared and packaged for you that can be part of a nutritious diet. And this is also a good thing—convenience is a must for most people these days, especially for the average person working a full-time job while trying to juggle training, family and any spare time they may have.
Busy lifestyles mean that more and more meals are being prepared and eaten outside the home. Many meals and snacks often must be eaten on the run, in the car, at the office desk, at the drive-through and even more meals that are actually being eaten at home are merely partially prepared, —needing only a zap or quick reheat in the microwave or toaster oven. But the reality is that healthy foods can be prepared from scratch quickly and easily even with only limited cooking knowledge.
The key? Start with good ingredients and do very little to them.
Ideally, use the seasons as a guide—get to a farmer’s market or an ever increasingly used tactic can be getting organic local produce delivered. Local seasonal food is fresher, contains more nutrients and tastes much better than produce shipped from far away, which defies seasons and is often stored for months on end. When you have garden-fresh veggies and fruits you don’t need to do much with them. Plus, because they are fresh and you know you will get another delivery in another week, you will be inspired to make them the basis for what you eat rather than using them as side dishes to the semi-prepared foods in the pantry.
Unfortunately, the reality is that farmer’s market shopping may be the ideal for many, as it assumes a time luxury that just cannot be afforded by all. But this is still not an excuse for excluding nutritious veggies, fruits and whole grains from your diet. Make use of flash frozen vegetables, organic whole grains such as quinoa, or alternatives such as canned tomatoes (make sure to look for the ones which are just pure plain tomatoes and perhaps a little salt). Also, there are plenty of quality pre-made meals available at a variety of natural food supermarkets.
Get organised—even a little bit will make a difference. This can be as simple as making it a priority to always have something stocked in your freezer, such as frozen vegetables, or loading your pantry with staples such as canned tuna, packets of couscous, canned legumes. Another quick fix: When you do cook, make extra and freeze individual portions. If you make a point of educating yourself, even if that is just reading labels in the supermarket, you will be surprised and will certainly learn some new words and probably some new habits.
What about when traveling? Sometimes there really do seem to be no truly healthy food options. Thankfully, most fast food restaurants now have “healthy option” menus that include salads, light sandwiches, soups, etc. Look or ask for nutrition information if you’re ever concerned about ingredients—the new health reforms make this easier—or ask for changes to what is listed on the restaurant menu.
If all else fails, consider going to the supermarket instead—grab some fruit, pre-made salad, bread and cheese. And look for the chains that are starting to make more of an effort to incorporate healthy, quick meal alternatives. Ultimately change is coming in the form of consumer pressure from people much like you who are asking for more naturally sourced meal options.
How, then, do sports foods, such as nutrition bars, gels and drinks, which are refined, sugary, caloric dense foods, fit into a healthy eating plan? Sports foods serve a very specific purpose—they are designed to maximise performance by supplementing—as opposed to replacing—a healthy diet. They deliver additional compact energy and hydration that can be quickly absorbed and utilised. Like any other training or racing performance aid, use these products to maximum effect at specific times around training and racing. In the meantime, it’s best to just stick to the basics.
From Triathlete Europe Magazine