Burnin' up - maximise your energy!

Michéal Brannigan

Remember those good old days when you could eat whatever you liked and not gain a pound? And when staying out late didn’t take a full week to recover…those were the days, eh?

Well, the reason you might not be as energetic as you once were is because our energy requirements and metabolic rate slow down as we get older.

If your thoughts are turning to optimising your health today, it’s worth considering that diet and the food we eat can play a big role in helping you regain more energy.

The first point to remember is to eat according to how physically active you are. Weight gain may be due to our diet providing more energy than we are using up and any excess energy in the body is converted to fat. This is particularly true of men who are prone to carrying extra weight around their abdominal area, commonly referred to as the ‘apple’ shape. Carrying excess weight in the stomach area increases your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

It is still important to eat a healthy balanced diet even if you are trying to lower the overall calorie intake of your diet. This means eating a wide variety of foods and ensuring you are including all the essential nutrients like carbohydrates, protein, fat, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Your diet doesn’t have to include only rabbit food to be healthy - lots of the food you eat already could be healthy foods or could be modified to make them healthier. Eating properly and shedding a few pounds will help to restore some of your old vitality and put a spring back in your step. By taking back control of your diet, you are on the way to a healthier you!

Here’s how it all works:

• The four nutrients that provide energy are carbohydrates, protein, fat and alcohol.

• It is recommended that 50 to 60% of the calories we eat each day should come from carbohydrates for a healthy balance. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy and when they are broken down to glucose during digestion, they are the brain’s only source of energy. Some people think starchy foods are fattening, but gram for gram they contain less than half the calories of fat.

• Good sources of carbohydrates are breads, cereals, rice, pasta and potatoes. Other nutrients present include fibre, calcium, iron and vitamin B. Wholegrain or wholewheat varieties are best. They will also fill you up for longer.

• Protein is important too, and men have higher requirements than women. Up to 15% of our calories should come from protein. The main function of protein is growth and repair. As a guide, men who are a healthy weight need between 44g and 55g of protein a day. In the UK, most men are eating too much protein in the belief that increased protein consumption will enhance performance or muscle size. Any excess protein, which is not used for its primary function, is converted into glucose and used for energy with any excess eventually being stored as fat, so more is not necessarily better.

• Protein can be obtained from both animal and vegetable sources. Animal sources like meat, fish, eggs and dairy contain all eight essential amino acids. Vegetable sources have certain amino acids but not others, and they need to be combined with other amino acids from different proteins. For instance, bread and grains or nuts and seeds provide different essential amino acids so combining these ensures that a vegetarian diet can meet protein requirements, so eat beans on toast, rice with bean salad, or hummus with pitta bread.

• The third nutrient that provides energy is fat. Fat plays an important role in our diet and it is recommended that our fat intake should not exceed 30% of our total energy intake. Fat is a good source of energy and helps absorb fat-soluble vitamins but too much can lead to weight gain. The type of fat we eat is important, too. In general we should cut down on saturated fat or replace it with unsaturated fats like those found in oily fish, olive oil, avocados and nuts and seeds.

• Alcohol contains seven calories per gram, which is more than carbohydrates and protein, but slightly less than fat. Studies have indicated that alcohol is best consumed in moderation and the current guidelines are that men should not exceed 21 units per week. It is also best to spread your alcohol consumption throughout the week rather than binge drinking. Prolonged heavy drinking can lead to a wide range of health problems including high blood pressure, liver damage and some cancers.

It is important to get the correct balance between all these nutrients to ensure you have enough energy to carry out your day’s activities.

For weight loss, the best way to lose fat is to build muscle and let that muscle utilise your energy stores more efficiently. Every 1lb of muscle you build means your body will burn up to an extra 50 calories a day, even when you’re sitting still! The more lean muscle mass you have, the more energy it takes to fuel it – meaning that calories go to your muscles to sustain them rather than being converted into fat. This doesn’t mean that you have to live in the gym or train like Arnold Schwarzenegger - just incorporate some regular exercise into your week and you are on your way.

Glossary of Terms

Calorie - A calorie is a unit of energy. The number of calories in a food is a measure of how much potential energy that food possesses. A gram of carbohydrates has 4 calories, a gram of protein has 4 calories, and a gram of fat has 9 calories.

Amino acids - Building blocks of protein. Two types: essential and non-essential amino acids. Non-essential amino acids can be made from other amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be made like this and must be obtained in the diet. There are eight essential amino acids.

Saturated fat - Mainly solid at room temperature and is found in animal products such as meat, cheese, eggs and butter. A diet high in saturated fat can raise cholesterol. Current guidelines recommend that saturated fat should make up no more than 10% of our energy intake to benefit our health.

Unsaturated fat - Mainly found in vegetable source such as vegetable oils, oily fish, avocados and nuts and seeds. They provide essential fatty acids like omega 3, which may help prevent heart disease.

Metabolic rate - The speed your body burns up calories. The more lean body mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate will be therefore exercise has the best effect on increasing this rate.

Apple shape - A term for a large waist relative to hip size (apple) – this can increase the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. The good news for those with an apple shape is that they find it easier than pear-shapes to reduce their abdominal fat. This helps to improve their overall health.

Start a diet plan at tescodiets.com

Thanks to tescodiets.com who have provided this article.