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Eating for Performance: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly! (Part 1)

<b>Eating for Performance: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly! (Part 1)</b>

Eating for Performance: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly! (Part 1)

So, you want to eat for better performance. Performance in what? Think about what you want to achieve, and we’ll break it down.

Before we go into the details, let’s recap what we talked about earlier.

We need quality nutrition to help the body function at its best, and the quantity depends on what you need to do. Quality matters, quantity counts.

When it comes to physical activity, food is your source of fuel and nutrients. Among the macronutrients, carbohydrate is the preferred fuel source, protein is the building block, and fat is the reserved fuel. Micronutrients, meaning vitamins and minerals, act on the metabolic pathway, involved in fundamental cellular functions. In turn, they impact brain and muscle functions; any imbalance or insufficiency may translate into effects on cognitive and psychological processes, including mental and physical fatigue.

The GOOD: Exercising for General Health & Fitness

The recommended 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or at least 75 minutes of intense workout is a great guideline to follow for most healthy adults. Eating a variety in moderation, the phrase that you hear over and over, still holds true. For most who work out 30-40 minutes, 3-5 times a week, glycogen, the sugar stored in the body converted from our carbohydrate intake, is usually sufficient.

Overall, exercise helps maintain heart health, prevent chronic diseases, relieve stress, and musculoskeletal health.

However, you are not likely to see much weight or fat loss. If that is your goal, you need to think differently.

The BAD: Exercising for Weight/Fat Loss

Provided that there are no other underlying conditions that affect your hormones and metabolism, weight loss and body composition change will require a nutritious diet with controlled caloric intake and an increase in physical activities.

At the beginning of the workout, your body will be utilizing glycogen. Depending on the intensity of the exercise and the body composition, glycogen will be the go-to source of fuel for about 30 minutes, and the body moves to use fat. You will need a combination of aerobic exercises (cardio exercise such as speed walking, jogging, dancing, or anything that keeps your heart rate up) and anaerobic exercise (strength training with weights or bodyweight), and aim for each session to be longer than 30 minutes.

You will still need a balanced diet that includes at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. On top of this, you will need to plan your total calorie intake, especially those from your carbohydrate intake.

Calculating your actual energy expenditure is a complex process. But here is an example to give you an idea of how to think about your food intake:

Based on the recommendation from International Olympics Committee 2012: 

Light Activity (low intensity/skill-based): 3-5 g carbohydrate/kg body weight /day

Moderate Activity (moderate-intensity activity 1hr/day): 5-7g carbohydrate/kg body weight/day

*(1g carbohydrate gives 4 calories) 


A 75kg person who is doing light activities most of the day will likely require 225-375g of carbohydrate per day, which is 900-1500 calories from carbohydrates.

Jogging for 40min, this person burns roughly 350 calories. The rest of the calories will be spent supporting vital life functions and other activities throughout the day.

Here is what some of our typical foods provides
• 1 portion of kaya toast: 108 calories, 14.79g carbohydrate
• 1 serving of clay pot rice with salted fish, chicken with skin and Chinese sausage: 527 calories, 54.6g carbohydrates

One set of kaya toast (usually two pieces) with one soft boiled egg and a kopi-o would be more than enough to fuel the 40min jog and more. For this person to lose weight and maintain the weight loss, he/she will need to increase the duration/frequency/intensity of the workout and manage his calorie intake.

Now you start to understand why a weight-loss effort without a nutrition strategy would not work well.

There is a lot to think about up to this point. Next week, we will continue to look at “The UGLY: Exercising for Sports Performance” and some tips to help you get started!