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NEWS | May 28, 2013

Lifestyle fitness: Nutrition feeds healthy habits

By Airman 1st Class Austin Harvill 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

When considering a healthier lifestyle, most people turn on the treadmill or pick up some dumbbells. Exercise is key, but nutrition plays an equal role in maintaining overall fitness.

The Health and Wellness Center at Langley Air Force Base, Va., provides many options for Service members to eat lean and mean.

"We teach lessons about nutrition and even host cooking classes," said Tracy Conder, HAWC dietician. "Taking advantage of these classes can really help people who are looking to revamp their diets."

Conder spoke about optimal nutrition and explained how Airmen can customize their diet to fit their workout goals.

Before breaking down the diet, Conder defined what calories are to clarify what may be an oft-used but little-understood element of dieting.

"Calories are the basic units of measurement for food because all food gives you energy," said Conder. "No matter what you put into your body, the amount of energy produced by digesting and using that fuel can be measured in calories."

Conder pointed out the three main sources of fuel our bodies need to function: carbohydrates, fats and protein. Your caloric intake should consist of 55 percent carbohydrates, 25 percent fats and 20 percent protein. For most people, that means 10 to 25 grams of protein, 5 to 15 grams of fat and 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates daily.

Many people believe eating any amount of carbohydrates leads to undesirable results, said Conder, but they are in fact necessary for a healthy diet.

"Your brain needs at least 130 grams of carbs a day just to function," said Conder. "So in order to do other activities like exercise, you need to eat more than double that amount in some cases."

A lot of men and women looking to build muscle mass consume large amounts of protein to reach their goals. Conder said although protein intake is important to gain lean muscle, the body does not utilize it after a certain point.

"Take your bodyweight and cut it in half; that number is approximately the amount of grams of protein you should eat a day," said Conder. "Beyond that, your kidneys will have to work harder to take the excess protein and convert it into waste, so you don't benefit at all."

While that number can fluctuate and some people might be able to take in a little more on a case-by-case basis, Conder confirmed most people's muscle mass will increase by following her formula above.

Much like carbohydrates, fats are viewed as a diet detriment, but Conder stated fat is necessary for your body to create energy in conjunction with carbohydrates. The differences in types of fats are important, said Conder. Avoiding saturated fats aids in maintaining a healthier diet, but poly and monounsaturated fats are important for the body to produce energy.

To avoid confusion at the grocery store, Conder recommended the following list of foods containing good proteins, carbohydrates and fats:

· Fish
· Turkey
· Chicken
· Eggs
· Low-fat dairy products

For proteins, always look for lean meat and consume red meat sparingly. If high cholesterol is an issue, removing the yolk from an egg can provide a protein boost without as much cholesterol. Skim milk and Greek yogurt are also great sources of protein.

· Brown rice
· Whole wheat bread
· Sweet potatoes
· Whole wheat pasta

Bleached flour and bleached rice don't have the same nutritional value as brown rice or whole wheat. Also, sweet potatoes can serve as an alternative in many potato dishes, so keep them in stock. In a nutshell, avoid simple carbohydrates.

· Fish
· Almonds
· Flax seed
· Avocadoes
· Olive oil

Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential nutrients for your body. Avocados, nuts and olive oil provide similar healthy fats--just remember to eat them sparingly as to not over-consume fats.

These three fuels are important, but the nutrition found in fruits and vegetables play a vital role in any diet as well.

While fruits and vegetables may not be as fuel-dense as other foods, they are pivotal in maintaining the processes for fat loss and muscle gain, and they are important for that "healthy glow both inside and out," said Conder.

"Think of the fibers and vitamins you find in fruits and vegetables as oil for a machine," said Conder. "Without them, things like your hair, nails or immune system would deteriorate and the process of bodily repair would take longer."

She also stressed the importance of how we eat, not just what we eat.

"Without a steady eating routine, you won't feel the full effects of any diet," said Conder. "A consistent, regular diet is important in keeping your metabolic rate high."

Conder said people should eat every three to four hours. Small meals and snacks throughout the day keep metabolic rates higher, which means better digestion and weight loss, whereas three large meals a day can slow down metabolism.

For individuals with a routine workout schedule, Conder suggested blending workouts into your diet schedule for the best results..

"Eating about an hour before a workout will give you energy to exercise," said Conder. "Eating again right after working out then gives your body the resources to rebuild and recover."

Continually enhancing physical capabilities sets military expectations apart from other work environments. The Air Force culture not only embraces that concept, but demands it in order to remain the dominant air power on this planet.