The energy we get from food can help support an active lifestyle. A well-balanced diet provides us with essential nutrients that nourish our bodies and fuel our movement throughout the whole day.
Award-winning registered dietitian Sue Mah knows this all too well. As a recognized dietitian expert on TV and the founder of Nutrition Solutions Inc., Sue educates and inspires others to eat and live well. Her favourite activities are cycling, Pilates, standup paddle boarding and walking her Aussie labradoodle. We spoke with Sue for her advice on fueling your movement.
How does having a well-balanced diet support an active lifestyle?
“Different nutrients offer different benefits to our bodies. As our bodies’ preferred fuel source, carbohydrates are especially important for endurance activities like long-distance running. Proteins help our bodies build, maintain and repair muscle, while fats provide us with energy and essential vitamins. Try eating meals that include each of these nutrients.”
“Vitamins and minerals have specific benefits, too. For example, foods rich in calcium and vitamin D like dairy products and fortified plant-based beverages, keep our bones strong and healthy. And foods rich in folate, such as legumes and dark green veggies, help build red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout our bodies.”
What are some foods you recommend people eat before and after exercising?
“About two to three hours before doing your activity, eat a small meal or snack containing carbohydrates and protein, such as a sandwich with lean meat/eggs/tuna, or a quinoa salad with chickpeas. If your workout starts in under an hour, have something lighter like a piece of fruit with Greek yogurt or my Grab and Go Cheese Buns with a handful of nuts.”
“Working out for over an hour at high intensity can deplete glycogen (the carbohydrates stored in your muscles). Strength training can break down protein and muscle. After a workout, refuel with both carbohydrates and protein. It’s also important to stay hydrated before, during and after exercise.”
How can people ensure their families follow a balanced diet that supports an active lifestyle?
“Follow Canada’s food guide. Imagine your meal on a plate. In general, for each meal, try to make up half of the plate with fruits and vegetables. A quarter of the plate is protein foods, and the last quarter of the plate is whole grains.”
“I also recommend eating as a family. Research shows that children who eat five family meals together per week are at a healthier weight, have better eating habits and are less likely to engage in risky behaviours.”
“Finally, get kids cooking! Kids are more likely to eat foods they’ve helped prepare. Plus, they’ll learn cooking skills that they’ll enjoy and use for the rest of their lives.”
How can people maintain a balanced diet when they lead a busy life?
“Plan your meals for the next few days and meal prep. This can mean preparing meals and pre-portioning them out or simply chopping up a few vegetables ahead of time. I often make my Apple Pie Overnight Oats ahead of time for breakfast. It helps to save time on a busy morning! For more meal prep tips, read my blog post, ‘4 meal prep strategies for a busy, active lifestyle’.”
How can people save money while still eating well?
- “Buy fruits and veggies that are in season.
- Buy long-lasting produce like carrots, apples, squash and sweet potatoes.
- Use canned and frozen produce such as berries, edamame, corn and peas.
- Look for fruits at different degrees of ripeness. For example, buy a couple of unripe bananas and a couple of ripe ones to reduce food waste.
- Try making more meals with economical plant-based ingredients like tofu, beans, lentils and grains. One of my go-to meals is Black Bean, Corn and Avocado Salad – it’s a delicious, no-cook recipe that uses a can of beans.
- Cook smaller portions of meat and try ground meat – it’s just as nutritious as the more expensive cuts of meat. My Chicken Lettuce Wraps are a family favourite dinner – they’re made with ground chicken, carrots and canned water chestnuts.
- For more easy tips, check out my TV interview videos ‘How to Save Money on Food’ and ‘5 Ways to Reduce Food Waste in Your Kitchen’.”
What can people do to fuel their movement and ensure they have the energy they need to support a more active lifestyle?
“Enjoy delicious, wholesome food. Find activities that you enjoy. Get enough sleep. Look for credible nutrition information sources like UnlockFood.ca. You can find a dietitian in your area to get more personalized advice. For nutrition myth-busting, tips and recipe ideas, you can follow me at @SueMahRD on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube or check out my TV interviews on a variety of trending topics.”