Following a healthy, stable diet is an essential complement to a vigorous, daily fitness regimen. For all of the aerobic and anaerobic dedication applied to your gym or studio routine, failure to adopt a healthy, balanced diet to supplement your challenging workouts will inhibit your ability to make pronounced gains with respect to re-toning and reshaping your body. Developing a responsible, nutrient-rich diet can accelerate both strength and cardio progression and prevent a myriad, deleterious medical conditions including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Keeping your cholesterol level and blood pressure readings within optimal levels can dramatically decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease and prolong longevity and quality of life. The following three diets for beginners can form an idyllic partnership in concert with with a dedicated, daily workout schedule to optimize and meet sustained, fitness goals:
1.) Mediterranean Diet
- As an American of Greek ancestry, i have always embraced the Mediterranean Diet and its emphasis on vegetables, fruits, and seafood with a healthy dose of olive oil on most dishes. It is not a coincidence that several of the UN-designated “blue zones” (locations around the world where its citizenry has longer-than-average life expectancy) are centered around the Mediterranean Sea. The warm, temperate year-round climate certainly contributes to the active lifestyle of most of its citizens. However, a traditional diet rich in produce, nuts, and olive oil and low in red meat, sugar, and processed foods also is a significant factor in the region’s above-average life expectancy. The Mediterranean Diet focuses on eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, olive oil, herbs and spices with several servings of fresh seafood a couple times per week. Eggs, cheese, and yogurt should be consumed in moderation while sweets and red meat should be reserved for the infrequent, special occasion. These nutrient-rich foods can be complemented with a glass of red wine, which contains rich antioxidants that are potentially healthy for your heart. If followed responsibly, the Mediterranean Diet can offer several health benefits including weight loss, improved heart and brain health and a reduction in cancer and diabetes risk. Just be sure to maintain an active lifestyle to complement this popular, trending diet.
2.) Flexitarian Diet
- The Flexitarian Diet responds to a reality that dooms many well-intentioned dietary attempts: the over-rigidity in some staple diets. This diet melds the proven, health benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle with the flexible, biological pull for the occasional meat dish. In other words, it is possible for you to munch on a steak or hamburger when the mood suits you while generally following a vegetarian diet for most of the year. The Flexitarian Diet consists of five food groupings: non-meat protein sources (i.e. eggs, legumes), fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and sugars/spices. Many advocates follow a five week meal plan that incorporates breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack recipes. Breakfast options generally should clock in at around 300 calories, lunch options at 400 calories, dinner options at 500 calories, with two snack options each accounting for 150-200 calories. Thus, your daily caloric intake goal should be 1500-1600 calories (with daily caloric adjustments made for gender, height, weight, and exercise level). Scientific research has shown that vegetarians consume fewer calories per day compared to meat-eaters, weigh less, and have a lower body-mass index. The Flexitarian Diet’s emphasis on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will allow the participant to feel fuller on fewer calories than the typical American diet, thus encouraging weight loss. Flexitarians also exhibit a lower rate of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer than than their meat-eating peers and a longer lifespan in consequence.
3.) DASH Diet
- The DASH diet stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” As the title implies, the goal of this critically-acclaimed diet is to prevent high blood pressure, a common medical condition that afflicts over 100 million Americans and can lead to a wide range of negative, medical conditions such as diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. The DASH diet focuses on the consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products that are infused with blood pressure-lowering nutrients such as potassium, calcium, protein, and fiber. DASH advocates frown on foods that are high in saturated fat including desserts and drinks rich in sugar, fatty meats, and high-fat dairy items. Sodium intake should also be monitored closely since sodium is a major culprit of hypertension. The DASH diet is balanced and easy to follow in concert with a daily or weekly fitness regimen. Furthermore, the diet does NOT demand a radical departure of routine for most American consumers compared to other diets. Instead, the DASH diet simply advocates making small, incremental steps that are easily attainable for most people. These small steps may include adding one vegetable/fruit serving to every meal, introducing two to three “meat-free” meals each week, choosing a healthy, alternative snack of fruits or nuts in place of a bag of chips, or substituting herbs and spices for salt during meal-making. This diet is designed to make for a healthier heart and is heavily promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
With the growing popularity of New Age fitness trends such as yoga, pilates, and high-intensity interval training, many Americans have become invested in improving their cardiovascular health, building strength and stamina, and improving longevity. These laudable health goals, however, must be complemented by a dedicated subscription to a healthy, balanced diet that maximizes the gains achieved in the gym/studio or outdoors. For beginning exercise pupils, the Mediterranean Diet, Flexitarian Diet, and DASH diet are three balanced diets that afford nutrient-rich foods that can accelerate fitness gains made at the gym while protecting against health risks associated with a poor diet.