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Diet for Climbers: How to Fuel for an Active Lifestyle
I am not a nutritionist, nor a doctor. (Although a medical student helped me write this post.) That said, consult a doctor before making any serious decisions about changing your diet.
We all want to climb harder. We train and perfect our technique in the gym day after day: pull ups, planks, cross training, anything we can do to get stronger. However, I think many of us neglect one of the most important aspects of exercise… what we eat! It’s something I’m just starting to take seriously in my pursuits. With so many of us living off fast food and beer, we’ve sold ourselves short of our full climbing potential.
With the right diet you can climb harder, last longer and have an overall sense of health! Climbing is definitely a physically demanding sport and thus requires the right nutrition to perform optimally.
A diet that provides everything you need for a healthy life is the most important aspect of a good diet. Many of us, myself included, starve ourselves of some form of nutrition while at the same time trying to eat as much of some other substance as possible. This may also be true in our never-ending quest for more protein; Depending on the source, you may be getting some of the amino acids you need while completely avoiding some of the others that are just as important. (More on this later)
Another aspect of a solid climbing diet is the type of food we eat. There is nothing worse than being out in the open and running out of energy. It is important to consume food that will not only give you energy, but will give it to you for a long time, and with the best ratio of good things to bad things. My morning routine before hitting the tanks was a sugar free RedBull (you know because the sugar free part made it healthier) and a Cliff bar; while this gave me great energy at the start of the day, it left me depressed as the day went on. For long-lasting energy, you want to consume complex carbohydrates!
Complex carbohydrates: Unlike simple carbohydrates, which contain only one or two sugars, complex carbohydrates are made up of three or more sugars linked together in a chain. These complex carbohydrates take longer for the body to break down because of their complex structure. Because of this, the energy provided by complex carbohydrates lasts longer and tends not to raise blood sugar – no spikes, no crashes. Complex carbohydrates also have more nutritional value than their simple counterparts; rich in fiber, minerals and vitamins. Complex carbohydrates can be found in a variety of foods, including vegetables, whole grain bread, pasta, and grains such as brown rice.
Protein: It’s the end all be all athletic diet. Ask any athlete about their diet and the answer will always be, high protein! However, there is a good reason for this protein obsession. Proteins are the building blocks of life, and most importantly muscle. You need protein in your diet to help your body repair cells and build new ones. When protein is digested, amino acids are left behind. Your body needs these amino acids in order to build the proteins needed to fuel cell building and organ function.
Nine essential amino acids:
These amino acids are not produced by the body, they must be consumed in the food we eat. Different foods have different types of protein and in turn different types of amnio acids. It is important to consume all of these amino acids throughout the day.
Amount of protein (in grams) the average person needs per day: multiply your weight in pounds by .37.
However, for climbers and other endurance athletes: you’ll need to multiply your weight in pounds by .6 to .8
OK… OK… we know protein is important, but how do I get the right kinds? Well, I’m glad you asked. Everyone knows that meat has protein; in fact, if you ask most people where protein comes from, that’s the answer you’ll get. Now, all this is true; animal tissue is a legitimate source of protein, perhaps even more protein than you actually need. However, it is also a powerful source of cholesterol, too much of which leads to problems such as heart disease. There are also studies that suggest that consumption of animal products contributes to many different forms of cancer. If you choose to eat meat as a protein source, try to stay away from red meat and stick to lean meats like fish or poultry. Unfermented soy (like what’s found in most soy milks and tofu) is also a viable option for protein, but should really be eaten sparingly due to the fact that it’s generally genetically modified and confusing. your estrogen levels.
However, protein can also be found in a variety of natural plant-based foods!
High protein plant sources:
Seeds and nuts
This is just a short list. There are many plant-based foods that are high in protein.
Now if you’re like me and you’ve decided to become a vegetarian… OK, I’m only a Pescetarian, but that just sounds pedantic. i eat fish Sue me! However, if you’re trying to eat protein in the 80 to 100 gram range, you’re going to have to work at it. That means making sure you get some eggs (not too many), fish, nuts, and maybe a plant-based protein powder to supplement your diet to hit those numbers. It is more than possible to consume enough protein on a vegetarian diet, it just takes some planning.
fats: Climbing is obviously a strength-to-weight ratio game, but don’t be afraid of the good fats. Your body needs fatty acids to function properly. These can be found in nuts, olives, avocados and some fish. Try to avoid saturated fats – these are fatty acids, which are usually solid at room temperature. Imagine that in your bloodstream… These fats can contribute to increased cholesterol. Saturated fats can be found in margarine, oils, fatty meats and dairy products.
Trans fats are a subtype of polyunsaturated fats that are not found in natural foods, but instead are a byproduct of the production of hydrogenated oils. These are the fats that lead to atherosclerosis, which occurs when cholesterol plaques stick to blood vessels, blocking blood flow. Atherosclerosis then leads to hypertension and heart disease, the number one cause of death in Americans. There is no “healthy” amount of trans fat.
You may have heard that coconut oil is a superfood. As a small and medium chain fatty acid, it is absorbed directly in the small intestine and does not strain the liver. It can be a quick source of energy, but there is debate about how effective it can be. If you really need a RedBull, try a spoonful of coconut oil instead!
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS):
However, HFCS is never a quick source of energy. After HFCS is ingested, the body actually uses energy (ATP) to store it – the body does not create energy from HFCS immediately. HFCS is actually stored as triglyceride (a fat); you want as few triglycerides in your body as possible. The only way this could be useful is if you consumed a large amount of HFCS and then got stranded on a desert island, using the stored energy only when you starved to death.
Hydration: An important and often overlooked aspect of a healthy diet (especially a climbing-oriented diet) is hydration. Hydration is a key component to strength and endurance. When you’re out on the rocks it’s extremely important to have enough water, especially considering the 30 pack you probably killed last night (we call it Negative Training).
However, this leads to the long philosophical debate… Water or Gatorade?
Now, Gatorade (and other sports drinks for that matter) provide an excellent source of electrolytes – necessary for healthy nerve connections. But not to take anything away from the University of Florida-inspired sports drinks, many of them come with a fair dose of sugar, glucose, or fructose, which you’ll want to avoid.
You can never go wrong with a good water supply!
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