A couple of weekends ago, I completed No.1 Fitness Education’s nutrition course. Which means two things: a) I am now a fully qualified nutrition coach, yaaay! And b) a load of my own food misconceptions have finally been but straight. Which is the part I want to share with you.
When I was growing up, I adored food. I was the kid with a 7-part tupperwear spread full of humous, credite and all sorts of other absolutely extra picnic pieces. And mum loves to remind me of my three-course dinners that apparently I insisted upon daily (I say apparently. I can actually remember this. My pitta bread with balsamic tomatoes game was strong).
Then I joined the Army, and my attitude toward food totally changed. Thanks to a wobble circa 2003, my BMI had plummeted to far below 16 – upon joining Sandhurst, I was strictly instructed to elevate that. Which I duly did. But in the meantime, the act of eating completely lost its joy. Food was fuel, and the aim generally was to get as many macros in as quickly as possible.
I remember being introduced to rations on our first field exercise. We were gathered in a semi-circle in the newly erected platoon harbour, each with an innocuous-looking cardboard box by our feet. This was a 24hr ration pack, and contained 4000 calories of high energy snacks, electrolyte drinks and 3 main meals. The meals could be eaten hot or cold, and in the absence of a 3-minute window to Spork, we would often rip open the packaging, roll a meal into a long tube, and squeeze the contents into our mouths. It is probably the most hideous way to eat, and completely destroyed my love of food.
Loosing my militant attitude toward food and meals was a learning curve, and sitting in a classroom with food myths being shattered every two minutes has given me such a sense of relief. Knowing some basic guidelines for what and when to eat is actually so empowering..
MYTH: You have a 30 minute ‘anabolic window’ after exercise to replenish your protein and carbohydrate stores, in order to feed your muscles
TRUTH: Recent studies have actually rubbished this – the optimum time to re-fuel is up to two hours after a workout.
MYTH: You must eat breakfast and not eat at night, when trying to loose weight
TRUTH: The number of calories you consume in any one 24hr period is what will make the difference when trying to loose weight – Calories are calories. So forcing yourself to eat breakfast when you’re not hungry may actually have a detrimental effect, since you’re increasing the number of calories you’re taking in without need. Your body is a powerful machine and will let you know when it needs feeding.
MYTH: All protein repairs muscles equally
TRUTH: In order to begin functions like muscle growth and hormone regeneration, our bodies require complete proteins, which are a combination of 20 amino acids. On their own, our bodies can make 11 of these, so when we are seeking to add protein, it is important to provide the extra 9 amino acids from clever food choices. The tricky thing is that nearly all plant food are low in at least one of these 9, so simply eating a protein source (e.g. beans), won’t promote functions like muscle recovery. Happily, recent studies have shown that we don’t have to get this combination just right at every meal – we can top up our amino acid basket throughout the day, and our bodies will pull what they need from it.
MYTH: Natural sugar is better for you than refined sugar
TRUTH: This was probably one of the most difficult truths for me to hear, since my shelves are stocked with natural alternatives to refined sugar. Thing is: sugar is sugar, and on a molecular level, the sugar in a piece of fruit is exactly the same as the sugar that comes in big white bags at the supermarket. The confusion has come from the availability of tiny amounts of micronutrients in alternatives like maple, agave, and date syrups. In the whole food (e.g. a single date rather than date syrup), a comparatively small amount of sugar is combined with fibre, which helps slow digestion and therefore prevent blood sugar spikes. Similarly, whilst there may be some health benefits to a spoonful of honey (e.g. antibacterial, anti-inflammatory etc), in terms of weight loss your body will react to it the same way as it would to a spoonful of table sugar.
MYTH: Gazing is best
TRUTH: Eating protein stimulates muscle protein synthesis. However, you need to give your body a break in-between these spikes, ideally around 2-5 hours. So the optimum is 3-5 meals including snacks.
What other food myths do you want busted? Let me know in the comments below, or on instagram @OliviaCoxLondon.