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Basic Nutrition

Proper nutrition is a key component for good heath and physical fitness. For weight trainers, proper nutrition consumption is the most important aid for making gains. An appropriate assortment of foods from the four food groups can provide all of the basic nutrients needed for the body to function at optimal level. Food satisfies three basic bodily needs, (1) the need for energy, (2) the need for new tissue growth and repair, (3) the need for energy regulation of metabolic functions.

An overview of six nutrients

  1. Water
  2. Minerals
  3. Vitamins
  4. Protein
  5. Fats
  6. Carbohydrates

    1. WATER

    The most essential of all nutrients - no caloric value -necessary for energy production. Drinking a minimum of 8 - 10 glasses of water per day helps your liver do the job of metabolizing fat and detoxifying your body. When you drink too much juice, coffee, soda, and not enough water, your liver has to metabolize that stuff compromising its fat wasting effectiveness. In addition, drinking enough water aides in controlling your weight and appetite, regulating your body temperature, and balancing your bodily fluids. Remember, our body composition is made of 50% of water, and our muscles are 70% water, so donít neglect this simple method to enhance our bodies overall wellness.

    How much water should you drink each day? Activity and environmental conditions are the two most important factors that determine your body's need for water. During study, rest, and sleep, the loss of water is much less from the body than during strenuous activities, such as training. When the temperature is hot and the humidity is low, more water evaporates from your body's surface.

    In sedentary individuals, thirst is an adequate signal of the needs of the body. But with serious athletes, and all people using high intensity training, the desire for water is not an adequate indication of the body's requirements.


    Minerals are inorganic compounds (they don't contain carbon) that serve a variety of functions in the body. Some, such as calcium and phosphorus, are used to build bones and teeth. Others are important components of hormones, such as iodine in thyroxine. Iron is essential for the formation of hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrier within red blood cells.

    Certain minerals called electrolytes help regulate muscle contraction, conduction of nerve impulses, and regulation of normal heart rhythm.

    Minerals are classified into two groups, based on the body's need. Major minerals are needed in amounts greater than 100 mg per day. Calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, and chloride fall into this category. Minor minerals, or trace elements, are needed in amounts less than 100 mg per day. Iron, zinc, selenium, copper, and iodine are minor minerals.


    Vitamins are organic (carbon-containing) compounds that the body requires in minute amounts but cannot manufacture. Vitamins provide no calories and cannot be used as fuel. Instead, they function as metabolic regulators that govern the processes of energy production, growth, maintenance, and repair. Thirteen vitamins have been identified. Each has a special function in the body and also works in complicated ways with other nutrients. Vitamins are divided into two groups: water soluble and fat soluble. Vitamin C and the B complex vitamins are soluble in water. Excess water-soluble vitamins are excreted, mainly in the urine, and have to be replaced on a regular basis. However, excessive consumption of such water-soluble vitamins as niacin, B6, and C can also produce serious side effects.

    Fat-soluble vitamins include A, D, E, and K, which are stored in the body fat, principally in the liver. The solubility characteristic is important in determining whether the body can store the vitamin. Taking a greater amount of fat-soluble vitamins than the body needs over a significant period can produce serious toxic effects. While vitamin A is found only in animals, dark orange-yellow and green leafy plants contain substances called carotenes that the body can convert to vitamin A. Unlike vitamin A, carotenes are fairly safe when consumed in large quantities. The body stores excesses of carotenes (which can make the skin look yellow-orange) rather than converting them to vitamin A.

    There are nine key nutrients that a multivitamin should contain. The nine to look for and the recommended dose are as follows:

    Nutrient                          Dose
    Iron                              up to  18 milligrams (mg)
    Vitamin A/Beta-carotene           5,000 IU
    Vitamin D                         400 IU
    Folic acid                        400 micrograms (mcg)
    Magnesium                         100 mg
    Vitamin B6                        2 mg
    Zinc                              15 mg
    Copper 2 mg
    Chromium 50 - 200 mcg

    The antioxidants vitamins C & E and calcium are not in the table. You should take these supplements in separate amounts. Vitamin C (200 - 500 mg) and vitamin E (100 - 400 IU). These vitamins help fight oxidants which stand in the way of muscle repair. Calciumís benefit in protecting bone loss is best obtained with 500 - 1000 mg daily.

    4. PROTEIN

    Protein is a major structural component of all body tissues and is required for all tissue growth and repair. Proteins are also necessary components of hormones, enzymes, and blood-plasma transport systems. Protein is not a significant energy source during rest or exercise. However, the body will use protein for energy when calorie or carbohydrate intake is inadequate (during fasting or a low carbohydrate diet).

    The proteins in both plant and animal sources are composed of the same basic units called amino acids. Of the more than 20 amino acids that have been identified, nine must be provided by our diet and are called essential amino acids. Meat, fish, and poultry contain all nine essential amino acids and are called complete proteins. Vegetable proteins, such as beans and grains, are called incomplete proteins because they do not supply all of the essential amino acids.

    However, the body can make complete proteins if a variety of plant foods -- beans, grains, vegetables, nuts, and seeds -- and sufficient calories are eaten during the day. Vegetarians don't need to worry about combining specific foods within a meal to achieve complete proteins, since the body will utilize amino acids from foods eaten at different meals. Well-balanced vegetarian diets may even decrease the risk of heart disease and cancer, because they are lower in fat and higher in complex carbohydrates than the average American diet.

    5. FAT

    Kilocalories (kcal) are the units by which energy is measured when referring to the energy taken in by food and expended with exercise. Fats are the most concentrated source of food energy. One gram of fat supplies about 9 kcal, compared to the 4 kcal supplied by carbohydrates and protein.

    Fats are the body's only source of the fatty acid called linoleic acid that is essential for growth and skin maintenance. Fat insulates and protects the body's organs against trauma and exposure to cold and is involved in the absorption and transport of the fat-soluble vitamins.

    Fats are the source of fatty acids, which are divided into two categories: saturated and unsaturated (including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids). These fatty acids differ from each chemically based on the nature of the bond between carbon and hydrogen atoms.

    As a general rule, saturated fat is solid at room temperature and is derived mainly from animal sources. Unsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature and is found mainly in plants. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats should be emphasized, since they tend to lower the blood cholesterol level. Saturated fats tend to raise the level of blood cholesterol and high blood cholesterol levels are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease.

    6. Carbohydrates

    Carbohydrates such as starch and sugar are the most readily available source of food energy. During digestion and metabolism, all carbohydrates are broken down to a simple sugar called glucose for use as the body's principal energy source. Glucose is stored in the liver and muscle tissue as glycogen. A carbohydrate-rich diet is necessary to maintain muscle glycogen, the preferred fuel for most types of exercise.

    Sugar and complex carbohydrates (starch) are grouped together because they have a chemical similarity. All carbohydrates are made up of one or more simple sugars, the most common being glucose, fructose, and galactose. The simple sugar glucose connected to the simple sugar fructose forms sucrose, or table sugar. Complex carbohydrates contain anywhere from 300 to 1,000 glucose units hooked together. The body uses both starches and sugars for energy.

    Although the body uses both the sugars and starches for energy, a high-performance diet emphasizes complex carbohydrates. Foods high in complex carbohydrates, such as bread, cereal, rice, beans, pasta, and vegetables also supply other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fibers. Some sweet foods that are high in sugar (e.g. candy bars, cookies, and donuts) supply carbohydrates but also contain a high amount of fat and only insignificant amounts of vitamins and minerals.

    Fruit contains the sweetest of all simple sugars -- fructose. Since fruit is mostly water, its sugar and calorie content are relatively low. Like starchy foods, most fruits are rich in nutrients and virtually fat-free.

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