Tips on how to improve your diet for healthy living or performance in the sporting arena

Many people ask me for dietary advice to help with either their performance in the sporting arena, or just for general healthy living. Fortunately for them, I happen to take a great interest in nutrition and have acquired much valuable knowledge from a range of nutritionists, dieticians, naturopaths and other resources.

The following information came about from of an inquiry I received by email. A young patient of mine who is also a passionate tennis player, wrote to me for advice on how to eat well.

“Hi Tom, it’s Richie here I was just wondering if you could give any advice or send me some links about good diet and nutrition for tennis players as you know am trying to get fitter by going to the gym. Are protein shakes good?”

“Hey Richie

This is a great question, and one I’m sure I can help you with in detail. I’ve come up with a few basic rules to keep in mind when it comes to eating:

1. VARIETY 2. SMALLER & REGULARLY, NOT BIGGER & SELDOM 3. AS UNPROCESSED AS POSSIBLE 4. DRINK LOTS 5. LIVE A LITTLE

1. VARIETY

Try to eat many different foods. Foods are fuel for your body and different foods will have different fuels to offer. I never forget one of my university lecturers saying you should aim to eat 25 different foods per day. Sounds like a lot right? It’s actually much easier than you think. Here’s an example of what I might have in a day, and keep in mind, I’m a little bigger than you.

Brekkie – 3 hard boiled eggs,and a bowl of good quality muesli with milk. That’s three varieties of food (eggs, milk, muesli), but if you count what’s in the muesli (nuts – almonds and macadamias, grains, dried fruit, etc), I’m up to at least 6 varieties of food in just one meal.

Morning Tea – tuna (or leg bone ham or chicken, etc) with a piece of fruit (banana, apple, nectarine, grapes, etc). Try to eat seasonal fruits too, that way you”re not eating apples every day of your life for example. If I’m still peckish, I’ll add some sort of health snack like dried salted chick peas or broad beans. This is another 2-3 varieties.

Lunch – typically I’ll have a chicken roll. Chicken is great because it’s high in protein which helps build muscle. A chicken roll might have any of the following – bread, chicken, cucumber, lettuce, tomato, cheese, coriander, chilli, spring onions, carrot, mayo, pickles, onion, etc. I can at least get 8-10 varieties of food on a chicken roll. Remember, a bit of carrot, or a sliver of cucumber, it all counts!

Afternoon tea – it does get a little boring here. I’ll usually have a handful of fresh spinach leaves, and a handful of raw beans and carrots as well. Then I’ll have a handful of raw nuts which I call my ABCs. The ABC stands for almonds, brazil nuts and cashew nuts. I also add pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and sunflower seeds to my nut mix. You could also have some yoghurt at this meal as well. Yoghurt has what’s known as “good bacteria”, stuff that”s healthy for your gut! This is another five varieties of food at least.

Dinner – I’ll usually try for some sort of “meat and three veg combo” plus a “filler” of some sort e.g. brown rice, quinoa, sweet corn or sweet potato. The meat will be either beef (steak), chicken or salmon (you should aim to have salmon twice per week. Salmon has these oils known as Omega 3s which support your cardiovascular and nervous system. Here is, again, at least five more food varieties.

So if you do the math and add the number of food varieties I’ve eaten in a day, you’ll see I reached more than 25.

2. SMALLER & REGULARLY, NOT BIGGER & SELDOM

We’re lucky to live in a country where there’s a vast amount of food available. Many countries suffer famine as they’re not as fortunate as we are when it comes to climate and food production. With an abundance of food in the place where we live, people tend to eat more than they need. I’d urge you to experiment with having smaller meals. 2-3hrs later you can have another small meal.

Typically, I eat 5-6 times per day. Whilst I always feel like more, I try to restrict myself from overeating as I know it won’t be much longer until I can eat again. In short, the human body is very good at storing food, if you’ve eaten well in one day, you can in fact, last up to 36 hours, quite easily, before your body physically needs food. Eating smaller meals, but more often, will tone your metabolism. You will function like a well-oiled machine rather than a sluggish glutton.

3. AS UNPROCESSED AS POSSIBLE

Have you ever seen a Big Mac tree? Of course not, but you would have seen an apple tree. Rule number three means, try to eat foods that are as close to the way they exist in nature as possible. A Big Mac goes through many different processes before it ends up as the final product.

Often processed foods contain a lot of extra additives (sugars and preservatives, etc) which your body finds more difficult to break down inside your gut. This is usually why meals cooked in the kitchen are better than ones cooked in a microwave. Of course, some foods are processed for safety reasons which is the exception.

Unfortunately, this is why sweets, chocolates and cakes aren’t so great for us. Most of these foods have gone through a number of processes before ending up as a Mars Bar or packet of Doritos. It’s a harsh reality.

Have a look at the example of what I might eat in a day above. You’ll notice there are very few processed foods here.

4. DRINK

Drink water, and lots of it. Stay away from juice and in particular, soft drink. Soft drink, in my opinion, should be more illegal than alcohol (not quite maybe). Juice has loads of sugar and so does alcohol in fact, but soft drink reigns supreme. I once learnt that a glass of Fanta has 16 spoons of sugar in it! It might have been tea spoons but that’s still too much. Sugar is your worst enemy, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll have a healthy body.

Most people don’t drink enough water. I weigh around 84kg, standing at 186cm and aim for 2L per day. Someone your size (45kg, 160cm) should aim for just over a litre. Try getting two 600ml sized water bottles into you each day. Then for every hour of exercise you do, drink another bottle on top of that. Water hydrates your cells and is the medium through which all of your biochemistry takes place. In other words, you need lots of water to carry out your bodily functions efficiently. It cleans your system from the inside, in the same way you take a bath to clean the outside.

5. LIVE A LITTLE

We’re here for a fun time not a long time. You don’t always have to eat like a fitness model. It’s just as healthy for you to kick back every now and then, and have a good old binge on pizza and chocolate with your mates. The trick is finding the right balance – if you’ve binged on one day, put in at least 4-5 days of solid healthy eating. Healthy eating isn’t always that bad, it can get boring, but the benefits you’ll see on the tennis court, and life in general, are highly rewarding.

Before I forget, protein shakes are fantastic, but you need a good quality one. A lot of protein shakes contain added sugars for flavour which detract from the good that these shakes are supposed to offer. In my experience, a good quality protein shake usually tastes absolutely foul (sorry to say). Next time you’re in I’ll give you a sample of what I use, but I’m not gonna lie to you, it tastes horrendous! In the meantime, you can check out my other blog post on food supplements.

I hope this helps!

Take care, Tom.

*DISCLAIMER: This discussion does not provide medical advice. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained in this discussion are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this discussion is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog.