How Your Diet Can Make of Break Your Fitness Preparation

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How Your Diet Can Make of Break Your Fitness Preparation

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By Sreelakshmi Thirumoorthy

When I first started trekking in 2015, I was super excited and enthused to do my first Himalayan trek. I had also planned to carry my backpack throughout the trek, keeping in with the right spirit of trekking.

My preparation consisted mainly of jogging, cycling, and functional exercises like squats, planks, and pushups.

However, in my initial few treks, I found it extremely difficult to carry my backpack throughout. I did not have any issues on the first or second days, but as the trek went on, my arms and shoulders would feel sore and I would struggle.

As time went on, I learnt more about fitness during my journey at Indiahikes. I became more curious to understand how many factors played a role in your trek preparation, for example -- your workout consistency, when you time them, whether you stretch before and after your workouts, what you eat during your preparation phase, etc.

Then, in 2019, after I did my Yoga Teacher Training course and became a Yoga teacher, I understood the importance of eating the right kind of food. I realised, you are quite literally what you eat! Everything that you do and that happens inside you is derived from the energy broken down by your food.

That’s when it really hit me how important your diet is, and how it can help you get fitter and stronger for your trek.

On my last five treks, I carried my backpack on all the days with absolutely no pain or soreness in my arms or shoulders :) Post trek stiffness became non-existent. I also noticed high energy levels post the trek.

In this blog, am sharing some of the tips and practices related to your diet that will help you get fit for your trek.

1. Consume a healthy balanced amount of calories.

Your calories are what give you the energy to do all the activities that you do. You derive calories from many sources: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. However, the number of calories that you derive from each source differs. This is called the calorific value of food. In simple terms, it is the total amount of energy released during the metabolism of that food.

This value is 4 calories per gram for proteins and carbohydrates, and 9 calories per gram for fats.

Proteins also contain amino acids, which are an essential building block to developing muscle mass and strength.

When you have a meal, ensure that you are not filling up your stomach completely by the end of it. You should still have a little space in your stomach for more food, when you stop eating!

2. Eat the right kinds of carbohydrates as your source of calories.

I switched to healthier carbohydrates over a gradual period of time: rice or maida was replaced with millets/whole wheat, biscuits and sweets with dry fruits and whole fruits.

Millets are richer in protein and fibre, as well as antioxidants and other nutrients. Nuts and seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds) are healthy and delicious sources of fat including essential fatty acids, and vitamins.

The best part? You get all of these healthy snacks in loose, in many shops and establishments! You can take your containers and stock up on these before and for your trek as well :)

Ghee and butter also contain essential fatty acids, but have them in moderation- do not go overboard: they are also rich in cholesterol.

3. Consciously incorporate protein in every meal.

Especially in vegetarians, the sources of protein in a regular diet are very few. However, there are a wonderful number of protein rich foods for vegans as well. What is important is to consciously incorporate them in your diet: in every single meal you consume. Also, proteins are extremely filling. If you have a protein rich meal, you don't feel hungry between meals, thereby reducing your cravings!

Some good foods high in protein include: most varieties of lentils (dal, cowpeas, chickpeas, green gram, rajma, broad beans and their different types) paneer, groundnut, peanut butter, tofu, green leafy vegetables, eggs, soya and soy milk, and some grains like ragi and millets. Most meats also contain a fair amount of protein when cooked well.

I started consciously incorporating protein sources in each and every meal. The effects were amazing! I was toning up my muscles and also felt healthier from within.

4. Quit packaged foods and any form of sugar completely!

The type of foods you eat determine your energy levels. Most of us tend to consume some form of packaged food and processed sugar on a day-to-day basis- a little bit of ketchup with a sandwich, half a teaspoon of sugar with our morning cup of tea etc. This adds up exponentially over the long term!

Almost all packaged food (and drink: this includes packaged juices) contain added sugars and have little nutritional value- what is known as empty calories. They supply energy but have no other nutrition in the form of vitamins, proteins, fiber or essential fatty acids. They tend to cause sharp spikes in blood sugar levels, which can lead to a subsequent fall that can trigger hunger and lead to food cravings. They also have long-term implications for diabetes via mechanisms related to insulin resistance.

I stopped consuming these completely in 2019. I also drastically cut my intake of processed sugar in any form.

(Fun exercise: The next time you are tempted to buy any packaged food, take a few minutes to read the fine print and see how much sugar is added in everything! Half of Tomato Ketchup is nothing but sugar! Even supposedly healthy foods like Muesli contains added sugar but differ in proportion)

5. Have more frequent and spaced smaller meals every day, rather than just 3 big meals.

When you consume a meal, the production of the insulin hormone is increased in the body to regulate your blood sugar levels. When you fill yourself up at every meal, it leads to more insulin release. This extra insulin in the blood affects your arteries, causing them to become inflamed, thicker and more stiff. What follows is more strain on the heart leading to various cardiac diseases.

Making this change reduces sudden spikes of insulin in the body, and also helps to curb unhealthy snacking in between meals!

6. Ensure your diet is as balanced as possible.

If you do cardio and strength training exercises without correspondingly increasing your protein intake too, your body takes the extra calories it needs for the workouts from your muscles. This means that you will lose your muscle mass, thereby losing healthy weight. Your muscles get weaker instead of stronger. Hence, it is imperative that your diet is balanced in order to be sustainable and healthy in the long term.

It is more of what you eat that changes your body and determines how fit and healthy you are. Exercise is definitely important, but it is supplementary. It is very much true that you are what you eat!

I have seen a number of changes in myself after changing my diet. But the pure joy of carrying a 10kg backpack on a moderate-difficult trek of 7 days and feeling absolutely nothing at the end of it, was unparalleled!

Feel free to write to me if you have any other questions regarding your pre-trek preparations. I will be delighted to help you out!

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Sreelakshmi Thirumoorthy

About the author

Dr. Sreelakshmi is a Trek Coordinator at Indiahikes. Though she completed her MBBS, her passion for trekking led her to explore her options and that's how she joined us. She has trekked both in India and Nepal and has immense knowledge about the trails around here. She practices yoga regularly and is also trained in classical singing.