4 key reasons why a nutritional diet is just as important as fitness

A platter of different foods making up a nutritional diet

There are many reasons why a nutritional diet is just as important as fitness. In my opinion, if you’re prioritising your health and wellbeing, you can’t simply focus on one element. Keeping fit is a great way of boosting your overall health, but without giving your body the nutrients it needs, you won’t be prioritising your mental or physical health. If you’re looking to improve your performance or change your body composition, your diet is also a crucial element to consider. Personally, keeping fit and consuming a nutritional diet is a huge part of taking care of my mental health, so I’ll start with how your diet impacts this.

How a nutritional diet can boost your mental health

The way we feel can be affected by many factors including how our brain functions, our hormones, energy levels, or if a certain part of our body is under undue stress. Gut health has been closely linked to mood and so if you’re consuming things that make you feel bloated or cause discomfort, this can affect your mental health. Everyone’s gut is different and you can be sensitive to different foods and triggers. As a general rule though, a high fibre diet can help with digestion. High fibre foods include wholegrain, unprocessed carbohydrates, beans and pulses, vegetables and fruit. 

Your energy and concentration levels can be affected by how well hydrated you are as well as your blood sugar levels, so it’s important to keep your fluid intake up as well as making sure to eat regularly. Try to choose foods that release their energy slowly, so you can keep your sugar levels steady – things like whole grain carbs like brown rice, pasta, bread or oats. 

We all know eating 5 a day is essential for our physical health, but we also know how closely linked our mental and physical health is, and so eating at least 5 different fruits/veg per day is key for feeling good overall. Try to eat a rainbow of different coloured fruit or veg to consume a whole range of different nutrients.

Protein is also an important nutrient for mental health as they’re broken down to amino acids in the body, which are used to produce various neurotransmitters in the brain such as Serotonin, which helps to regulate your emotions. 

Fats, although often villainised, can be really good for you, depending on the kind of fats you eat. Unsaturated fats such as those found in nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil are really good for you and contain omega-3 and omega-6, which are essential for brain function and health. 

It’s also important to consider how alcohol and caffeine can affect our mental health. Alcohol can disrupt chemicals in the brain which affect how we feel, and caffeine can disrupt sleep and increase symptoms of anxiety and depression. The level these affect you will differ from person to person, so it’s important to notice how either of these may affect you. Neither one is ‘bad’, it simply depends on whether you feel negative effects, so you can take responsible steps towards what will help you specifically.

Physical health

A nutritional diet can help prevent you from developing conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, some cancers and, in the shorter term, boost your immune system. A diet full of all of the macro (carbs, protein, fast) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) your body requires helps you to live fuller and longer by keeping you as healthy as possible. They affect everything from your bone health to how well your muscles and other tissues repair, how well your organs function, the condition of your skin and hair as well as maintaining a healthy weight without carrying too much excess fat.

Performance

In terms of reaching your fitness goals, optimal nutrition can make all the difference to your progress. For example, a good intake of carbohydrates, our main energy source, is needed to fuel your training sessions, so you can challenge your body enough to force it to adapt and therefore progress towards your goals. Fats are essential for many functions around the body but specifically to fitness, they are a key part of cell membranes, which need to be performing optimally to transport substances in and out of our muscle cells during training. They’re also a key component of hormones which are vital in building new muscle and also in the metabolism of stored fat, which can often become a source of energy during exercise when we run out of carbohydrates.

Protein is used for growth and repair of tissues, so to build power, strength or speed, a good intake of protein is necessary. Many micronutrients are involved in energy production as well, such as the B vitamins, Vitamin C, Iron and Magnesium. These do not provide energy, but are used in the chemical reactions that do. So, a good intake of all of your macro and micronutrients is key to good performance, regardless of your goals.

Body Composition (Aesthetics) 

Whether you’re looking to build serious muscle and ‘bulk up’ or lose weight and ‘tone up’, a nutritional diet is just as important as your efforts during your training sessions. This isn’t an exaggeration either, it’s a crucial part of the process that often gets overlooked due to lack of knowledge, effort or commitment, or, most often, all of the above. I outlined the various roles of our macro and micronutrients above in terms of performance but the same applies here. You need to be performing well during training sessions to force your body to adapt: to alter your body composition. Whether you are wanting to bulk up or get leaner, building muscle is key, albeit potentially in slightly different amounts. So a good intake of protein is needed.

Furthermore, energy intake is something that simply cannot be overlooked if you’re looking to change your body composition. To put on maximal muscle, you need to be consuming more energy than your body requires (a calorie surplus) to assist in synthesising new muscle cells. To achieve a more toned or lean look, you’re going to need to reduce your body fat, and the only way to do this is to consume less energy than your body needs from food/drink. This forces your body to metabolise stored fat to use for energy instead. This is called being in a calorie deficit. It sounds simple, and it is, or at least the process is in theory. In practice, most of us find it very hard to manage our energy intake consistently, and consistency is key when altering body composition.

Get in touch!

So these are my 4 key reasons why a nutritional diet is just as important as fitness. In my mind doing one without the other is like brushing your teeth without toothpaste – like you are doing half of the task and the result being a bit underwhelming. If you aren’t yet prioritising your diet, hopefully this has convinced you to start! And if you’re not feeling too confident about how to go about managing your nutrition and/or fitness, fill in an online form and we can discuss how I can support you.

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Picture of Ray Hickford

Ray Hickford

Hi, I’m Ray, a health and wellbeing professional in Manchester working with clients through training and nutrition programmes to help them feel more confident, strong and happy both in and outside of the gym.
As a Qualified Personal Trainer and Level 4 RSPH Nutrition Advisor, I am constantly learning myself - from my clients, from other industry experts and sometimes myself! And sometimes I write some of this down for ya.

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