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Monday, 2 October 2017

The three pillars of health and fitness (pt 1)

By Pete Ryan

Part 1 Nutrition

(This is part 1 of a 3 part series about achieving optimal health find parts 2 and 3 at the bottom of this article)

There are three aspects to gaining and maintaining health and fitness. These pillars can be adjusted if you are an athlete, so you can be a competitive athlete, a powerlifter, a bodybuilder and the three pillars still exist, it is just that you have to tweak those components to fit those goals.
For now though we will focus on the idea of achieving maximum health and fitness.  The first thing we have to accept is that you cannot maximise both health and fitness.  

 Health and fitness are like a bell curve, at first both will increase, but beyond a certain level one or the other will suffer.  So, you can achieve the greatest health, but fitness will be somewhat lower than the ultimate you could achieve, conversely, if you aim at the apex of fitness, then health will not be optimal. This is just the way of things, so what you are after is achieving the best balance you can between health and fitness.
With that said here are what I consider to be the three pillars of health an fitness:

  •       Nutrition
  •       Exercise
  •       Recovery

I believe you need to balance these three things if you wish to achieve your goals.  You may have other factors, but those are almost always included within these three.  For example, say you suffer from huge mental stress, due to work, relationships or similar.  The effects are managed within the “Recovery” aspect of your program (potentially also the “Exercise” can help with stress reduction, even though exercise itself is a stressor). There may be some uncommon factors that are outside of these three pillars, but that will be unusual. For now we will focus on the the first of these...


This can be the most confusing of the three pillars as nutrition is really in its infancy compared the other two.  Should you eat low carb, dirty bulk, IIFYM (if it fits your macros), IF (intermittent fast), carb back load, raw food, Atkins? If you look at the literature, you can avoid the confusion by find what virtually everyone says.  The answer shared by 99% of every dietary expert you ask is “most people do not eat enough fruit and vegetables.”. It makes sense to eat as much fruit as vegetables as you can. I am talking about whole fruits and vegetables, not juices, or extracts or refined products. I personally suggest that most people can succeed with 80% whole foods and 20% other stuff (moving to 90:10 if you have a special occasion you need to get into unbelievable shape for). This will allow for some foods like a slice of pizza or a beer if you want one and still stay on track.

Learn to cook! You do not need to become a chef, but learn a few meals that are wholefood and fairly quick and easy to prepare. These will become your go to feeds when you are tempted by takeaway or junk. Experiment with seasoning.  Herbs and spices are not only tasty, but they actually add huge health benefits to your food, so just go and buy a different herb or spice now and again and find several that you like.

Let’s suppose you cannot cook right now, here is what you need to do.  Find a recipe you like the sound of (there are several in the book “Introduction to vegan fitness and health” ). Pick an evening when you have nothing on, buy the ingredients and cook.  If it turns out well write down the recipe and method used, your next free evening try another recipe…and so on until you have 10-12 recipes you like. Once you have those you are set.  Continue to try out new recipes once every month or so and add to your list. It is really that simple.  Over the years (or even with the changing seasons) things will change. In summer you may like more salads, in winter hearty soups may be more tempting? It doesn’t matter. If you are eating mainly a wide variety of whole foods you will be ok.

There are a few cravats to this guide.  If you are gaining unwanted weigh then you will need to cut down.  The simplest method is to increase your green leafy vegetable intake and shrink the serving size of the more calorie dense foods, so the volume remains the same. Conversely, if you are losing weight, you may need to increase the more calorie dense foods and eat less of the bulkier low calorie food.

Your diet over the years will be a slow, constant transition, mutating as your goals change and your body changes, so keep that in mind.  There is not one perfect diet that you can start eating at 16 and continue to eat until you are 80 years old.  Your body changes and your diet has to reflect those changes. There is never a need to rush changes, the best way is to slowly transition, monitor every change and see if it has a negative or positive effect on you.  Never be afraid to revaluate your diet and try something new.
There are other aspects of diet (like supplementation, special concerns for vegans and a few others, the book mentioned above covers those in detail), but for most people the nutrients to worry about are getting adequate vitamin B12, vitamin D and enough essential fatty acids. 
If you want more details about diet and how to implement changes, recipes or similar, then let me know in the comments below.

Part 2 - Exercise can be found here
Part 3 – Recovery can be found here

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