I hereby declare 2015 is the year of food and fitness. You will eat better and be more physically active. Why not take ownership of your body because it is the only one you have. Unfortunately, most Americans are inactive and have less than optimal diets, but you don’t have to conform. The recipe for success is consistency and diversity to improve both your fitness level and your diet.


Get More Fit

In order to improve your fitness level you must be physically active on most days of the week and include all three exercise types into your routine: cardiovascular or aerobic activity, resistance training and stretching.

Aerobic activity such as walking, running, surfing, cycling and swimming increases your body’s consumption of oxygen using your heart, lungs and blood vessels to fuel the work of large muscle groups. Aerobic activities are key to improving cardiorespiratory fitness.

Resistance training is another component of fitness that requires a combination of muscle strength and muscle endurance to improve your musculoskeletal fitness level. Lift weights to strengthen your bones and your muscles. To enhance muscle strength, use heavier weights with less repetitions, and to improve muscle endurance, use lighter weights with more repetitions. Include resistance training at least twice a week.

Stretching is often overlooked when it comes to fitness, yet it is a very necessary part of fitness. Stretching lengthens muscle fibers and greatly improves flexibility. Working on your flexibility has been shown to also improve posture and reduce fitness related injuries. Yoga is a fabulous way to improve muscle flexibility, muscle strength and muscle endurance — not to mention its ability to help with mental clarity and awareness.

Even the busiest people must make time for physical activity. It is recommended that every American get in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity and/or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week to see health benefits. To reach a higher fitness level you will need to lock in at least 300 minutes of moderate-intensity and/or 150 minutes of high-intensity activity every week. As your amount of physical activity increases, it is vital that the type of fuel you put into your body progresses in order to support your fitness level.


What Food Fuels Fitness?

Calories are necessary to support our everyday activities and the exact amount needed depends on your age, gender, body composition and physical activity level. Carbohydrates should comprise around 45 to 65 percent of your total caloric intake. Whole grains, vegetables, beans and fruit provide high-quality carbohydrates rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals that supply an ample amount of glucose to fuel our cells. Vegetables especially steal the spotlight when it comes to meal planning. A quarter to a half of your meal should most often include vegetables. Include a colorful variety of vegetables from meal to meal to ensure a high intake of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in addition to high-quality carbohydrates.

In order for your body to make energy from not only carbohydrates, but proteins and fats too, you need B-vitamins. Eating whole foods high in carbohydrates will provide adequate amounts of fuel, B-vitamins and many other vitamins and minerals. To optimize your carbohydrate and maximize B-vitamin intake, include these foods in your diet: oatmeal, quinoa, whole grain cereals and pastas, brown rice, black, red, garbanzo and pinto beans, asparagus, green peas, lentils, spinach, kale, chard, mushrooms, broccoli, potatoes, bananas, pineapples and raspberries.

Protein and fat are also very important energy yielding nutrients. Protein is the nutrient that is most often associated with physical fitness due to its role in muscle building, maintenance and repair. Protein will also provide building blocks for glucose production during long duration endurance activities. However, fat is also crucial for its ability to provide energy. This includes essential fatty acids, the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Fat should comprise 20 to 35 percent of our total energy intake and protein 10 to 35 percent. Keep your protein intake diverse including animal, seafood and plant choices. Fats should also come from a variety of sources and be included at every meal.

Water is one of the most important nutrients. Although it does not provide energy, it does aid in nutrient delivery and temperature regulation. For activity lasting less than one hour, plain water is your best bet for hydration but for activities lasting longer than one hour you may require a sports drinks containing carbohydrates and electrolytes in order to maintain hydration and energy levels.

Two other very important nutrients for physically fit people include calcium and iron. Calcium is necessary for bone health and muscle contraction. You can easily obtain calcium from dairy foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese. High-calcium, plant-based choices include almonds, almond butter, tahini, soy beans, tofu, tempeh, kale, collard, mustard and turnip greens, bok choy, broccoli and fortified non-dairy milks and orange juices. Iron helps deliver oxygen to your cells, and it is also helps the body make energy from the food we eat. Chicken, beef, clams, fortified cereals, lentils, beans and spinach are good sources of iron. Eat food high in iron and vitamin C together to maximize your body’s ability to absorb iron.

For 2015, make a choice to fuel your body with wholesome high-quality, vitamin and mineral rich foods and get moving more than you did before. Your body and mind will thank you.

Catherine Wallace, MSH, RD, LD/N is a local Registered and Licensed Dietitian. She works as a Clinical Pediatric Dietitian at Wolfson Children’s Hospital and teaches Nutrition and Food Science at the University of North Florida.