You are what you drink – what about that dessert?

If you are like me, “dessert” conjures up positive happy thoughts, feelings and emotions of pleasure and satisfaction. However, it is not unlikely that these feelings are also accompanied by feelings of guilt, in the short term, and regret, in the longer term. Guilt and regret are probably the two most self-destructive emotions we can have. So, what might you do to create a healthier physical and emotional life with dessert? Here are my structured thoughts about dessert and how I interact with it, and suggest ways for you to have your cake and eat it too!

My dentist wife is a genius in the kitchen too.  These were prepared for a single tea time!
My dentist wife is a genius in the kitchen too. These were prepared for a single tea time!

Why do you want dessert?
The reasons you feel pleasure from dessert are simple – carbohydrates and fat! Your brain needs a steady stream of fuel to stay alive and function.  And your body still thinks you are a caveman or cavewoman and its natural instinct is to store every bit of fat and carbohydrate you feed it. This primal survival mechanism is good but only within reason. We saw in a previous blog why things go awry when you eat too many carbs at the wrong time.

OK, so that was a simple biological perspective. But, what about cultural anthropology? Dessert has become an important part of many cultures. As we have transitioned from being agricultural to sitting around in office chairs, while our bodies are basically still like that of cavedwellers, instead of dessert becoming extinct like the use of spears and hunting clubs, sweet and fattening desserts have become more elaborate, more dangerous, and more avoidable.

Sugar hidden in this savoury daal!
Sugar hidden in this savoury daal!

And, never mind dessert, I have heard sedentary office workers in Mumbai protest when I am aghast to find sugar or jaggery in their daal (lentils) and vegetable curries – “it’s part of my culture, what can I do?”. So, while I can only shudder at the thought of what they call “dessert” (perhaps, “more sugar with less daal”?), I can appreciate why Mumbai is the diabetes capital of the diabetes capital [sic] of the world.

What can you do about dessert?
The first layer of choices are usually quite general! For example, if it’s dinner with friends, you might be presented with the following set of choices.
Broad choices about dessert
Even to overcome what you cannot control, you can be better prepared by simply following the rule “make/order/buy less than you think you need”. The key power of dessert that you must seek to leverage off is that “less is more”. Even if there’s less per person to dish out, the likely lasting memory of those that dined will be “that dessert was amazing, if only we could have had more”. And anyway no one actually goes home hungry!

Getting slightly more detailed, we could tackle the who, where, when, why, what questions!

Who(m)?
I can be a little extreme at times and specifically try to avoid eating out with friends who clearly make unhealthy food choices. I don’t avoid the friends, just eating with them! I talked about learning to say no in an earlier blog.

Where?
When there’s a choice between eating out and eating at home, I always prefer home cooked food – whether at my own home or that of a friend.  Although it’s not easy to criticize and avoid dessert made by a friend, the way to proceed might be to take a tiny serving happily (reduces the threat response in them) saying “it looks yummy, I’m stuffed, but I’d love to try it”.  If you make sure that the first serving is tiny, you could take a second similar sized serving without doing any damage to yourself and at the same time pleasing your host!
When might it be OK to eat dessert?When should you say NO?
When?

My desserts are in harmony with my lifestyle
My desserts are in harmony with my lifestyle of a mostly sedentary 45 year old

Other than emotional reasons, a special event, a childhood favourite, there may be times when it might be OK to eat dessert.  It’s usually not when you’ve just had a heavy meal. My wife no longer bothers even offering me dessert after dinner.

She’s more likely to ask, “Puru, I’ve kept some of that chocolate tart in the fridge for you to have in the morning after your run, would you like one slice or two?”.

If you’ve been mindful when eating dessert, you will have noticed that there’s a decreasing returns to scale with dessert consumption. The marginal pleasure from each additional bite goes to zero fairly quickly. The momentum of our greed takes a little longer to slow down. And, in general, it is good for you to be very aware of the fact that there’s about a 20 minute lag between you actually being full and your brain telling you that you are. It’s the main reason that children or adults who eat slowly, are rarely overweight.
How much should you eat?If too much of a good thing is bad, things that are bad don’t get better the more you get of them. Remembering the idea of the jigsaw puzzle in a previous blog, it should be clear that sizes of dessert servings should be kept small in order to get the right balance of the various nutrient groups.
How often should you eat dessert?

What should you eat?
All you need to do is Google “healthy dessert recipes” to come up with a range of possible desserts that will vary in their true healthiness. It is up to you to be intelligent about the dessert you pick. (One simple example off a supermarket shelf might be the bold marketing line “fat free fruit yoghurt”.  Yes, it may have 0% fat. But, it’s likely to be extremely heavy in sugar (which is a carbohydrate, not a fat). Choose intelligently!)

A sensible sized slice of Quinoa flour cake, baked by a client, devoured before I hit the gym
A sensible sized slice of Quinoa flour cake, baked by a client, devoured before I hit the gym

If the key dangers of desserts are sugar, butter and refined flour, look for (or invent) recipes that have healthier replacements. For instance, fruit/dates instead of sugar, almond butter instead of butter, or quinoa flour instead of refined wheat flour.

If you are diabetic, or pre-diabetic, or suffer from other lifestyle diseases like hypertension, you will need special attention from your healthcare professional. One of the things to do to ensure that you don’t reach that stage in the first place is to think harder when faced with the question – what about that dessert? Then, you can have your cake, and eat it too!

Puru

Dr Purnendu Nath is a health and fitness guide with broad and detailed understanding of how rest, exercise and diet interact with motivation to prepare busy individuals and sports enthusiasts to achieve their life goals.

You are what you drink – inclusion and exclusion!

Election fever has hit India, and in Mumbai, where I live most of the year, the turnout to vote was not particularly high. I am not eligible to vote, but that does not bother me – even where I am eligible, I prefer to be a free rider. But when it comes to what I eat and drink, I do my best to ensure that the ‘intelligence of the masses’ does not determine what I decide to consume. I prefer to rely on science and I think you should too.

What interests me about the Indian elections is the ferocity of arguments in the media. And one of the prominent angles that always appears as an important part of debates is about the economic inclusion and exclusion of this group or that – grouping by gender, age, religion, region, wealth… the list is long. In my earliest blogs I spoke to you about food nutrition groups. Today I am going to talk about inclusion and exclusion in food – something you can actually have a 100% impact on!

Unlike the election process, where the bulk of the population participates, when it comes to tests of excess or deficiency in nutrients, it is often difficult to say much about the population, and even less about you specifically. You only know what you are taking too much of or not getting enough of when you are put through tests yourself for some reason – perhaps when you are unwell, or if you are going through an annual checkup. Research studies on samples of the population do not capture the specific idiosyncratic composition of your food and drink and its impact on your health.  So, I would like to first speak to you about how you could think about the issue and then what to do about it.

How to think about the issue

Conceptually, you could think of an “ideal you”, someone getting just the right proportions of every nutrient.  Remember, this doesn’t just apply to the fuel substrates (protein, carbs, fat) we spoke about in the previous blogs, but to all the other micronutrients too. In fact, deficiencies in, or excesses of, the micronutrients are often more insidious. Excesses in the macro nutrients are easy to spot – fat gain is an easy one. As are macronutrient deficiencies – more often fat gain than fat loss is a visual result.  It is the micronutrients – vitamins, minerals and salts that will create problems that are not always easy to track down or pinpoint.
Ideal nutrient intake

What to do

Like with most problems in life, if you are aware of the fact that the real you is some surmountable distance from the ideal you, then your work is half done. To cover the remaining distance you need to take action, of course.

A client of mine whose primary focus is total body strength and adjusting her body composition to lower fat levels has the following weight drop in the last few months.
Drop in weight does NOT mean ideal nutrition
At first sight that all sounds great. However, as someone who is extremely finicky about what she will eat or drink, the likelihood of being close to ideal nutrition is always low. Fortunately, she need not think about exclusion as she has rarely eaten unhealthy food. Instead, her problem is that of inclusion, including important nutrients into daily consumption. That would reduce the likelihood of numerous major or minor illnesses over time.

Of course, without tests, neither she nor you would know if there are digressions from ideal nutrition intake. And on a daily basis, all this would vary anyway.  So what should you do in practice? Eating a well-balanced meal, not just in the macro nutrients but also in terms of vitamins, minerals and salts is important. The path to ideal consumption will be a function of one’s lifestyle too. Being vegan, vegetarian, diabetic, athletic (or all of them!) will matter.  Being a school child rather than a menopausal woman will make a difference. Old aged pensioners will have a different path to tread compared to competitive body builders! And, it’s not just through food that we follow this path. For instance, those posh Mumbai ladies who lunch and are afraid to look Indian (brown) are invariably deficient in Vitamin D because they avoid the sun.  Vitamin D in turn affects the absorption of Calcium. Calcium is important not just for bones and teeth, but also for muscle function. Muscles around our spine need to have high endurance (as opposed to strength) or our posture is adversely affected. Thus avoiding sun exposure can invariably turn them into ladies who hunch!

It is also important to remember that the problem is dynamic. No matter what you do, over time, the distance from the the “real you” to the “ideal you” will vary and so will the route to take you closer to the “ideal you”. A reliable source once told me that almost every member of the Indian Olympic team (comprised of some of the fittest voters of the country) has some deficiency or the other. You too will rarely be at your ideal, but attempting to be so is what makes the engagement with food an interesting adventure. That also pushes up your life expectancy and the proportion of it spent free of pain and disease.
Excesses or Deficiencies over Time

A professional nutritionist skilled in their science will be able to give very detailed guidance on what you should eat, when, and how much, but whether you have access to one or not, thinking about this inclusion and exclusion is always primarily your responsibility. Whether Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, or the yogis of India or the intellectuals of Chinese medicine said “food is your medicine”, the important thing for you to do is to get the dosage right! No matter who wins the elections!

Puru

Dr Purnendu Nath is a health and fitness guide with broad and detailed understanding of how rest, exercise and diet interact with motivation to prepare busy individuals and sports enthusiasts to achieve their life goals.

You are what you drink – handling premium fuel!

In my earliest blogs I spoke to you about food nutrition groups and then about the fuel you get from some them. Numerous questions from both athletic and sedentary friends over the weeks since then have prompted me to chat with you today specifically about handling what I call our ‘premium fuel’ – carbohydrates.

You need your largest intake of calories (energy, fuel) from carbs and yet managing them without attention can also result in a lot of unattractive fuel storage – as fat!
I would like to help you handle the issue better by breaking it into 2 parts:
(i) understanding the problem and (ii) managing the problem.

Understanding the problem
If you are an ‘average adult male’ then the most you can hold in terms of carbohydrates in your body is 500g. For simplicity, you can think of 400g being stored in your muscles (muscle glycogen) and 100g in your liver (and there’s also a tiny amount swishing around in your blood as glucose).
The relatively limited capacity to store carbs

This means that if you were 70kg before the prosperity bug hit you and you gained 20kg of fat, your ability to store carbohydrates when you’ve reached 90kg is still about as much as it was before – 500g.  (Interestingly, however, if that 20kg weight gain was primarily muscle, the ability to store carbohydrates in those muscles will increase by adaptation – because to maintain those muscles through their exercise also needs carbohydrates as fuel. That increase will only be in fractions of kilograms though!)

All this I’ve told you is about the static picture – your capacity to hold carbohydrates as fuel. But what happens to you dynamically over time?

Immediately after your activity (e.g. exercise) your carbohydrate tank has emptied partially. So, if you consume carbohydrates, you will top up the tank. Great! But, and this is where things go awry, what if you consume more carbohydrates than are required to fill up your tank? Well, I’m afraid, I have to bring this bad news to you – it turns into fat. Because of where we’ve all come from (our ancestors needed to store as much fuel as possible to prepare themselves for when their next unknown, possibly meagre, meal might come from) that extra glucose-turned-to-fat is deposited and stored in your body. And, the fat storage tank has near unlimited capacity, so to speak, so it isn’t going to happily exit your body or get magically washed away.
Overspill - carbs become fat!

The fear inducing suggestions you hear like “don’t eat rice, don’t eat bananas – you’ll become fat” come from this bit of science (or maths!). But, to understand and follow them intelligently needs a little bit more awareness than “wear your seat belt” (which also, shockingly, in India, people rarely do). The truth is that neither rice nor bananas contain any fat to write home about – instead, they are actually fantastic sources of carbohydrates. Eating them when your carb tank is full is what causes the problem, not eating them per se.

Managing the problem – Part 1 – Avoiding going into overspill
If you live a sedentary life, and eat regular meals, it’s highly unlikely that you ever come close to emptying your carbohydrate tank. The reason is that you would need to run about 30km in order to empty a previously full tank.  Therefore, for you, topping up the carbohydrate tank is a case of avoiding going into overspill as that would lead to fat storage. Unfortunately, prescribing low carbohydrate fad diets is also risky as many of the essential nutrients we receive are from sources that are carbohydrate sources.  So, eating your carbohydrates at a time when the tank is not full is important, and avoiding carbohydrates when the tank is full is also critical.  That fancy zero fat fruit yoghurt you picked from the dessert selection after a big dinner (= carb tank full) is high in sugars (sucrose, fructose, lactose), carbohydrates that will become fat on your body! Solution? Saving it for after your morning walk will benefit your body.

Careful management of your carb int

Managing the problem – Part 2 – Eating enough so that your carb tank is rarely empty
If you live a highly active life, perhaps as a recreational endurance athlete like many of my friends do, then too do you need to watch your carbohydrate intake. On the days around your tough workouts (in the run up to, and then soon after) you need to ensure that you have premium fuel.  Why?  If you remember, in my previous blog, I spoke about how “fats burn in the flame of carbohydrates”. With your carb tank reaching near-empty levels, your body will not burn the fat you might have significant quantities of ready to be used as fuel, because carbohydrates are also required to be used as fuel at the same time. In fact, if you are an endurance athlete, you will be unable to move your limbs if you empty your carb tank – you will have “bonked” or “hit the wall”! That’s a reason why the sports hydration drink Enerzal contains glucose at the right level of concentration so that it can be quickly absorbed into your body. (There are specific cases when you may want to train with your tank near empty for endurance sports, but that should not be a regular event.)

Similarly, you will also feel lethargy in the gym if you did not eat balanced meals after your previous bout of strength training and you’ve been living a reasonably active life in-between. In your case the problem is solved by eating enough so that your carb tank is rarely empty.

I lead a fairly normal urban life with only moderate amounts of exercise. These days, I eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day! I don’t fear that I will get fat from that.  I also snack on bananas 3-5 times a day at times when it is appropriate to do so! I appreciate that keeping my carb tank empty will make the time I dedicate to exercise unproductive or inefficient, and overloading it mindlessly will also nudge me in the direction of fat gain. It is a delicate balance that needs a small amount of mindfulness. I think I have learned how to handle my premium fuel. You could too!

Puru

Dr Purnendu Nath is a health and fitness guide with broad and detailed understanding of how rest, exercise and diet interact with motivation to prepare busy individuals and sports enthusiasts to achieve their life goals.

You are what you drink – linking input to output!

In just about every field, project, endeavour or investment there is a link between input and output. You already know that it is not lightly that I start each of my titles with ‘You are what you drink’. I have made numerous direct and indirect mentions in the past to the idea that your food is not like daily medicine – it is your daily medicine. To break eating from a mindless routine task completed numerous times a day and, instead, connect the needs of your body to what you eat, how much you eat and when you eat is paramount to achieving a body that is free of ailments, illnesses, lethargy and also aesthetically pleasing.

To live by the maxim “health is wealth” and increase self awareness in the dimension of your physical existence through food is simple if you consider that
Please reflect on just that simple thought for 10 seconds right now and before you shop for food, order a meal, or seat yourself at the dining table at home…

Excesses or deficiencies in what you eat or drink can manifest themselves negatively within seconds (please don’t try eating a spoonful of table salt to see what I mean) or years (arteries don’t clog up overnight). The exact dosage we need of each component of this medicine we call our food varies not just by age (growing children need more calcium than adults), gender (menstruating women need more iron than men) and activity levels (gym rats need more carbohydrates than sedentary ones) but, for any given individual like you, also over the course of time. Although to get it perfectly right for those of us who are not professional athletes or body celebrities (is there such a phrase?) is not a top priority, does not mean that it should not be a high priority or even a priority.

In the blogs to come, I will chat with you specifically about topics such as ‘fine tuning premium fuel intake’, ‘inclusion and exclusion’, and ‘what to do about dessert’. They will help you understand your own body’s needs a little bit better.

A professional nutritionist skilled in their science will be able to give very detailed guidance on what you should eat, when, and how much, but whether you have access to one or not, linking your input to output is always primarily your responsibility.

Puru

Dr Purnendu Nath is a health and fitness guide with broad and detailed understanding of how rest, exercise and diet interact with motivation to prepare busy individuals and sports enthusiasts to achieve their life goals.

You are what you drink – taking stock!

This is my 10th blog in this series. As with every endeavour in life, it’s good to pause, take stock, and then plan ahead by looking backward from the future but living life forward. (Get it?)

Here’s the path we’ve tread together in the last few months.

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(Click on any of the boxes to read that blog)

I have spoken to you about what to eat, how much to eat, when to eat.  And I have spoken to you about how, through all of those dimensions, to be more mindful about eating and increase your own self-awareness in the process.

Those who know me either in my existence in the world of Finance or in the world of Fitness (or both!) will know that I am not one to preach and not practice. So, I went back to my logs and diaries since the start of the year to paint for you a simple sketch of the things I’ve been doing – just as I’ve been preaching to you. To keep things interesting and relevant, I won’t mention my activities from the world of business and finance, but stick to what is most important, health!  (Needless to say, I spend most of my waking hours in front of a computer on business and financial models – a different world – the less said, the better!)

Sirsasana (Headstand)
Sirsasana (Headstand)

Following the Mumbai Marathon in January in which I was an official 2-hour pacer for the half marathon, I decided to take a multiple-week break from running for various reasons. In Setting Achievable Goals I spoke about setting goals and then breaking them down into bite-sized achievable mini-goals through processes you could focus on.  And the end result might often interact beneficially with other goals. Well, I decided to take up yoga for the first time in my life. My children have been doing yoga even before they learned to crawl (yes, seriously!) so my goal was to catch up with them by the end of this year. I joined the Yoga Institute in Mumbai and had 21 consecutive mornings there. As part of training under the American College of Sports Medicine I also discovered the most amazing yoga teacher in the city of Mumbai, and have been advancing my interest and ability in yoga. Her ability to teach advanced postures through demonstrations and clear instructions exemplifies her own level of incredible body self-awareness.

I continue to attend the Sunday morning Satsangs at the Yoga Institute – which is a little like going to Church, but without any specific religious ideology. If you live in Mumbai, I strongly recommend you attend one Sunday soon (it’s free!). It’s a satisfying way to reset the soul.

Optimal loading of a salad plate.
Optimal loading of a salad plate.

I’ve had the opportunity to practice eating sensibly at buffets at various places. I’ve even developed my own algorithm to optimize the loading of my salad plate at a salad buffet where you’re allowed only one serving. Engineers and architects will know what I am talking about. Oh, and are you mindful of the hidden bad calories in salad bars? (Just avoid the stuff with sauces and anything that looks creamy or syrupy.)

As part of my personal mission to make the country healthier, but having made a conscious decision to avoid meetings where one sits (“sitting is the smoking of our generation!”) which typically happens in cafes (more mindless eating and drinking) I have been encouraging friends to meet and walk with me a few evenings of the week where we can discuss, among other things, better living – physical and spiritual.

DSC_7372
A new genre of breakfast meal!

I mentioned earlier that I travelled around the North East of India during Christmas. During this trip, I also read the book Eat and Run by the famous ultramarathoner, Scott Jurek, which made me even more conscious of eating more and varied fruits than I had already been. I have also pretty much erased butter from my breakfast and have invented a few new breakfast dishes of my own (basically eggs, a lot of ginger, leftover rice (or bananas if there is no rice) and anything else for garnishing I can think of – with everything cooked in water rather than oil). During my main (Indian) meals, I’ve been eating a small quantity of the peel of a lime for a few months now, not just squeezing their juice into my food.  Even a tiny amount of raw peel contains more Vitamin-C than a whole lot of lime juice! In any case, Vitamin-C is water-soluble and there is almost no risk of toxicity.

Because I have taken a break from running, I am ensuring that I cycle as a form of cross-training. I have become more conscious of my gait when cycling in terms of maintaining neutrality for the spine. In addition I have taken a greater interest in lower body strength workouts at the gym, not just to prevent muscle atrophy but to actually increase lower body strength and power. As you might expect, I always track the load lifted and have made considerable progress over the last few weeks for this component of training.

Progress with Lower Body Strengthening
Progressive loading for Lower Body Strengthening

Staying active has meant that despite not running 165 km a month for almost 2 months I have not gained any weight or fat. In fact, it’s not impossible that I have lost fat and gained muscle (statistical tests pending). I know why that’s possible. Something for you to think about?

Being particular about timing (yesterday morning I waited till 0631 and then went cycling alone when my riding buddy for the morning didn’t show up for an 0630 start) I am more conscious of not drinking caffeine in a 2 hour window around my breakfast eggs as caffeine suppresses the absorption of iron whereas Vitamin-C promotes it (remember the quiz question in the previous blog?). Also on the mornings that I do no exercise, I continue to maintain the same pattern for breakfast time. As a large number of the lower body muscles are deep (as opposed to superficial) I am conscious of the fact that the repair process takes longer and so the workout-nutrition cycle is longer, perhaps 72 hours rather than 48 hours.

These are most of the things I have added onto my already fairly healthy lifestyle in the last 10 weeks or so. My purpose of laying it out thus is to demonstrate that many small steps take us to our ultimate goal.  The power of miniscule change!  But that’s enough about me, now tell me about you. Have you taken stock?  Observed any changes? Comment below please.

Puru

Dr Purnendu Nath is a health and fitness guide with broad and detailed understanding of how rest, exercise and diet interact with motivation to prepare busy individuals and sports enthusiasts to achieve their life goals.

You are what you drink – timing is everything!

In your life, timing is often everything.  Whether you are catching a train to an examination, or investing your savings.  When executing a carefully planned surprise party for a loved one or fasting for a blood test.  Yet, so few of us think about the dimension of time when it comes to food.  In previous blogs I have discussed how you might consider engaging with food in terms of what to eat, how much to eat, how to say no to situations you feel create disharmony between you and food, as well as keeping track of the impact of food on you.  Today, I shall speak about how you might engage with food along the dimension of time.

If we look at the basic building blocks for good physical health – rest, exercise, diet – we can think of each of them as having a different clock driven primarily by the activity (or exercise) clock among other factors.

Various clocks to keep your good health ticking
Various clocks to keep your good health ticking

Earliest man hunted and gathered to eat, and then rested when he had eaten enough, so that he could prepare for his next bout of hunting and gathering.  The bushmen of the Kalahari continue to live a similar lifestyle even today.  Eskimos far removed from population centres do the same. As man evolved into being agrarian and started to rear crops and livestock, the cycle of rest, activity and nutrition changed.  And, today, modern urban man’s clock cycle is quite different from that of all his ancestors. That would be fine if it were not the case that not being in tune with how early man lived often leads to self-created problems in physical and mental health. For the most part, the urban man or woman tends to have a cycle of 5-plus-2 or 6-plus-1 – working 5 or 6 days of the week with a day off from income generating tasks. On my farmland, there is a concept of hard work and easy work seasons, based on the weather and the sowing and reaping of crops – there is no real concept of ‘chill out over the weekend’ – Sunday and Monday are the same.  I have urban fitness clients who, when they first come to me, I notice maintain a high level of discipline through the week only to let their guard down on weekends to undo a lot of the good results that they had built up with their Monday to Friday.  Yet others have weekdays of undisciplined eating, drinking, inactivity and improper rest, with attempts to make up for it on weekends.

To bring rice to my plate every day of the year, my farm workers need a balanced life every day!
To bring rice from my fields to my plate every day of the year, my farm workers need a balanced life every day!

The professional athlete, if being trained intelligently, is probably the most in tune with the various training and nutrition clock cycles that she needs to keeps track of for different components of her development. The elite athlete needs to focus on achieving and maintaining world class performance. But for you and me, there’s no reason why we cannot achieve and maintain performance that makes us aces in our own worlds of regular urban life. Assuming we have to think about what we put into our bodies no differently from how a professional athlete does, there are many things to think about when we engage with food in the dimension of time.

I keep myself in tune with the following simple 24 hour clock to remain in a healthy steady state. It happens naturally, does not need to be forced, and is something that can be kept ticking away with adjustments based on only special infrequent events.

My primary 24 hour clock
My primary 24 hour clock

The 24 hours is split into 2 periods of 12 hours each.  There is food consumption in one of them, but not in the other.  If dinner starts at 8pm and finishes at 8:30pm there is almost always a 12 hour gap to breakfast at 8:30am the next day. The fasting period includes the sleep window. Unless there is dehydration, during the sleep window there is no need to hydrate. In fact over-hydrating disturbs sleep patterns with too many breaks in the middle of the night.  Hydration commences within minutes of waking up and lasts until it is almost time to sleep.  The activity or exercise window starts about 45 minutes after waking up.

We can look specifically through the food and drink consumption window keeping in mind the nutrient groups that I spoke about in a previous blog. Depending on which nutrient group you are looking at, its absorption rate, utilization rate and demands by the body will be quite different. Too little and the deficiencies show up in terms of health or activity ability. Too much in too short a time and the results can be nausea, bloating, lethargy, fat storage or even death. Even too much water in too short a time period is not good for you. For instance, you need to ensure that you get all the appropriate salts along with all-important water. (This is precisely where a drink like Enerzal is perfect.) I also spoke to you earlier about our sources of fuel where I mentioned that protein is best used for tissue building and not fuel. For that, you need to ensure that you get sufficient carbohydrates and fat in your diet too. But what about timing?

You can check if your gym trainer is uneducated about his trade if he sends you home saying “get home and have your carbs and protein”.  In terms of premium fuel (carbohydrate) absorption the 2-hour window immediately post exercise is very important. However, you need to bear in mind that your recovery is not a 3 or 6 or 9 hour process.  It is a 48 hours (even up to 72 hours) process.

The 48-hour clock for muscle-protein-synthesis
The 48-hour clock for muscle-protein-synthesis

Never mind that muscle tissue takes that long to breakdown, be flushed away and stronger ones rebuilt, the actual absorption, processing and utilization of protein is also not a rapid process.  Unlike water which can be in and out of your system before you know it, your body is unlikely to process more than 10g of protein in an hour (that’s about 2 eggs). And, your body will not hold in its ‘pre-processing inventory’ more than 50g of protein. What that means is that you need to time your protein intake intelligently. Eating just one protein heavy meal a day is not enough. In addition, not all sources of protein are created equally. From some the absorption is very fast (e.g. whey) and from others slow and not very well (e.g. lentils, pulses).

Similarly, carbohydrates will be absorbed by your system differently depending on the sources. In addition, earlier, I spoke to you about your tiny carbohydrate tank – you try to fill it too much and the overspill becomes stored fat.  This makes the timing of carbohydrates critical for both body fat control and activity performance. Too little and you are lethargic, too much and there goes your body fat %… up! (If you happen to be diabetic, you are already conscious about the timing of meals and, in particular, carbohydrates.)

Within your food and drink window itself, you ought to also look at the interaction between foods, in particular, for the absorption and utilization of micronutrients. For instance, if eggs are an important source of iron for you, should you be drinking healthy oxidant rich (but caffeine containing) green tea with your breakfast? [Quiz question, please answer with a comment below: Why does it make more sense to drink orange juice instead?]

The details of nutrient timing can be fairly complex but need not be rocket science. A professional nutritionist ought to be able to provide you customized advice with rationale and explanations based on your activity clock and rest-recovery clock. In this blog, my aim was to highlight the importance of timing, and as part of your self-awareness, pull into your thoughts, the concept of time when thinking about food and drink – beyond the knowledge of when your local Starbucks is open for business. Instead of flitting from one meal to the next and eating each meal mindlessly, thinking about not just the nutrients, but also about their value to your body over time, will prepare you well for indulging in the pleasure of eating and drinking intelligently with benefits rather than harm to your body.

I would like to leave you today with one final thought. When feeling unwell, you take medication and expect to see results from anything between a few seconds to a few weeks – the timeline is heightened in your mind, with your focus on better health. Given that you are what you eat and can think of your consumption of good food as being the perfect on-going-medicine for good health, should you not be conscious of the timeline then too? Yes, timing is everything!

Puru

Dr Purnendu Nath is a health and fitness guide with broad and detailed understanding of how rest, exercise and diet interact with motivation to prepare busy individuals and sports enthusiasts to achieve their life goals.