“While a balanced diet can go a long way towards boosting an athlete’s performance, physical wellbeing, and recovery, questions are often raised about how best to eat enough to have the energy to perform at your peak, while making sure that excess weight is not gained.
“New diets and diet trends show up all the time. There are so many diets out there, and usually, the really good ones tend to have some foundation of truth to them. However, if all of these were truly able to help people achieve what they claim to, why are there still new diets entering the market almost daily?” asked Steyn. “The answer is relatively simple – if you are unable to stick to a particular diet for the rest of your life, it will only show short term results and not a sustainable lifestyle.”
Steyn said this typically results in a pattern that she describes as the 'yo-yo effect'. “About 99% of all diets result in this yo-yo effect. When someone is on a specific diet, he or she may well lose weight, however, as soon as the diet ends the weight piles back on, and in most cases, with a few unwanted, additional kilograms.
The same goes for fitness and having a holistic view of wellbeing. Diet and exercise plays an important part in ensuring I am always race-ready,” she said. This approach helped me to prepare for, and ultimately, compete at a high level.
“I am very passionate about nutrition, and part of my philosophy is based on getting enough nutrients in smaller portions and reaching your optimum lean muscle mass. Every ingredient should serve a purpose, and therefore each item that gets added to a healthy recipe should have a nutritional benefit.”
The most important factor to weigh up is whether you are, in fact, following a nutritionally sound and balanced eating plan.
“Balanced eating is not, everything in moderation, but rather eating enough of each food group as determined by scientific principles. Although science changes all the time as new research is released, certain basics will always remain the same,” said Steyn.
“The philosophy behind the Banting diet is that sugar is, in fact, the biggest culprit in terms of additional carbohydrates and weight gain. However, when it comes to carbohydrates, I am of the belief that there should be a place for the correct carbs, especially if you are an athlete. Carbohydrates break down into sugar, and the energy that does not get burned through physical activity gets stored as fat. Do the math. If you are a very active person, you can allow for some carbohydrates. If you are, however, overweight, insulin resistant, or very inactive then you should be aware of which and how many carbohydrates you consume.”
“To optimise nutrition, I advise sportsmen and women to eat balanced meals. Make sure to include the three food groups: protein, carbs, and essential fats. There is a correct amount per kilogram body weight per day of each of these food groups. Select your carbs from a list of low GI, natural foods, like vegetables, fruit, and grains. A golden rule is to avoid, manmade foods.
“Remember that fruit and grains are not ‘unhealthy’, just high carbohydrates, but we do need them for the essential micro-nutrients. Not enough fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet can lead to serious health problems.”
Steyn said it is not only athletes who need to follow a balanced, healthy diet. “Young children need all the nutritional and natural food they can get. One of the best ways to provide this is to focus on cutting out all quick-to-prepare, processed, and pre-prepared meals. You will be amazed at the difference it makes when you are only eating natural foods, both in terms of your general health and sports performance.”
Any professional athlete, weekend sportsperson, or parent of a child needs to ensure that nutritional needs are met through a properly balanced diet and healthy food.
“It is important to take into consideration that each person has individualised nutritional needs that are dependent on the type of sport, the intensity of training, the duration of the sport and exercise regimes, weight, age, gender, training, and competition schedules, as well as personal goals. This all starts with a balanced and healthy eating plan,” Steyn concluded.