Column: Malnutrition and exercise

The definition of malnutrition comes from Webster's which relates to faulty or imperfect nutrition. This is one problem many of us face in today's world of "too much food."

Not only too much in quantity, but too much of the wrong types of calories. Too much fat, too much refined carbohydrates and altogether too much sugar and salt.

It is hard to adjust to the idea of malnutrition when so much food is available. Since our lives have become more sedentary, we require fewer calories. If you are not aware of the quality of the items you ingest, you often fill up on empty calories that have little or no nutritional benefit. And eating for social, emotional and pleasure reasons has become more common.

Sources of nutritional information have many interesting facts. Did you know that the Bushman from Africa has been found to have no vitamin deficiencies and blood cholesterol levels over half of Western man? In comparison, our society, with every kind of nutritional supplement and food type available is often lacking in needed vitamins and minerals.

Convenience foods, restaurant meals, prolonged storage of foods, refined products, all can alter the daily diet and nutritional intake. Another problem group is the diet conscious teen and adult. Cutting calories for them usually means cutting down on the proper nutrition needed for growth and body maintenance. Eating just one donut instead of two cuts calories, but it sure doesn't do much toward providing needed vitamins.

The food groups that should control our meal plans are dairy, fruit/vegetables and grains, but too often we fill up on empty calories. Even the affluent in today's society show signs of malnutrition. Social drinking, cocktail parties, endless nibbles, and daily restaurant meals take their toll. The body needs a proper nutritional diet to maintain energy needed for sports and exercise.

There are two broad nutrient groups important to the exercise student, macro nutrients and micro nutrients. Macro nutrients include the protein, carbohydrate and fat that provides the energy to exercise. Micro nutrients are the vitamins and minerals essential to the maintenance of the body so it will be strong enough to exercise. Exercise can help you achieve a weight loss, but only if you are able to maintain a vigorous exercise schedule. Being always tired, with low energy levels, weak in areas where you should be growing stronger, all these are indications that you should take a long hard look at your daily calorie intake.

Taking your vitamins in pill form is not a substitute for proper nutrition. However, supplements are often needed for the elderly, infants, growing children, nursing mothers, pregnant women and people who are on restricted and special diets. Vitamin deficiency and calorie deficit can also be found in the person who uses more calories in a day than can be ingested. Your doctor is the best judge whether you require added vitamin supplements.

Malnutrition is controllable, and a study of your own food habits can make a large difference in the energy you have to expend in your exercise program.

Jerry Vance is certified by the American Council on Exercise and teaches fitness at the Carson City Community Center and for the American Lung Association.

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