Column: Malnutrition and exercise

Malnutrition is a word that most of us believe means the lack of enough nourishment to maintain life.

The proper definition comes from Webster's, which relates malnutrition to faulty or imperfect nutrition; too much of the wrong types of calories, too much fat, too much refined carbohydrates and too much sugar and salt. It is hard to adjust to the idea of malnutrition when there is so much food available. Since our lives have become more sedentary, we require fewer calories to maintain our bodies. If you are not aware of the quality of the food you are ingesting, you fill up on empty calories that have little or no nutritional benefits, often eating for social, emotional and pleasure reasons.

Sources of nutritional information have many interesting facts. Did you know that the African bushman was found to have no vitamin deficiencies and the blood cholesterol level in these hunters is more than half of that of Western man? In comparison, our society, with every kind of nutritional supplement and food type available, is often found to be lacking in needed vitamins and minerals.

Convenience foods, restaurant meals, prolonged storage of foods and refined products can all alter the daily diet and nutritional intake.

Cutting calories for the weight conscious person usually means cutting down on the proper nutrition needed for growth and body maintenance. Eating one donut for breakfast instead of two cuts out calories, but it sure doesn't do much to provide the needed vitamins. Social drinking, cocktail parties with the endless nibbles and daily restaurant meals can take their toll as well.

How does this relate to your fitness time? Your body needs a proper nutritional diet to maintain the energy for any type of sport or exercise program. Two broad nutrient groups, macronutrients and micronutrients apply. Macronutrients include the protein, carbohydrates and fat that provide us with the energy to exercise. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals essential to the maintenance of the body so it will be strong enough to exercise. Most of us have extra fat or food energy we would like to get rid of. Exercise can help you to achieve a loss, but only if you are able to maintain a vigorous exercise schedule. When you are always tired and have a low level of energy and are weak in areas where you should be growing stronger, 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, for infants and growing children, nursing mothers, pregnant women and people who are on a restricted or special diet. Vitamin deficiency and calorie deficit can also be found in the person who uses more calories in a day than they ingest. Your doctor is the best judge of whether you require additional vitamin supplements.

Every body mechanism is unique and has its own nutritional requirements. You have your own optimal weight to maintain that will provide you with a minimum amount of illness and a maximum life span. The nutritional level you maintain during your lifetime will be the key factor in this objective. Malnutrition is controllable and a little study about 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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