If your overindulgence during the festive season has left you feeling a little sluggish, tired and a few kilos overweight, then we have the solution for you.
Fitness magazine spoke to Ian Craig, a Johannesburg-based Nutritional Therapist, exercise physiologist and co-founder of The Nutritional Institute, to find out what dietary changes he recommends to help boost your energy levels and improve your body composition.
“Poor food and drink choices over the holidays have undoubtedly resulted in inflammation that affects your well-being and your vitality. This way of eating also negatively impacts your waistline,” states Ian.
In an attempt to clean up their diet, Ian says most people will focus on manipulating their macronutrient ratios.
“Rather than alter the amount of carbs, proteins and fats you consume on a daily basis, it’s better to focus on the types of foods you eat. Don’t worry so much about the grams just yet. Go back to the good old days of eating when we all ate real, whole foods, instead of the processed convenience foods that dominate modern-day diets.”
Step 1: Focus on the food
“When out shopping, ask yourself: Is this nature-made or man-made? Simply going through this process will make a huge and immediate improvement to your diet.”
Ian offers an example of a better-for-you breakfast: Ditch the processed cereals and opt for rolled organic oats. While they’re slightly processed, they’re still nature-made. Add some dairy in the form of yoghurt from grass-fed cows, some seasonal fruits, nuts and seeds, and some nut granola or muesli and you have a nutrient dense and natural meal that will start your day the right way.
The key to eating a diet weighted more heavily towards natural whole foods is to relook where you buy your groceries and, of course, where the markets and grocers where you shop source their produce and products.
Step 2: Focus on colour
It’s summer, so a lunch-time salad with as much colour as possible is a great meal option to revive and revitalise a sluggish metabolism, says Ian. “Fresh, colourful produce delivers a burst of micro- and phytonutrients, which are great for your energy levels, your digestion and your overall health.”
Ian suggests adding in beneficial ingredients such as rocket, which stimulates enzyme production to improve digestion and helps our liver with its natural detoxification process. Watercress is another great ingredient for detoxification, as are spring onions and pomegranates.
Fermented foods such as Sauerkraut, along with resistant starch from foods like potatoes are also ideal to boost gut flora and aid digestion. Drizzle over olive oil, or flax or hempseed oil and you have great sources of beneficial fats as well.
In terms of preparing your food, Ian suggests cooking with ghee or macadamia oil. “Be gentle when cooking by not using high heat. Lightly steam veg until it starts to change colour as this helps to break down cellulose without killing off the beneficial enzymes.”
Step 3: Reduce your alcohol consumption
A dry January is always a good idea, states Ian. “It’s the ideal time to detox after the holiday’s overindulgences, especially if you drank a lot of alcohol.”
But don’t stop there… Ian also suggests a detox plan that excludes sugar, caffeine, wheat, gluten and dairy, and a significantly reduced red meat intake.
“Just be mindful that this does not necessarily equate to a reduction in calories. It’s more about increasing the quality of the foods you eat.”
Step 4: Boost your gut
In addition to those fermented foods already mentioned, Ian advises us to include more gut-friendly ingredients in our diets, such as dairy, water or ginger kefir. “Kombuchu and kimchi are also great products to include in your diet to boost gut health and function.”
A good probiotic with a load of 5 billion+ from a reputable brand is also essential to boost your gut health and function. “And get more prebiotics from starchy fruit and veg, like rice, potatoes and apples that have been cooked and cooled. For example, stewing apples activates the pectin, which is a great source of prebiotic starch.”
Step 5: Get moving
And no metabolism reboot will be complete without a boost in activity levels. “Start slowly, choose an event to create a goal and plot your training timeline,” advises Ian. “Establishing a goal creates focus and motivation. Just ensure your programme follows the SMART principles – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely – and progress sensibly.”
Ian adds that boosting incidental daily movement is also recommended. “Move more, whenever you can. Find opportunities to walk or cycle instead of drive, and change habitual behaviours – use the stairs instead of the escalator, or go for a walk in the park or do some gardening instead of binge watching that TV series.”
Step 6: Supplement intelligently
In terms of supplementing your approach to exercise and diet, Ian recommends a few basic products that can assist everyone in some way. “Add a good multi-vitamin from a reputable brand to your daily regimen to restore micronutrients and help your body better balance stress and toxicity. A good fish oil supplement is also essential. Beyond that, supplement plans become more specific to individual needs, which requires advice from a trained and qualified professional.”
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.