How much is too much?

Our body’s relationship with diet and exercise is directly proportionate to our health, the way we look and feel. Dr Renuka David offers pointers on how to get your workout and nutrition right.

“Exercise for at least 90 minutes a day.”
“Don’t exercise for more than 45 minutes each day.”
“Protein shakes are good for health.”
“Avoid supplements – stick to natural foods.”
“HIIT workouts are not for those over 50.”
“Anyone can start doing high intensity workouts as long as they’re physically fit.”

There’s so much contradictory information today when it comes to workouts and nutrition, that one can often find it difficult to choose the best fitness schedule for themselves. So how do you decide?

If you can afford a gym coach, yoga instructor, or personal trainer, go for it after checking out their credentials. They will review your health and offer a tailormade plan to suit your body type and goals. Most of them will also be able to give you a basic diet guideline, but if you can afford it, it’s always better to consult a certified nutritionist.

That being said, the vast majority of us may not have the time or resources to follow through on private consultations. How then, do we decide what decisions to make to do the best for our bodies?

Your Body Is Unique

To begin with, it’s important to understand that no one size fits all. Everyone’s body is different, and so are their needs, circumstances, limitations, and access to nutrition and exercise. The first thing to do before you embark on a diet and fitness routine, is to get a master health check-up, which can highlight any problem areas that you need to be careful about.

For instance, if it turns out you’ve got Type 2 Diabetes, you may have to cut down on your fruit intake and stock up more on vitamin C-rich veggies. Or if you’ve got lung issues, you may need to include more breathing exercises and go easy on the cardio. Take into account any genetic problems, injuries or other lifestyle choices when deciding what to do. 

How Should You Move It?

Obviously the point of exercise is to do as much as you can, push yourself out of your comfort zone and get fitter with each passing day. If you’re an adult between 18 and 60, reasonably healthy but fully unsure of your fitness levels, half-an-hour of moderate cardio activity is what you should be looking at. How do you gauge intensity? Use the talk test. During moderate activity, even though you’ll probably be short on breath, you’ll can talk. When you suddenly find you can’t talk, it means you’ve crossed your threshold – this qualifies as vigorous activity. If your goal is weight loss though, you’ll probably have to work out for an hour every day (moderate to vigorous), while simultaneously bringing down your calorie intake to 1,200 a day. Some simple cardio activities include dancing, running, brisk walking, swimming and cycling.

Try and juggle your cardio with two days of strength training, hitting multiple muscle groups during each of these sessions. Unless you’ve already been trained, avoid lifting weights without the guidance of a coach. Instead, try body weight exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, crunches and leg squats.

Include two days of breathing and a balancing workout – ideally yoga. Suryanamaskars, pranayama, and other asanas for balance are great to learn, if you follow an accredited video tutorial online by a trained teacher.

While under-exercising is definitely a no-no, over-exercising can be a cause for concern as well. Your body needs rest and recovery, so if you overdo it, you may not be able to rebuild from the body’s wear and tear during the previous workout. How do you know you’re exercising too much? It’s difficult to come up with an exact formula, since we’re all unique – and factors like nutrition, stress, age and lifestyle have to be considered. If you’ve hit a plateau – either you’re not getting thinner or stronger – perhaps you need to look at whether you’re overdoing things. Weight gain, sore muscles, irritability, poor sleep quality and irregular heart rate are other indications that you need to relook and take a step back.

Food & Supplements

Use plenty of common sense when you choose what to eat. I’ve also found that when in doubt, look to your tradition and nature for a good diet. Most Indian diets are very well-balanced – they contain fruits, veggies, protein in the form of legumes or meat, calcium in the form of milk or curd, and carbs. Consider trading in refined grains for whole grains – an inexpensive swap that can go a long way in maintaining health. Eat local, seasonal foods as much as possible, as they give you the nutrients you need.

If we believe the claims most supplements make, we will all live to the grand old age of 100 without a day’s illness! However, as the name suggests, supplements are only meant to help support your diet. So, if your diet is bad, adding supplements to it is like adding turmeric to spoilt milk – completely pointless.

I’d always advice you to eat that extra bowl of spinach rather than take an iron supplement, or an extra-large cup of curd rather than a calcium supplement. Of course, the rules are different for women who are pregnant or lactating, and those with other underlying health issues.

That’s not to say all supplements are bad. If you do your research well, and give your already-healthy diet a boost with good quality supplement, it is a win-win situation. Also, take an omega 3 supplement if you can, since this nutrient is important for heart health, joint health and hair/skin health. Since it is mostly found only in fish, vegetarians and vegans are especially likely to be lacking.

Protein shakes can also benefit vegetarians a great deal. Remember that the body needs at least 1g of protein intake per kg of body weight. So, unless you’re eating a whole lot of tofu and lentils at the cost of other foods, it’s likely that you’re protein deficient. Protein shakes keep you filled up for longer, and are also a good option for non-vegetarians who are trying to avoid red meat. Of course, as with every other supplement, there are a few things to consider. 

Firstly, timing is everything. Don’t consume your protein shake with a meal already rich in protein, or on a day when you’ve reached your daily intake already. Secondly, check to see if you’re allergic to any of the ingredients. Thirdly, do not take more than 20g – 25g of protein shakes at a time, and that is if you’re active. The body cannot process more than this, and you’ll find it being stored as fat! Also, as with everything else, do not overdo it over a period of time, and check the labels before you decide which one to opt for. If you have any health concerns with your kidneys, discuss it with your doctor before you jump onto the bandwagon.

The Big 5: What You Shouldn’t Overlook

1. Do not feel guilty or anxious if you’re not able to exercise for a day. It should be a part of your lifestyle, but you don’t need to punish yourself for a day off! Also, avoid exercising or putting yourself through a stringent diet if you’re injured or sick, or if you feel like it’s making any pre-existing aches and pains worse. 

  1. Your calorie intake and exercise levels need to be in sync. If you’re consuming excess, try and work it all off. If you’re eating low calorie foods, be careful of burning yourself out and shedding more energy than you can afford to. 
  2. Two things are not negotiable, no matter what your diet and exercise look like – water and sleep. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Drink at least 2.5 litres of water a day – an extra litre if it’s summer. A glass of lime juice or coconut water also goes a long way in keeping your body hydrated. 
  3. Ensure you get at least eight hours of sleep. I’ve known people to do everything else right, but lack of sleep always gets the better of their health – sometimes with fatal consequences.
  4. Don’t leave it open-ended. Keep a daily diet and fitness journal to quantify your workouts, food intake, weight, BMI and other important parameters. You can also use one of the many apps in the market that will do this for you.

Consult Dr. Renuka