Food, Drink & Lifestyle | Food | Eating a balanced diet
To be healthy and to support your training it is important that you eat a balanced diet. The Eatwell Guide shows how much of what you eat should come from each food group. Use this to guide your food and drink choices throughout the day.
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These should make up just over a third of the food you eat each day. Aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. One portion is about 80 grams or ‘a handful’. Choose from fresh, frozen, canned or dried but remember that fruit juice only counts as one portion regardless of the amount you drink.
Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals which are all essential for a healthy diet, to keep the body functioning properly and helping the body fight infections or heal itself.
These are an important part of the diet and should make up just over a third of the food we eat. Base your meals around starchy carbohydrates and choose wholegrain varieties such as wholemeal pasta, rice and bread. Gram for gram carbohydrates contain less energy than fat so be careful not to cook starchy carbohydrates with lots of fat as this can increase the calorie content.
Starchy carbohydrates are a good source of energy to fuel physical training. Wholegrain varieties contain vitamins and minerals but also fibre which is digested slower and can help make us feel fuller for longer.
Aim to consume 2-3 portions of dairy or a dairy-alternative every day. A portion of diary is equivalent to a 200 ml glass of milk or a 150 g pot of yoghurt. Try to choose low-fat, reduced fat and no added sugar versions where possible. For dairy alternatives go for unsweetened and calcium-fortified versions.
Dairy foods are good sources of protein and vitamins but also calcium which is important for strong bones. This can help reduce the risk of injury during military training.
It is important to eat some foods from this group which include beans, pulses, fish, meat, eggs and vegetable-based sources of protein such as mycoprotein, soya and bean-curd. Protein-containing foods tend to be low in fat and increase feelings of fullness. Aim for at least 2 portions (140 g) of fish per week, one of which should be oily. Be aware that some types of meat can be high in saturated fat so choose lean cuts, remove visible fat and grill rather than fry. Aim to eat no more than 70 g of red or processed meat a day.
Protein containing foods are important in the diet to help growth and repair of muscle. These types of foods will help support your training and strength development.
Some fat is necessary in the diet. Choose healthier unsaturated fats which are found in plant sources and liquid forms such as olive oil, vegetable oil and rapeseed oil. Swapping to unsaturated fats will help reduce cholesterol in the blood. However, remember that all forms of fat are high in energy so can increase calories.
Water is essential for life and we need to replace our daily losses with fluid intake. Aim for at least 2 litres (6-8 glasses) per day to maintain general health but be aware that daily needs will change depending on what you are doing. If you are exercising heavily or you are sweating more when it is warm or humid then you may need to drink more. Make sure you replace the water you are losing from sweat but avoid drinking lots of fluid quickly. Choose low sugar fluids such water, skimmed milk or low sugar squash rather than less healthy choices such as fizzy drink.
These are generally not required in the diet so intake should be limited and in small amounts. This includes cakes, pastries, biscuits, crisps and other types of processed foods. Foods high in fat and sugar contain more calories so can contribute to weight gain if eaten frequently. There are some occasions when these types of foods might be helpful such as intense military training when activity levels are high and a lot of energy is needed. If you are doing a normal level of activity then there is little requirement for high energy foods. There is usually no need to add extra salt to food as it will already contain salt and a balanced diet will contain the right amount.