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Building Core Strength

This month, the proximity of Olympic athletes draws our attention to the pleasure and satisfaction connected with keeping ourselves fit. Vancouver has a wealth of fitness opportunities, with a superb natural environment topping the list.

Provided we have a good rain hat and warm jacket, we can stroll along the ocean, river or any number of tree-lined paths for most of the year. During winter months, many of us turn to yoga, Pilates, aerobics, workouts at the gym or various forms of dance, such as salsa, ballroom, belly dance, contact improvisation or flamenco.

It can help to get some personal coaching to discover one’s blind spots and surge past perceived limitations. I have been exploring the benefits of greater core strength, which involves toning abdominal and back muscles, thereby increasing their ability to support the spine and keep the body stable and balanced. This type of strengthening can help reduce back pain, improve posture and trim one’s waistline.

Eating for strength

Food choices that provide 15 or more grams of protein:

  • 1 veggie burger (check the label; a whole wheat bun adds 4 grams protein)
  • 1/2 cup of almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or peanuts
  • 1-1/2 cups Quick Curried Lentils with Tomato (recipe below)
  • 1 peanut butter sandwich (2-1/2 tablespoons peanut butter)
  • 1 cup chickpeas, edamame, black beans or other beans
  • 2 cups of bean salad (assorted beans and vegetables)
  • 3 cups cooked brown rice or oatmeal
  • 100 g (3/8 cup) firm tofu or tempeh
  • 5 to 6 slices of bread (check labels)
  • 2 cups spaghetti noodles
  • 70 g (about 2 oz) seitan
  • 2 cups of green peas

Diet also plays a role. Elimination of sugar and refined carbohydrates and engaging in exercise four or more times per week will lead to a leaner, more powerful you. To increase strength, also get plenty of protein. Beans, peas and lentils are ideal sources of abundant protein and they’re great for maintenance, muscle building and repair after a sports event. These legumes also give us the complex carbohydrates that provide staying power between meals. (Whole grains are helpful as pre-game meals for endurance events.)

Based on a recommended protein intake of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram body weight, each choice listed (see sidebar) provides about one-third of the day’s protein for someone weighing 125 pounds, or one quarter of the day’s protein for someone weighing 165 pounds. Seasoned athletes sometimes need a little more than this. Someone who is actually gaining muscle mass may need double this amount, though only while the increase in muscle mass is actually happening. (Requirements decrease for maintenance).

It used to be that athletes would eat thick steaks before a competition because they thought it would improve their performance. That thinking is now outdated, however. Like beans, peas and lentils, steaks contain protein and minerals. However, the unique feature of steak is the presence of a lot of fat and cholesterol. For health and environmental reasons, plant sources of protein are the superior choice. For more about sports nutrition guidelines, see www.vrg.org.

Quick Curried Lentils with Tomato

In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté 1 large onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add 1 cup dried red lentils and three cups water; bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until lentils are soft and easy to eat. Add a 398 ml can (or 2 cups) of tomatoes or tomato sauce and 2 tablespoons of Patak’s Mild Curry Paste (or to taste); season with pepper and salt or tamari. Makes 6 cups.

Variations: Green, grey or brown lentils require a longer cooking time (45-60 minutes). Cooked leftover vegetables, such as 2 cups of cauliflower, may be added.

Vesanto Melina is a local dietitian and co-author of nutrition classics Becoming Vegetarian, Becoming Vegan, Raising Vegetarian Children, the Food Allergy Survival Guide, the Raw Food Revolution Diet and Becoming Raw. Her newest book is Cooking Vegan (in the US), Cooking Vegetarian (in Canada). For personal consultations, call             604-882-6782       or visitwww.nutrispeak.com

Vesanto thanks the excellent coach Andrea Welling and yoga instructorLynn Wahl for their input for this month’s column.

 

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