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Nutri-tips for a healthy summer

Doug Cook, RD, MHSc, CDE

With summer upon us many people are thinking more about diet and exercise and more often than not, it’s with the shape of their bodies in mind. However there are other things you can do for your health and well-being where food is concerned. The following nutri-tips have prevention in mind. The focus in on supporting and protecting your body against many of the summer-related effects of spending more time in the sun, increased smog, alcohol consumption and grilling foods on the BBQ.

Drink Up!
Water, water and more water. Sweating is the body’s way of cooling off. While the winter months are dry, the summer months are hot and humid. Spending more time outdoors can increase the amount of water loss as temperature rise especially if you’re active at all in the daytime hours. Women need the equivalent of about 1.5 L of water per day while men need about 2 L for basic requirements. This is achieved through added fluids such as tea, coffee, soups, juice or milk etc since these beverages are over 90% water. But this doesn’t take into account the extra water needed as a result of increased activity or loses due to higher temperatures. Aim to have an additional 1 to 1.5 L depending on your activity and sweat levels – urine should clear and light in colour, like diluted lemonade, if it’s dark, has a strong odour and there isn’t a lot of volume, then it’s time to drink up!

Think colour for protection
Plant foods are loaded with compounds called phytochemcials. These compounds give fruits and vegetables their distinctive colour and fragrant. Many of these compounds protect plants from the elements including sunlight, to which they are exposed in abundance. The great news is that not only do they protect plants from sun and air pollution-related stress, they protect us as well when we eat them. Phytochemicals act as antioxidants which help to neutralize free radicals – these are byproducts of normal metabolism but are also generated through smog, pollution, sunlight and alcohol. Phytochemcials from fruits and vegetables help to protect the skin from sun damage (be sure to be sun smart none the less), boosts the immune system, protects the lining of the lungs from airborne pollution and vegetables are rich in nutrients that aid in the detoxification process that happens in the liver. Remember go for dark colours: orange (peppers, mango, squash, sweet potato), red (raspberries, strawberries, peppers), yellow (corn, peppers), blue (blueberries), purple (grapes, blackberries), green (broccoli, kale, kiwi), white (cauliflower, onions, garlic) as a few examples.

Green is in
Phytochemicals are not restricted to fruits and vegetables. Two of the most popular beverages are packed with them: tea and coffee. These plant-based beverages are loaded with flavonoids and polyphenols – fancy words for a specific, yet very powerful type of antioxidant. While tea has long been promoted for it’s antioxidants, it turns out that coffee is equally a potent source, however both black tea and coffee have caffeine and it’s easy to overdue it by drinking too much of both, so after a couple of cups of either coffee or black tea, consider switching to green tea. If you really want to take it up a notch, consider Japanese Matcha green tea; the tea used in Japanese tea ceremonies. Matcha tea is simply green tea leaves that have been pulverized into a fine powder and used to make a beverage. The advantage of this kind of green tea is that you ultimately drink the leaves, and therefore get a significant more amount of the healthy polyphenols compared to green tea steeped from a tea bag.

Red to the rescue
Of note is a specific phytochemical found in tomatoes, pink/red grapefruit, watermelon and guava: lycopene. Lycopene belongs to a class of compounds called carotenoids (like beta carotenoid found in carrots). There are over 500 carotenoids found in nature and what is unique about these is that the body is capable of using some of them to make vitamin A, of the 500, only 50 or so can be converted. Lycopene is one that can not be converted to vitamin A; making it a very powerful antioxidant since its levels can remain high in tissues because it isn’t being used for vitamin A production. As a result, lycopene is the most abundant carotenoid in the blood enabling it to provide protection against smog as we breathe in pollutants and ozone through our lungs, it is also very powerful at preventing LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) from oxidation helping it to be less sticky and helping to prevent it from building up in our blood vessels.

BBQs are as synonymous with summer as bathing suits and sunshine and while they offer a healthy way of preparing foods on the one hand (lower fat), they are a source of powerful carcinogens. Cooking foods over hot coals (real or imitation) produces something called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – powerful cancer promoting compounds. Does this mean you shouldn’t use the backyard grill to cook your fish, steaks, soy burgers or vegetables? Ultimately that is a personal choice, however there are a few things you can do to lower any potential risk that foods prepared in this way, may have. Enter antioxidants! Choose to include foods that are rich in vitamin C, carotenoids, vitamin E, and polyphenols etc as part of your meal. Include foods like fresh fruit salad as dessert, fresh mixed salads with lots of fresh veggies, salad dressing made with olive, walnut, sesame oil etc, green tea, orange or grapefruit juice or tomato juice to boot! Enjoying the summer and food is all about practicing balance and moderation while having fun along the way.


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