When it comes to making drastic changes to your fitness, diet is literally half the battle. Knowing what to eat and what not to eat, how much to eat, when to eat, etc., can be intimidating for a lot of people. In a lot of ways, however, dieting is actually relatively simple. Most people’s nutritional problems stem from unbalance, and in many cases this unbalance can be narrowed down to one or two factors. Typically, it’s either too much of one thing, and/or not enough of something else. This is an admitted oversimplification, and there will be cases in which the problem is much more complex; however it is true for the greater majority of people looking to lose weight, and understanding that simple fact helps to take the mystery out of dieting.
Personally, if I had to choose one single recommendation based on personal experience, for the most important food that ANY fitness-minded individual, in whatever stage of their journey, should be including in their diet, it would be fish!
I once read a hypothesis, based on arguably anecdotal evidence, that the Vikings enjoyed an advantage over their enemies in strength and stamina because, despite being cooped up in their ships for weeks on end, their primary protein source while at sea was pickled herring! I have no way to be sure if that’s true or not, but it’s one hell of an endorsement! I will, however, personally stand by the opinion that if either weight-loss or physical performance is your personal objective, that you should absolutely be eating more fish. For anyone engaging in endurance sports or activities, there are in my humble opinion few better sources of protein. In addition to the obvious benefits to muscle-growth, development and maintenance, fish – particularly oily, dark fish – will help to strengthen your joints, improve cardio-vascular function, eyesight, even cognitive function! Even better, it reduces the risk of heart disease. It’s also better, in my experience, at sating hunger because of the healthy fats – and it just tastes great.
According to the British NHS, everyone should be eating roughly a minimum of 140g of fish per week; personally, I like to eat somewhat more than that, just because I like it, and because of the way it makes me feel. However, while there are a lot of benefits to regularly eating fish, there are a few things that we, as consumers, need to be mindful of.
Ideally your best option is wild-caught fish, as the nutritional value is typically the highest, especially in terms of Omega3 oils. In fact, most of the fish in our supermarkets is not actually wild-caught, but farmed. Modern aquaculture represents an enormous percentage of the fish eaten in South East Asia, especially as China is by a considerable margin the largest proponent of the industry in the contemporary world. Unfortunately, the massive availability of Chinese farmed fish actually presents consumers with some concerns. Owing to the scale of the industry, the fish that reaches our counters from countries such as China may come from a contrasting variety of farming facilities with an equally contrasting range in standards. Fish reared in enclosures are more susceptible to parasites and contagion; their Omega3 levels are generally lower; their mercury levels are often higher; as part of the farming process they may become victims of unscrupulous and unsanitary, even in some cases downright disturbing, farming practices.
So, if possible, try to identify where your fish came from before buying it. For example, most of the salmon and trout available in Malaysia is imported from Norway; Norwegian aquaculture is considered both sanitary as well as environmentally responsible, and Norwegian farmed fish is available in practically every major supermarket. So you’re pretty safe digging in to it, and enjoying the associated nutritional and fitness benefits. Personally, salmon and trout are pretty high on my list of favorites, so no complaints on my end. It’s also worth noting that in addition to improving brain function in adults, it can also enhance brain development in children; so if you’ve got kids, it probably wouldn’t hurt to get them hooked on fish as well!
On the other hand, fish like tilapia, while admittedly tasty, have been identified as particularly vulnerable to un-savory farming practices (no pun intended); same goes for seafood such as prawns and shrimp. In general, Ocean fish and seafood such as crustaceans should be consumed in restrained amounts, in order to avoid mercury toxicity. It’s unfortunate that in many cases, fish and seafood that is both popular and inexpensive is so because of poor standards of processing.
So while there should be no doubt of the benefits of an increased consumption of fish in your diet, especially in relation to physical improvement and performance, we should exercise caution and prudence in our selection. So choose wisely.
by Arthur Rutt