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How you should fuel your body depends on your line of work: experts

This is part of Canadian Health and Wellness, a series in which Corus radio stations nationwide dig into health issues facing Canadians with the help of some of today’s most respected diet and exercise practitioners. Read the rest of the series here.

When it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle, most health professionals will tell you that it starts with what you put into your body.

But what do we need to eat to fuel our bodies when we’re working different jobs? Basically, it depends on how much of your day you spend sedentary.

“It comes down to the energy requirements and what the physical demands are,” says registered dietitian Katrina DuBois.

“If you are being more physically active, you are going to need more food just because you’re moving a lot more than somebody who’s sitting all day, and your needs for protein and carbohydrates are going to be a little bit higher than somebody who’s not moving as much.”

The sedentary worker

“The biggest challenge that office workers face is the fact that food is all around us now, and there’s a tendency to almost overdo it while you’re eating at work,” says Heidi Bates, director of integrated dietetic internship at the University of Alberta.

“Popping down to Starbucks for that coffee and a muffin — which doesn’t seem like much — if you don’t make the right choice and have a very simple coffee and a very small muffin, your morning snack could actually be the calorie equivalent of a full fast-food meal.”

LISTEN BELOW: Canadian Health and Wellness — Diet and productivity

DuBois agrees and says people who are sitting for long periods of time — say, an office worker or a long-haul truck driver — need to imagine a dinner plate and split that plate into quarters when planning their meals.

“It’s really important to keep in mind that we need half of our plate coming from vegetables,” she said. “So we’re really loading our plate with that fibre, really lots of high-end vitamins and minerals, so that we’re fuelling our body with that, and it’s going to help keep us full for longer periods of time. And the other quarter of our plate, it’s going to be coming from protein, and then the last quarter, grains and starches.”

Both experts agree that eating something healthy and small every two to three hours is the best way to keep the more sedentary worker focused and productive through the day.

“That way, you’re keeping the amount of sugar in your blood, which is fuelling your brain, kind of constant across the whole day,” Bates says.

The active worker

For someone who needs to fuel their body to be more active throughout the day, dietary choices shouldn’t change too much from what a more sedentary worker would eat, but DuBois recommends imagining that same dinner plate and splitting it into thirds instead.

“A third is coming from the protein, a third coming from grains and a third would be coming from vegetables,” she says.

One of the bigger challenges of eating healthy for someone like a construction worker may come from the fact that a fridge and a microwave aren’t readily available. In that case, chef Lisa Lindquist recommends reaching for a thermos and bringing along chili or soup with a lot of protein and easy-to-store snacks.

“Something like beef jerky or some grapes or something for an afternoon snack will help you avoid being depleted,” Lindquist says.

The athlete

For an athlete, the caloric intake to fuel their body through training, practice and games may be even higher than the average active worker, but an athlete’s diet also tends to take more prepping and planning.

“They’re going to be requiring a lot more food to keep their energy levels up and to keep their productivity levels high because that’s going to relate directly to how their productivity is being affected,” DuBois said.

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