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In praise of the humble potato for weight loss - hold the oil and mayo

WARMER weather means it's time to show off your shape in lighter clothes - shorts, T-shirts, short floating dresses. Though they knew this time was coming, some people still haven't shed that fat.

"I didn't expect the temperature to climb so fast," says office worker Rebecca Chu. "I've been running for half an hour every day and usually skipping supper in hope of losing more weight." She says her belly is getting fatter because she sits at her desk all day.

Losing weight is always about proper exercise, a balanced nutritious diet, smaller meals and fewer calories.

Healthy diet is extremely important - and exercise works best when you eat the right foods and keep your body fueled.

"Exercise must be combined with good nutrition to improve body conditioning. People must know how to maintain a balance between physical exercise and diet," says Dr Cao Jianmin of Beijing Sport University. He is director of the teaching-research office of sports biochemistry at the school.

Here's some of his advice:

Before vigorous exercise, eat a performance diet high in carbohydrates and low in fat.

Carbohydrates are broken down into sugar and used for fuel. This meal is very important as it influences sugar reserves, which are the main source of energy during exercises. Experts suggested exercise menus include at least two carbohydrate-rich foods.

Many people think cutting carbs will help them lose weight - but you need enough carbs and you need the right kind to supply energy to muscles and brain.

Some people, like Cao recommend staple foods and those made with flour, such as potatoes, rice and pasta, as well as other grains. Many other experts, however, urge people to avoid flour and processed carbs and get carbohydrates from whole grains - they are metabolized into sugar much more slowly.

Cao especially recommends eating potato before exercise and as an important part of a healthy diet.

"By eating potatoes or other natural carbohydrates as the foundation of each meal, and meat or protein as the accompaniment, you will get the right balance of carbohydrates and protein that enhance exercise performance," says Cao.

Potatoes pack a lot of carbohydrates and other essential nutrients, like potassium, and do not contain fat or cholesterol. They contain vitamin C and folate and provide fiber. They are relatively low in calories and provide a feeling of fullness.

Food eaten just before exercise doesn't provide much energy and can cause stomach cramps or gas. It's best to eat at least an hour before exercising.

After serious vigorous exercise, replace fluids (you should also drink water as you exercise). If you want to build muscle, eat protein, such as egg whites.

After exercise, it's important to replenish alkaline foods to maintain the acid/alkali balance. Burning sugar, fat and protein during exercise creates excess acid that causes fatigue and tired muscles. Drinking juice, sweet drinks and eating protein like meat or beans. Milk and tea are good.

Potatoes contain much more potassium than most grains, and even more than bananas. Potassium is important in maintaining the acid/alkali balance, and helps muscles perform.

"Because of the mistaken belief that staple foods lead to obesity, many people avoid them," says Cao. "But potatoes can be eaten both as a staple food and as a vegetable; they can be cooked in a variety of ways and thus are a great way to enhance our diets."

It's the butter and oil used on potatoes that causes fat - stay away from fried and oily potatoes.

Pre-exercise and post-exercise potato meals include baked potato, potatosalad (cut back on oil and mayo) and braisedbeef with potatoes.


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