05/27/2016 10:50 EDT | Updated 05/28/2017 05:12 EDT

5 Fun Nutrition Facts You May Not Know

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Girl drinking water at picnic table

I am currently completing a diploma in nutrition from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, and I keep thinking "my readers might find some of this really interesting." So, I figured, why not put my learning to good use? Here are five noteworthy pieces of info I learned from my recent Sports Nutrition course!

1. Drinking alcohol can actually encourage your body to store fat!

OK, so most of us know that to lose weight we need to limit our alcohol consumption -- especially of high-caloric, sugary drinks.

It is fairly widely known that alcohol provides 7 kcal/g (vs carbs and protein which have 4 kcal/g and fat which has 9 kcal/g), which means drinking it can significantly increase one's total calorie intake.

What is less widely known is that consuming alcohol can actually encourage fat storage. Why?

First, alcohol cannot be used directly by muscles for energy during exercise. Only the liver has the specific enzymes needed to break down alcohol, and unfortunately the liver carries out its job at a fixed rate. This means exercising harder doesn't help your body burn more of the alcohol off.

Second, alcohol cannot be stored in the body. It must be oxidized and converted into energy. While this is happening, the oxidation of fat and carbs is suppressed and they are channeled into storage instead.

Main takeaway: Don't let yourself rationalize binge drinking by thinking "I will just work it off tomorrow." If you are trying to lose weight, curtail you alcohol consumption. If you drink, have a moderate portion and chose options with fewer calories and less sugar.

2. Children are more susceptible to dehydration and overheating

Encourage your children to drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise. An easy way to check their hydration status is with a "pee test." They should have dilute, pale-coloured urine.

Main takeaway: If your child's urine is not pale in colour, don't let them tell you they are not thirsty. Find fun ways to encourage them to drink -- for example try putting chunks of watermelon or orange into their water.

3. A moderate amount of caffeine pre-workout can actually enhance performance

Caffeine is often thought of as the devil; an active, dehydrating evil.

Fun fact: A small amount of caffeine before a workout or competition can actually be beneficial.

Now, obviously I am not giving you the "okay" to go consuming copious amounts of caffeine (especially if you add cream or sugar to your coffee), but consuming 1-3 mg/kg of caffeine pre-workout may reduce your perception of fatigue, thus allowing you to exercise at a higher intensity. Note: 1-3 mg/kg is roughly 2 cups of coffee for a 150-lb person.

Main takeaway: Performance benefits of consuming caffeine occur directly after consumption. So, if you want to boost your performance consider taking 1-3 mg/kg of caffeine directly before you work out. Don't use this info to justify increasing you daily caffeine consumption, especially because performance results vary and will depend on how familiar your body is with caffeine. (As in, the more familiar your body is with consuming caffeine, the less likely you are to experience the performance benefits.)

4. A child requires roughly 25 per cent more calories than an adult of comparable weight and activity level

Kids are less metabolically economical than adults: they have more relative "wastefulness" of energy compared with adults doing the same activity. This wastefulness is because of their relative lack of coordination and lack of biomechanical efficiency.

Also, they need more protein relative to an adult of comparable weight and activity level.

Main takeaway: Make sure your children are eating a nutritionally dense diet full of quality proteins and healthy fats (think avocado, fish, and flax). To calculate a rough estimate of how much your child should eat, think about what an adult of that size and activity might eat, then add a 25 per cent margin.

5. Ditch the "drink as much water as possible when exercising" and "always drink eight to 10 cups of water during daily life" mentality!

Fitness professionals used to be told to advise everyone to drink as much as possible when working out, and to always drink a minimum of eight to 10 glasses of water per day. Turns out, neither guideline is ideal.

The recommendation to drink as much water as possible during exercise was based on two main elements. First, being dehydrated puts extra strain on the heart, lungs, and circulatory system and thus can contribute to a feeling of sluggishness, a general sense of fatigue, headaches, and/or feeling lightheaded. Now we know that hyponatraemia (water intoxication) is also dangerous. Second, it was understood that drinking water while exercising would decrease your core temperature, thus taking the strain off of your body and allowing you to exercise longer. Some current science states that, contrary to popular belief, drinking during exercise does not reduce one's core temperature. To reduce your core temperature you need to reduce exercise intensity (walk don't run) and/or move to cooler conditions.

As for the "eight to 10 cups per day" recommendation, although a good guideline, it is now known that how much daily water you require will vary depending on what other liquids you drink and the food you consume. So, instead of trying to drink as much as possible or aiming to hit a certain number of cups per day, drink according to thirst and the colour of your urine.

Main takeaaway: The best way to judge if you are drinking enough is to take the "pee test"; the colour of your pee correlates well with your hydration level. Aim to have dilute, pale-coloured urine.

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