Are there any nutrition tips that could help support my fitness goals after cancer diagnosis?

If you want to keep your physical activity levels up after being diagnosed with cancer, there are some basic things you can do to help.

Eating well and being active can also help your recovery. Studies show that people who are physically active before and after a cancer diagnosis have a better chance of becoming and staying healthy. Regular physical activity brings a range of health benefits, such as helping to:

  • Reduce fatigue.
  • Support the immune system.
  • Keep the heart and lungs healthy.
  • Reduce the risk of other diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.
  • Reduce anxiety and depression, and improve mood.
  • Improve muscle strength and maintain muscle mass (with muscle-strengthening activities).
  • Improve bowel movements.

> Latest evidence on cancer survival

Eat a healthy, balanced diet

To help your recovery and to support your fitness goals, it’s important to eat a balanced and varied diet and to eat a variety of different foods each day – this helps to ensure your body gets all the nutrients it needs, such as vitamins and minerals.

Where possible it’s best to try and include more plant-based foods in your daily diet, for example, wholegrains (like brown rice and pasta), pulses (like beans, chickpeas and lentils), and a variety of different coloured vegetables and fruit.

Choosing more high-carbohydrate foods such as pasta, rice, all forms of bread, barley, white and sweet potatoes, and oats, helps to provide energy to your body. Aiming for some carbohydrates at each meal can help to keep your energy levels up. Making sure you eat enough before you exercise is also a good idea to help reduce fatigue and tiredness.

To support your goals, it’s also important to eat enough protein and to include several protein-rich products with each meal. Going through cancer and its treatment can lead to muscle loss (this can make day-to-day tasks feel harder) – consuming enough protein can help to reduce this.

Aim for lean meat, poultry (like chicken and turkey), fish, and plant-based protein sources such as tofu, Quorn, and pulses (lentils, beans and peas).

Unsalted nuts, seeds, dairy (and dairy alternatives such as soya milk), eggs, yoghurt, and nut butters (like almond or peanut) are other protein-rich options.

Protein for muscle-strengthening activities

Eating extra protein in combination with working out (specifically hand weights or bodyweight exercises) helps your muscles repair and recover after exercise, and helps increase muscle mass (which may have been reduced during treatment).

With a protein-rich diet, it helps to maximise the benefits of your exercise session. Having a serving of protein 1-2 hours after you have worked out can be beneficial to help support muscle recovery and growth. As muscle recovery continues at night while we are resting and sleeping, try to eat something high in protein before going to bed.

Good options are a glass of milk (dairy or soya), cubes of cheese, cottage cheese, or a yoghurt (Greek-style, or soy-based) – you can also top with chopped nuts for extra protein and energy.

> For advice on eating well during cancer download a free copy of our guide

> How important is protein during cancer?

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