Food for Fitness

Happy New Year!  With a new year comes new resolutions, and many people are thinking about weight loss.  Are you one of the millions of Americans planning to be more physically active this year?  If so, good for you!  Regular exercise can make an enormous difference in your health.  But in doing so, it is important to remember proper nutrition.  From sports drinks to supplements, all sorts of companies claim their products can enhance your exercise routine.  So when it comes to sports and nutrition, how do we know what’s true and what’s not?

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Luckily, the answer is pretty simple. The foods you need for workouts are generally the same ones your body needs all the time. Good nutrition will help you maintain performance during exercise as well as in your everyday life.  Eating a healthy diet can give you the energy to finish a race, push through an intense workout, or simply enjoy a casual walk.

Using MyPlate is a great way to construct healthy, convenient, and low-budget meals for physical activity.

Much like the old Food Pyramid, MyPlate has five different food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein sources, and dairy.  But with MyPlate, the groups are not divided perfectly evenly. Grains and vegetables take up a little more room than the fruits and proteins.  Want some examples?  Here are some visual representations of what a balanced MyPlate meal can look like:

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Balanced meals can make a huge differences in your workout.  But if you still suffer from fatigue during exercise, there are a few common culprits: carbohydrates, fluids, or protein.  Without them, you may find yourself struggling.  Calories, vitamins, and minerals can also play a role, but today we will focus on ways to keep the first three in your diet.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates provide energy during exercise. Your body stores most carbohydrates in the muscles and liver. More than half of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates, a feat that most people accomplish without even trying.

Carbo-loading before a workout usually isn’t necessary.  But if you will be exercising for more than one hour, eating extra carbohydrates can be helpful.  A glass of fruit juice, a cup of yogurt, or an English muffin with jelly all are great pre-workout choices for a small carbohydrate boost.

After exercise, you need carbohydrates to rebuild the stores of energy in your muscles. Therefore, within 30 minutes, try to eat a granola bar, small bagel with jelly, or sweetened cereal. You can also drink 12 to 16 ounces of an energy drink or fruit punch.  People who exercise for more than 90 minutes should eat or drink additional carbohydrates, possibly coupled with protein, two hours later as well. A sports bar, trail mix with nuts, or yogurt and granola are all great options.

 

Protein

Protein is important for muscle growth and repairing body tissues. The body also uses protein for energy, but only after carbohydrate stores have been used up. Protein doesn’t have to come from meat. Nuts, fish, eggs, cheese, and quinoa are all non-traditional sources of protein. Choosing these other options can add variety and excitement to your meals.

Many people mistakenly believe that a high-protein diet will promote muscle growth – but that isn’t true. Only strength training and exercise will change muscle. Athletes, even body builders, need only a little bit of extra protein to support muscle growth. Athletes can easily meet this increased need by eating more total calories (eating more food). Amino acid supplements and eating a lot of protein are not recommended.

Most Americans already eat almost twice as much protein as they need for muscle development. Eating too much protein can have a negative impact on the body.  In fact, excess protein is usually stored in the body as fat, and it increases the chance of dehydration, burdens the kidneys, and causes calcium loss.  Often, people who focus on eating extra protein may not get enough carbohydrates, stopping them from having enough energy for their workout.

 

Fluids

Now that you know what to eat for a great workout, what should you drink?

Water! Don’t go for the energy drinks/sports drinks – they are filled with excessive sugar and salt that you don’t need. Water is the most important, yet overlooked, nutrient for athletes. Water and fluids keep the body hydrated and at the right temperature. Your body can lose several liters of sweat in an hour of vigorous exercise. Wondering how you can check your hydration level?  Clear urine is a good sign that you have fully rehydrated. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids with every meal, whether or not you will be exercising.

For a workout, drink about 16 ounces (2 cups) of water 2 hours before exercise. It is important to have enough water in your body when you start exercising. Continue to sip water during and after you exercise – about 1/2 to 1 cup of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes. Adults should replace any body weight lost during exercise with an equal amount of fluids. For every pound you lose while exercising, you should drink 24 ounces or 3 cups of fluid within the next 6 hours.  Don’t worry – as long as you are eating healthy and working out, your body will eventually shed the pounds to get you to your healthiest weight!

So as you start to tackle this year’s resolutions and get in shape, remember —

  • Get your nutrients from food, not supplements.
  • Choose nutrient-dense foods and minimize empty calories
  • Use MyPlate – it is a great guide!
  • Enjoy all of your favorite foods in moderation

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Have more questions?  Go to choosemyplate.gov to develop a personalized nutrition plan or schedule an appointment to talk to a registered dietitian (RD) – they are the food experts!

– Kimaya, Dietetic Intern

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