Food as Fuel: How to Maximize Your Workouts with Proper Meal Planning

In our last post, we encouraged you to get up and get moving; but, much like how a car can’t run without fuel, your muscles can’t function if you’re also on empty, so this week, we are going to teach you how to keep your “engine” running properly so that you can exercise at your optimal level.

One small note before we dive into our discussion: the recommendations we provide below are for pre-, during, and post-workout nutrition for a healthy, active, adult population, and protein needs are increased for people that are consistently active. Individuals with chronic health conditions (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease) or at certain life stages (pregnancy, adolescence, the elderly) should speak with their doctor and Registered Dietitian first to find out their individualized nutrition needs based on their specific health status before beginning any form of physical exercise.

Diet-Plus-Exercise

(image credit: Health and Exercise Coaching)

Pre-workout

“Should I eat before my workout?” This is a common question that someone has when they begin exercising and the answer is often debated as there’s not a clear-cut rule; it depends on the individual. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) recommends you should eat a small meal or snack consisting of proteins and carbohydrates about 1-3 hours pre-workout, depending on how your body tolerates food.Carbs give you energy to exercise, while proteins provide your muscles with the right amino acids (the building blocks) so they can perform at their peak. It is best not to eat immediately before or too close to your workout because you may experience some gastrointestinal discomfort since your body is trying to digest the food while your muscles are engaging in the exercise.

If your workout is of low-moderate intensity and for a short duration (less than an hour), you may be fine with skipping out entirely on eating before exercising. However, you should bring some carb-rich snacks with you during the workout in case you feel tired or weak so you’ll have something easy to eat that gives you a quick shot of energy. It is especially important for people that exercise in the morning without eating breakfast to pack some snacks, since their bodies are in the fasted state and without food for many hours.       

Some suggestions for pre-workout fuel:

  • A peanut butter and banana sandwich (with whole wheat bread)
  • Whole grain cereal or oatmeal (choose one that’s low in added sugars) with low-fat milk and fruit
  • Scrambled eggs with whole wheat bread

Lighter pre-workout snack options (or to bring with your during workout):

  • Plain greek yogurt with berries or other favorite fruits
  • Apple with nut butter
  • Handful of nuts and raisins (two parts raisins: one part nuts), or nuts and dried fruits
  • 1-2 hard-boiled eggs
  • Granola bar (choose one that’s low in added sugars and saturated fats)
  • Whole grain crackers with peanut butter

Stay Hydrated!

Exercise causes an elevation in body temperature, which results in your body producing sweat in order to get rid of the excess heat. When sweat evaporates, it allows your body to cool down resulting in substantial water and some electrolyte loss during exercise. It is very important to stay hydrated during your exercise to restore the water loss!

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(image credit: Shift)

Listed below are guidelines from The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) regarding hydration and exercise.2

Hydration before exercise:

  • Drink 2-2.5 cups (16-20 fl oz) of water at least four hours before exercise

Hydration during exercise:

  • Drink about 1 cup (3-8 fl oz) of water every 15-20 minutes when exercising for less than an hour
  • If you’re exercising for more than an hour, drink about 1 cup (3-8 fl oz) of a sport drink (with electrolytes) every 15-20 minutes

Remember to drink water throughout your workout and try to avoid drinking water only when you feel thirsty. Thirst signals that your body is headed toward dehydration and is not suggested to be used to monitor hydration status. The above fluid intake guidelines may vary based on factors that affect your level of sweating such as air temperature, intensity of your workout, and body size; thus, be aware of your fluid loss and hydrate accordingly. Also, make sure to drink adequate amount of water after exercise to replace your fluid loss as well.

Post-workout

To help your muscles recover and repair after an intensive workout, it is recommended by the AND and ACSM for you to eat a post-workout meal rich in high-quality proteins and carbs within two hours of completing the workout.Your body uses stored energy (glycogen) in your muscles during your workout, so eating carbs help to replenish the nutrients that were lost. Consuming proteins post-workout is essential to rebuild and repair your muscles.

Some suggestions for post-workout fuel:

  • Homemade post-workout smoothie (with a high-quality protein source, and a good ratio of fruits and other ingredients like the combinations in this guide)
  • Low-fat chocolate milk
  • Plain greek yogurt with berries or other favorite fruits
  • Whole grain wrap with turkey (or egg) and veggies
  • Pita bread and hummus
  • Small bowl of rice and beans
  • A plant-based protein source with some whole grain carbs

Though it is important to consume more protein when you’re active, eating extra protein than your body needs does not help increase your muscle mass and strength. So, be cautious of consuming protein shakes or protein supplements; they are not necessary if you are consuming adequate amount of proteins from your diet. Not only can excess protein intake cause weight gain, but it could be harmful to your body, as it puts more stress on the kidneys to eliminate the waste products of protein metabolism. Also, there is no evidence that show protein supplements are superior to foods that contain high-quality proteins.

Food table

(image credit: Health Wealth)

Beware of the post-workout treat.

Some people feel hungry after their workouts and may be tempted to reward their hard work with a big meal or sweet treat. But be careful of what you’re eating after your physical activity, as the calories can add up. Also, individuals often overestimate the number of calories burned via exercise and end up consuming additional calories, which may end up promoting unwanted weight gain.4 For example, walking one mile might seem a lot to some people that have just started exercising, but it only burns around 100 calories. If you want to reward yourself after a challenging workout, get a manicure/pedicure or skincare treatment, watch a movie, or splurge on something nice for yourself. It is best to stick to having a nutrient-dense post-workout meal in an appropriate portion size. And if you were planning to eat a regular meal shortly (2-3 hours) after the completion of  your workout, just skip the post-workout meal or have a small snack instead.

How are you currently fueling your workout? Are there any changes you would like to make? Share with us in the comments below.

References:

  1. Timing your pre- and post-workout nutrition. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. http://www.eatright.org/resource/fitness/exercise/exercise-nutrition/timing-your-nutrition
  2. Selecting and effectively using hydration for fitness. American College of Sports Medicine. https://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/selecting-and-effectively-using-hydration-for-fitness.pdf
  3. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and athletic performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2016;48:501 https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2016/03000/Nutrition_and_Athletic_Performance.25.aspx
  4. 3 Basic Tips to Avoid Weight Gain with a New Exercise Regimen. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. https://www.eatright.org/fitness/exercise/exercise-nutrition/3-basic-tips-to-avoid-weight-gain-with-a-new-exercise-regimen

Helen bio pic

Guest post by Helen Cheng, Dietetic Intern

Squash That Couch Potato: 6 Simple Ways to Stay Young and Healthy

The Fountain of Youth may never have been found, but one of the secrets to staying young and healthy has long been discovered––regular physical activity! Along with following a nutrient-dense and varied diet, exercising consistently not only helps you maintain a healthy weight, but research has consistently shown that it reduces your risk of developing chronic diseases, slows down the aging process, and helps your brain function optimally.1 Yet, regular exercise is often neglected due to hectic lifestyles and long work days.

GroupFitnessClass-outdoor

(image credit: Center for Health Equity Research)

In a recent study, researchers examined the immune systems of middle-aged and elderly adults over the age of 55 who regularly exercised by cycling for the majority of their lives. They looked for markers of T cell production in the blood (T cells have a variety of roles in the immune system, such as killing foreign invaders). The researchers then compared the cyclists’ immune systems to similar aged, healthy people who were sedentary, and a group of young adult that didn’t exercise.

The surprising results showed that the levels of newly made T cells were about the same in the older cyclists group as those found in the young adults group, suggesting that regular exercise protects against a critical aspect of aging, the loss of immune system protection. Thus, being physically inactive––not merely aging––may lead to the deterioration of your immune function. The cyclists also didn’t lose muscle mass (a major concern as we get older), had healthy cholesterol levels, and didn’t gain as much body fat than their sedentary peers.

Senior Cycling

(image credit: Senior Cycling)

Engaging in physical activity is important for mental health as well as it has been shown to elevate mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve sleep, leading to better cognitive functioning.The parts of the brain that control thinking and memory appear to have greater volume in individuals that are physically active versus those that are not.

Regular physical activity can also reduce your risk of developing diseases and chronic conditions such as cardiovascular (heart) disease, stroke, diabetes, colon and breast cancers, and obesity. Exercising on a consistent basis over time can improve your cholesterol levels, lower your blood pressure, and lower your blood sugar level.

Lastly, incorporating strength-training activities also helps increase your muscle mass and strength, and slows down the loss of bone density that results as you get older. Elderly people are at a higher risk for falls and hip fractures, but adding balance and strength-training exercises to your daily workout routine can help anyone reduce their risk.

Heart Health

(image credit: MedExpressRx)

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults should do at least:

  • 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as brisk walking, dancing, or bicycling, or
  • 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity such as running or bicycling uphill, and
  • strength-training exercises on 2 or more days each week3

With all these great health benefits, it is important for everyone to be active, regardless of age, health status, or size (but be sure to get your doctor’s OK before you engage in any new fitness regimens).

Consider the following:

  1. Move a lot and oftenEven if you lead a sedentary lifestyle due to having a desk job or if you travel regularly, find ways to include the following “NEAT” (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) activities as often as possible throughout your day:
    • Take the stairs instead of the elevators within buildings and public transit stations
    • Stand or walk when doing tasks if possible
    • Do stretching exercises at your desk during breaks
    • Walk outside to get lunch or take a short walk after meals
  2. Forget the treadmillNot everyone likes going to the gym or is able to join one, and that’s okay. There are many forms of cardiovascular exercise you can enjoy such as brisk walking/running in the park, dancing, swimming, or playing a sport. Even shopping at the mall, walking your dog, or doing household chores for a period of time counts!
  3. Take a classYoga, Zumba®, pilates, barre, hula hooping…the list of exercise classes that are available to join seems to be endless! Find one that piques your interest. Many places offer a free trial class for new students, so ask if you can check one out before committing. For New Yorkers, Shape Up NYC is a free, drop-in fitness program with many locations throughout the five boroughs that offers various fitness classes. Individuals living in other cities can research what might be available (for free or low-cost) at local community centers.
  4. Grab a buddyNot only can someone motivate you on the challenging days when you don’t feel like moving, but socializing and spending time with a friend, family member, or co-worker might make the actual exercising seem much more fun as well.
  5. Set goals and track your progress. Start small and work your way up. If you’re just starting out or have an erratic schedule, it might be best to spread out your exercises throughout the week, and slowly reduce the length of time spent being sedentary.  For example, try walking 3,000 steps every day for one whole week or running for 30 minutes once a week, then add a component of intensity, duration, or frequency the following week. Keep track of your progress…before you know it, you may need to set new goals!
  6. Have fun! Find a fitness routine that you enjoy doing and let it become a normal part of your life. It is much easier to stick to something you like than force yourself to do something you don’t.

What physical activity are you already doing regularly? What would you like to start doing? Share with us in the comments below and keep an eye out for our follow-up blog post where we will be discussing what to eat to fuel your workout and how to reap the most benefits out of your exercise routine.

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical Activity and Health
  2. Godman, Heidi. Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills. Harvard Health Blog.
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans

 

Helen bio pic

Guest post by Helen Cheng, Dietetic Intern

January Is Thyroid Awareness Month

When is the last time you thought about your thyroid? Perhaps you heard someone mentioning having a sluggish thyroid or you know iodine has something to do with the thyroid, but not sure what.

Your thyroid, a small gland at the base of your neck, uses iodine (a mineral) to produce hormones and is involved in many of your body’s functions, including metabolic rate and regulating your heart beat.1,2 Iodine is essential for normal thyroid function and iodine deficiency is the main cause of thyroid dysfunction worldwide. (The United States fortifies its salt with iodine purposely to thwart deficiency.)3 Diseases of the thyroid stemming from under- or overproduction of hormones can cause some unremarkable symptoms—like fatigue or weight gain—or more noticeable ones (like goiter), but become serious conditions like Hashimoto’s disease, Graves’ disease, or thyroid cancer, which is why it’s important to support your thyroid health.

thyroid

(image credit: Medicina Online)

In the U.S., the daily Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for iodine in adults is 150μg—which is easy enough to meet if you use table salt in your food—and increases to 220-290μg for pregnant and breastfeeding women, respectively. Women, especially older women, tend to have more issues with their thyroid than men.4

The following is a list of some of the foods and nutrients that may help promote a healthy thyroid, along with providing many other health benefits; however, if you have been diagnosed with a thyroid condition, be sure to consult with your doctor or a Registered Dietitian first as some of these items might exacerbate an existing condition.5,6

  • Omega-3 fatty acids from fish, vegetable oils, walnuts, flax seeds, and leafy/cruciferous vegetables. Click here for some great recipes that focus on omega-3s.
  • Selenium from nuts (Brazil nuts, specifically). Click here to learn more about selenium-rich foods.
  • Iodine from basic table salt (“iodized” salt) or seaweed/sea vegetables and dairy foods. Click here to learn the difference between table salt (sodium chloride) and other types of salt.

To learn more about thyroid health, nutrient deficiencies/toxicities, and related diseases and conditions, please visit the American Thyroid Association’s website.

References:

  1. Thyroid disease. Women’s Health.gov website.
  2. Thyroid disorders. Medicinenet.com
  3. Leung, A.M., Braverman, L.E., & Pearce, E.N. (2012), History of U.S. Iodine Fortification and SupplementationNutrients, 4(11): 1740–1746.
  4. Harvard Women’s Health Watch (2013). Could you have a thyroid problem-and not know it?
  5. Theobald, M. (n.d.). 7 Hypothyroidism-Friendly Foods to Add to Your Diet. Everyday Health website.
  6. James, D. (n.d.). What You Should Eat To Improve Thyroid Health. mbghealth website.

‘Tis the Season

The DishWithDina crew is taking a break to enjoy the holidays, be with friends & family, and gear up for all the fun, fab things coming in 2018. We will be back on January 3 with new blog posts, online promotions and webinars (both free and fee-based), individual/group nutrition counseling sessions and educational programs (available in-person and virtually), and much, much more!

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Until then, merry and happy whatever you celebrate. Be well, be kind, and remember to eat your veggies!

A Day in the Life of a Dietitian: DishWithDina

There is a screenshot waaaay down in my Instagram feed of a conversation I had with my dad a few years ago when I said I would be going back to school to become a Registered Dietitian and he didn’t understand why I needed to spend so much time and money on a degree and title just to learn how to make a salad.

That discussion cracked me up at the time; but, here we are, four years later, and now it makes me equal parts angry and sad. Becoming a dietitian requires either a Bachelor or Master of Science (usually in nutrition), meaning four years of school––taking classes like anatomy and physiology, microbiology, biochemistry, biostatistics, and medical nutrition therapy––or at least a couple of years in an accredited program for those who ended college the first time around without a B.S. to gain entry into a science program. After that, provided your application is selected, is a year-long competitive and exhausting dietetic internship/supervised practice (that’s 1,200 hours working for free, people––at hospitals, nursing homes, health clinics, and community programs––usually while simultaneously paying for and attending weekly seminars and/or full-on grad courses back on campus), followed by taking and passing a national exam. At the end of what seems like a venture into pre-med, you must be thinking, “Wow! Dietitians must get paid like doctors!” Not even close. In the U.S., the average annual salary in this field is about $53,000, and not much higher in the big cities.

Day in the Life

Those ain’t cookbooks.

Like my dad, so few people seem to actually understand––and respect––what a dietitian is and what this profession is about, even though 2017 marks the profession’s centennial with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the U.S. Hopefully, this blog will give you insight into my new life as a dietitian and the dietetics field overall; but, I encourage you to ask questions of any health and wellness practitioner to better understand their role––and credentialing––in supporting people’s health.

To start, not everyone has taken the same path to get to where they are in this field, and there are definitely some folks making it a little more confusing for the layperson than it has to be (or, perhaps, taking advantage because of it). Lately, and especially in the world of social media, it seems the general public tends to believe doctors––and celebrities––over dietitians when it comes to food and nutrition. Case in point: the newly released documentary What the Health which is getting plenty of buzz from all sides (and which I’ll save for a future discussion). So, how about we make a deal? I won’t perform open heart surgery if you don’t tell people about the miraculous weight-loss benefits of raspberry ketones and garcinia cam-whatever-the-heck. (I’m looking at you, Dr. Oz.)

Next, being a dietitian is not just about encouraging people to eat salad (though, yes, we would love for you to get your recommended daily nutrients by consuming all kinds of fruits and veggies to promote overall health and prevent disease). We span the gamut of occupations, from clinical nutrition to community and corporate wellness to public speaking to recipe development and foodservice management. The list goes on! For me, a typical workday––and, as an entrepreneur running her own private practice, that’s usually every day of the week––can often look something like this:

8:00 am – 12:00 pm – Conduct research on chronic conditions, rare illnesses, food-drug interactions, allergies and intolerances; review client charts and follow up with clients from previous week

12:00 am – 4:00 pm – Work with volunteers on community collaborations; develop marketing materials and online/social media promotions; draft and schedule blog posts; attend practice group conference calls and professional development webinars

4:00 – 8:00 pm – Meet with clients (weight loss, prenatal/gestational diabetes, disease management) for nutrition counseling sessions; write up client charts; follow up with interdisciplinary teams as needed

The only salad I make during these days is for myself during lunch. #burn

Lastly, as I’ve said many times before, I want to make a difference in this field and I realize it could be a bit of an uphill battle, if I let it. I remain determined to dispel some of the preconceived notions (or ignorance) out there and clarify any confusing concepts, and I would love your help. Thanks in advance to anyone who chimes in.

  • If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about health-related issues about which you’d like to learn more, please post below.
  • If you are an “RD2Be,” please let us know what concerns you most about venturing into this field or what you’re most excited to pursue in your new career.
  • If you are a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, please share below your stories of starting out, the wackiest things you’ve heard from clients, patients, or other health professionals, or any of the successes and challenges you’ve come across over the years. I’m hoping to turn this “Day in the Life” blog post into a series and would love to line up interviewees over the next few months.