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.

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(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.

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(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

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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.

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(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

Lead the Way to a Healthy Office Culture

Sometimes it seems we spend all of our time at work, and our eating habits are influenced very much by our office environment––from the tempting vending machines to the cool new lunch spot around the block to the boss buying bagels with cream cheese every morning.

Sitting down at work for eight hours (or more) a day is also a major disadvantage to our health. It increases the likelihood of heart disease, weight gain, and other illnesses. Not to mention, when we leave work, most of us sit in the car or subway, and then sit at home. That is a lot of sitting in one day.

You can still maintain a healthy, nutritious lifestyle at your office if you plan accordingly, make small changes every day, and learn how to “work” your workday to your advantage.

Workplace pic

(image credit: Hunter McMillan)

Use your workday structure to plan healthy eating. The great thing about being at work is having that daily structure. Although you may not know when certain stressors are coming your way, you usually know exactly when you have your lunch break and can escape for a little bit. Set that time aside for yourself to eat healthy, and mindfully, without any distractions. View your lunch time as an important meeting with yourself where you refuel and recharge.

Get a colleague on your team. It is important to have friends––and coworkers––who can support and live a healthy lifestyle with you. Announce to your colleagues that your health is important to you and tell them about your goals. Before you know it, you may have your whole office practicing healthier eating habits. Also, your boss will be thankful. After all, healthy employees are more cost-effective and productive!

Plan and pack ahead. This is key for eating healthy at work. Pack yourself a lunchbox the night before with a variety of healthy snacks that include fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins. If you have a fridge in your office, use it to your advantage, and pack a yogurt and fresh berries. Make sure you have some options so when a craving creeps up, you have a good mix of foods to chose from. If you stay at work late, bring extra snacks. Sure, packing ahead of time may be a little time-consuming, but once you get in the habit of having healthier eating options at work, you’ll feel better and find that it was worth sacrificing some time upfront.

Keep a stash of backup snacks. In case you completely forget your lunchbox at home, or are simply rushing around, make sure you have some extra snacks at work. Some great options of non-perishable items are low-sugar protein bars and trail mixes, low-sodium beef jerky, and instant oatmeal. Keep items that are healthy, but not too tempting. You wouldn’t want to be reaching for your backup snacks simply because the temptation is there. This is your emergency stash.

Keep a clean desk. That is, clean from candy jars, cookies, and any other snacks. Studies show that snacks are more tempting when you see them, so try to keep them out of sight1. Follow these simple steps: Close the lid on that jar of candy and put it away in a cabinet. Move the box of donuts from the meeting room, to the break room. Take an alternate route to your desk to avoid that break room temptation.

Have a water bottle in sight. Staying hydrated is just as important as healthy eating, so always keep a water bottle on your desk and take breaks to sip on it. If needed, set an alarm clock to remind yourself to drink up. Other than keeping you hydrated, water will also help you feel fuller and prevent you from misjudging your feeling of thirst for hunger.

Break, move, and stretch. Every hour or so, take a few minutes to walk somewhere, whether it’s to the furthest bathroom or even for a breath of fresh air. If you don’t have anywhere to go, try to stretch at your desk, or do some squats, maybe your colleagues will join you! Finally, when you leave the office, ditch the elevator and walk down those stairs. Feeling even more active? Park your car few blocks away from the office or walk to a further subway station to get in a few extra steps on your way home.

It might take some time and dedication to manage your weight and eat healthy in an office environment, but it can be done. Stand up for your health, set some time aside to plan, and you’ll notice the difference soon enough. Don’t be surprised if your whole office follows your lead. Energy and a great mood is contagious, so cheers to a healthy office culture!

Editor’s note: Did you know May is Global Employee Health & Fitness Month? Click here to learn more.

References:

  1. Sonnentag, S., Pundt, A., & Venz, L. (2017). Distal and proximal predictors of snacking at work: A daily-survey study. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102(2):151-162.

Marta Dulaba Author Pic

Guest post by Marta Dulaba, nutrition student

Tending the Farm

I started the DishWithDina blog back in April 2005 (Happy Blogiversary to me!) as a way to remember all the yummy places I went to after I moved to New York City from New Jersey. In the transition from one platform to another and then integrating everything into this website, I think I lost a handful of posts along the way; but, I kept all the business cards and photographs (I was snapping pics of my meals before Instagram was even a thing) from every outing.

One of my rules of living in the city has always been to never visit the same place twice. With so much to do and see and eat, why not try something different every time you leave your apartment or venture in from somewhere else? Besides, you can’t ever guarantee your favorite places will be around long enough, so might as well check out as many as you can before they’re gone. (RIP, Benny’s Burritos and 7A.)

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Babies! (04/17/2005)

Such is the way with life, too, though. I don’t think any of us intentionally want to regret not doing something differently, not pursuing an avenue because it was unfamiliar, or fearing what would––or wouldn’t––happen if we ventured off our regular path. In that realm is where I find myself these days. It’s been over six months since I completed my year-long dietetic internship and I am still having issues recovering from the (albeit sometimes self-imposed) toll that experience took on my brain and body. But, as the seasons change and the year progresses and time between the “doing” gets larger and wider, I find myself reflecting on what could be instead of what should have been.

My grad school is finally letting up (one class left!) to a point that I see more flexibility and freedom in my schedule. I’m allowing myself to try new things, to remember what life was like when I would roam the streets of Manhattan, weaving in and out of each neighborhood, tasting and sampling the cultures and the livelihoods that awaited me. I went back to practicing yoga this week after a three-year-long hiatus. I bought hydrating facial masks and have been using them regularly. I met a friend for lunch and then went for a walk afterward. I find myself bolting out of the building and going for a run the minute a ray of sunshine peeks out from the clouds. For the first time in years, I’m reading books that have nothing to do with food, nutrition, or science and everything to do with helping me get back on track, refueling and improving my psyche so that I’m well prepared to develop and grow as each new season unfolds and new opportunities come my way.

In addition, I’ve met dozens of wonderful new people, after starting my private practice in October, who have donated their time and energy to help get my business up and running and now they’re contributing to and breathing new life into this blog. I look forward to sharing more of their contributions––and more of my own insights––with you over the year. And I invite you to share with us what rituals you enjoy, what goals you intend to pursue, and what old habits in your life you’re letting go of in order to make room for new ones.

GIVEAWAY: Dailygreatness Training Journal

Last week, I wrote about my Attitude of Gratitude and did my first in a series of giveaways inspired by my experience of reinventing my career—and myself in the process.

I believe that reinvention means always striving to be a better version of oneself, not just stopping once a goal has been met. The past few years of being both back in school and in my dietetic internship have really done a number on my health and well-being, which is ironic since all I’ve been doing since 2013 is pursuing a career in the health and wellness fields. Not only do I want to lead by example for my clients and practice what I preach, but, as I reach my 50th year on this planet, I want to be sure I enter it with a fit mind, body, and soul.

On that note, one of my next goals—which some of you might have already seen hash-tagged on my social media accounts as “fitby50″—is to undo a lot of the damage I’ve done since I stopped working full-time and started going back to school. In a way, I think this experience has helped me become more empathetic to my clients who have had their own health and fitness challenges. It’s easy to think that saying, “just do it” can motivate someone into changing a behavior, but that’s not always the case when you have an unrealistic workload, don’t know how you’re going to fit one more thing into your already jam-packed schedule, are perpetually exhausted, and no longer have the mental acuity to care about anything more than just making it to the next day without punching a baby in the face or wanting to stepping into oncoming traffic (as told to me by a friend).

As much as love my high-tech tools, I’ve decided to return to paper planners and journals recently. There’s just something about scribbling on a page (and adorning it with colorful sticky notes) that makes me giddy versus typing furiously with both thumbs onto a blank screen.

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I came across the Dailygreatness journals through some random (or not so random, if you believe in the power of the universe…hmmm) online promotions and decided to order a bunch of different copies to check them out. I’ve used paper planners before, but have always thought they could be so much better if they combined a journal component, maybe threw in some motivational quotes, pretty pictures, colorful pages, etc. When I opened my Dailygreatness order, I squealed in delight because it does just that.

For this round, I’ll be giving away one copy of the Dailygreatness Training Journal (to U.S. residents only for now). From the product page:

The daily pages will guide you to create healthy habits through the 8 daily steps of training, diet & food journaling , meditation, gratitude, intentions, stretching, health tips and self-awareness. The weekly and monthly check-ins keep you committed, accountable and motivated. With a 12-week review to celebrate your progress, each stage lays the foundation for achieving your health & fitness goals, reaching your potential and creating a rocking fit body, mind and spirit.

If you’re interested in snagging this FREE copy (valued at $39.95 on the Dailygreatness site), please leave a comment below or e-mail me (click on “Contact” page for address) by 10pm ET Wed, 12/7/16 with the following:

  1. Your health & fitness goals for 2017.
  2. How you will “pay it forward” when you meet your goals (this could be in time, energy, or money).

Recipient will be selected at random and announced on Fri, 12/9/16. Best wishes and keep daring to be great!

Note/disclaimer: This is not an ad. All giveaways are new items I’ve purchased with my own funds and want to give away in hopes of passing along encouragement and positivity to others. I ask for nothing in return (though, if you wanted to follow my blog, Twitter, or IG accounts, or forward this post along to others, that would be rad). In doing this giveaway, I acknowledge a complete release of Dailygreatness, Rocking Fit, and WordPress by each entrant or participant and that this is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Dailygreatness, Rocking Fit, and/or WordPress.