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.

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

10 Vegetarian Protein Sources…and How to Eat Them

A recent market study found that American meat consumption has decreased 19% since 2004.1 Perhaps that’s because reducing intake of meat has been shown to lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and some cancers.2 If you’re someone who has been cutting back on meat lately––whether for health reasons, environment concerns, or animal rights––it’s still important to include protein in your diet.

Why? Because protein is the building block of muscles, bones, skin, and blood. It is required to make hormones and enzymes, and necessary for tissue repair. It is also a component of every cell in your body. Finally, protein helps promote fullness and should be included with every meal and snack.

Here are a few of my favorite non-meat protein sources along with ideas on how to include them in your diet.

1. Chia Seeds

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(image credit: The Pioneer Woman)

Chia seeds are known as a superfood because of their nutrient-rich profile which, in addition to protein, includes omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. One serving of chia seeds (about 2 tablespoons) contains 4.5 grams of protein and a whopping 10 grams of fiber. They are easy to eat and can be mixed into baked goods, added to smoothies, and are also the perfect topping for yogurt. There are many chia seed brands on the market; I like The Chia Company.

2. Lentils

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(image credit: Italian Food Forever)

Lentils have been a staple to Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines for thousands of years. They are filled with fiber and protein and are a great substitute for meat. One ½-cup serving of lentils has 9 grams of protein. Lentils can be added to soups or tossed into salads like this one. You can even make vegetarian meatballs with them! For snacks, I love SimpleSuppleFoods crunchy roasted lentils.

3. Peanut Butter

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(image credit: Pixelated Crumb)

Peanuts are actually a legume (not a nut) and are filled with healthy fats and protein. Two tablespoons of peanut butter contain 8 grams of protein. If you’re tired of the traditional PB&J sandwich, try adding peanut butter to yogurt and smoothies, or even use it as a dip for carrots (trust me; it’s delicious). I like to keep these Justin’s single-serve peanut butter packets on me for a quick snack.

4. Greek Yogurt

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(image credit: Dr. Oz)

Greek yogurt is low in calories and loaded with protein and gut-healthy probiotics. One cup of plain Greek yogurt contains 17 grams of protein. While many people think of Greek yogurt as a breakfast or snack food, it’s actually very versatile. One of my favorite ways to use it is as a replacement for sour cream on tacos and quesadillas or as a dip for roasted vegetables. I also swap it for milk in pancake and smoothie recipes.

5. Quinoa

quinoa

(image credit: Genius Kitchen/DianaEatingRichly)

Quinoa is considered to be a grain, but technically speaking, it’s actually a seed. It cooks quickly, only taking about 10-15 minutes to prepare. One cup of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein. Quinoa makes a great grain salad, can be stuffed in vegetables, or substituted for oatmeal at breakfast, with an egg on top for even more protein, or topped with fruits and nuts.

6. Chickpeas

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(image credit: Eat This Much)

Chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) are a type of legume and are a complex carbohydrate, meaning they are digested slowly, giving sustained energy and thus preventing spikes in blood sugar. One ½-cup serving of chickpeas has over 19 grams of protein, which for many people is almost half of their daily protein needs! Chickpeas can be added to salads, soups, or made into hummus. There is even a brand called Banza that makes pasta out of chickpeas, and it is delicious!

7. Peas

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(image credit: Backyard Gardening Blog)

Peas are part of the legume family and a one-cup serving contains about 9 grams of protein. Frozen peas can be added into rice, soups, and stews. Pea-based protein powder is becoming a widely available alternative to traditional whey-based powders. Bob’s Red Mill makes a version with 21 grams of protein per serving. Feel like a snack? Try Harvest Snaps for an on-the-go way to get your pea fix. Bonus: they taste like potato chips!

8. Eggs

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(image credit: Health.com)

Hard-boiled, soft-boiled, scrambled. or over easy, eggs are a quick, easy, and affordable protein source. They are also low in calories and a great source of fat-soluble vitamins. One egg contains 6 grams of protein. I suggest trying some non-traditional ways to eat eggs, such as over lentils (even more protein!) or baked eggs to change things up!

9. Almonds

almonds

(image credit: Nuts.com)

Almonds are one of the highest protein-containing nuts with 22 almonds providing about 6 grams of protein. Almonds are a great snack option. They can also be added to salads for a nice crunch. Most recently, a new company called Noosh has made a line of almond-based protein powder, nut butter. and even almond oil that can be used for cooking.

10. Edamame

edamame

(image credit: Organic Facts)

Edamame (soybeans) contain all 9 essential aminos acids, meaning they are a complete protein source. A ½-cup serving of edamame contains 11 grams of protein making them a great substitute for meat-based dishes. Try this Asian quinoa edamame salad for a double dose of plant-based protein!

So, now that you’re an expert on protein sources, you may be wondering how much protein you need. The average protein requirements of a healthy adult are between 46-56 grams per day (or 0.8g/kg body weight).3 However, protein needs depend on age, gender, and activity level, so consider working with a Registered Dietitian (like DishWithDina) to learn more.

What are your go-to protein sources? Has the list above given you any creative ideas on how to incorporate vegetarian protein options into your usual meals or recipes? Comment below!

References:

  1.  Strom, Stephanie. Americans Ate 19% Less Beef From ’05 to ’14, Report SaysThe New York Times, 21 Mar 2017.
  2. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. Eat Right.org website.12 Dec 2016.
  3. National Academy of Sciences. Dietary Reference Intakes Tables and Application. 2 Jan 2018.

bertolami

Guest post by Isabelle Bertolami, MS, Dietetic Intern