Sometimes it takes everything in us to get off the warm and cozy couch to exercise when it is chilly, windy, and slippery outside. But, we know how important it is to get those workouts in around the Holidays to prevent weight gain, and maintain a healthy, happy body. By fueling our bodies properly before and after a workout, we can increase our energy levels, in turn increasing our motivation to get moving, as well as ensure that we get the most out of every workout. Everyone’s energy needs differ based on gender, age, body composition, amount and type of physical activity. So how do you know what you need? There is no single answer, but here are some tips for eating to fuel your workout.
Carbohydrates are a primary fuel for exercise and sports, especially those of moderate to high intensities. Carbohydrates are easily digested and quickly used by your body for energy. A diet that includes enough carbohydrates can prevent early fatigue and injury. What is recommended amount of carbohydrates? 50-75 grams of easily-digested carbohydrates can be consumed two to three hours prior to a workout. This could include about 1.5 cups of wheat pasta (70 g), one cup of fresh fruit (30 g) with 2 pieces of whole wheat toast (30 g), once cup of brown rice (45 g) with a glass of milk (12 g), one large baked potato (50 g) with a cup of veggies (5 g), along with many other options! Then add some protein and fat to make it a meal! Closer to your exercise, in the hour beforehand, 15-25 grams of carbohydrates can be consumed. Examples include a piece of fruit, handful of pretzels, 3 graham cracker squares, a packet of oatmeal, a granola bar, among others.
Fat is an essential source of energy for longer, lower- to moderate-intensity exercise. Healthy sources of fat include foods such as fatty fish, nuts and nut butters, nut oils, vegetable oils, avocados and olives. Limit your intake of saturated fat, which comes from dairy foods such as whole milk, butter and high-fat cheese. Animal products, including high fat meats are also sources of saturated fat. Try to avoid foods that contain trans fats such as hydrogenated oils.
Protein has many purposes and benefits for active individuals, such as building and repairing muscles and promoting immune health. The protein needs of active individuals varies greatly depending on type of exercise and body composition. For the highly active endurance athlete, protein needs may be increased, but for the casual runner or walker, normal protein recommendations (0.8-1.0 g/kg body weight) are adequate. When choosing protein options, look for low-fat or fat-free milk, low-fat cheeses and lean, trimmed meats. This way, you get calcium and protein with much less saturated fat.
Snacks can be consumed any time of day, but are especially useful when helping to fuel before or recover after a workout. The right food choices in the right portions provide a fuel boost. Pre-exercise snacks boost blood glucose levels, and can top off muscle carbohydrate stores which is essential for longer, harder workouts. The more time for digestion, the larger the snack. Aim for 10 to 15 grams of protein, and 25 to 45 grams of carbohydrates, and not much more, to prevent over-eating and keeping weight in check. Post-workout, snacks help repair muscles and provide the body with fuel and fluids lost during exercise. Like before exercise, a snack with a mix of carbs and protein is ideal. Then, follow with a meal within the next few hours to maximize nutritional and exercise benefits.
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