By Dayle Hayes, MS, RD 2015-12-30 17:23:25
Fuel Up for Fitness Don’t overlook the effect hydration and healthy food have on your exercise routine. After 34 years as a Registered Dietitian (RD), writing about nutrition is both fun and frustrating. The fun is in the food—I love to eat delicious, nourishing meals that prime my body for activity, as well as share my passion for eating well with others. My frustration comes from the sensationalized world of nutrition advice, most of which promises magical (and often unfulfilled) results. With hysterical claims about addictive foods, lists of foods to avoid and miraculous diet plans endorsed by celebrities, there is truly a crazy quilt of nutrition nonsense out there. However, eating well for your fitness routine—whether you simply walk every day, regularly lift free weights or often hop on your bike—is actually less complicated and better-tasting than you might imagine. Here are four simple strategies that can help you eat better, feel better and perform better at your gym, in your Zumba class, on your yoga mat or wherever you feel best getting fit. Fuel Regularly Kick-start your day with a morning meal, and then eat every three to four hours throughout the day. Skipping meals can make you “hangry” (hungry and angry), and make it harder to choose wisely once you get around food. When it comes time for a workout, failure to fuel up can lead to a less-than-stellar performance, while a healthy snack of lean protein and complex carbohydrates gives you the energy you need for your fitness efforts, no matter how high or low the intensity. One frequently asked question is whether you should eat before or after exercise. My answer: Trust your gut—literally! Some people feel better exercising on a completely empty stomach. Others like a bit of liquid nutrition, such as a fruit smoothie, 30 to 60 minutes before a workout, and a full meal afterward to help rebuild muscles and replenish glycogen stores that you burned during cardio activity. Don’t forget, regular hydration is as important as regular fuel when it comes to fitness. Unless you’re training for a marathon (or doing other strenuous workouts that last 90 minutes or more), skip the sugary sports drinks. Water is the best—and certainly the cheapest—beverage for general hydration. Rather than trying to meet a certain number of glasses or ounces, drink enough total fluid so you are urinating regularly. Urine should be odorless and pale yellow; if it is dark and has a strong odor you probably need to up your fluid intake. Contrary to common nutrition myth, coffee and tea do count as fluids and can help to keep you hydrated. And, yes, there is research to support flavored milk, such as chocolate, as a sports beverage—after all, milk contains protein, and the combination of milk and chocolate syrup offers easily accessible carbohydrates. Fuel Carefully Take some time on the weekend to check what your workweek will be like and outline some basic meals and snacks. Online menu-planning sites and grocery shopping apps can be useful, as new recipes and cooking tips are now as close as the search engine on your computer or tablet. Having an eating plan can be a smart way to have the right foods on hand when you get hungry. A word of caution: Plenty of nutrition “experts” claim that their dietary plans will help you gain muscle, lose weight and perform well in the gym. However, every year, U.S. News and World Report evaluates the best and worst diets; last year’s rankings had no real surprises. The Paleo Diet (a low-carbohydrate that eliminates grains, legumes and dairy) was rated the worst and, as it has for several years, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet ranked as No. 1. DASH is science-based, but it’s not a rigid, restrictive diet. It’s more of a flexible eating style based on five to eight servings of fruits and vegetables per day, plus plenty of low-fat dairy foods, lean proteins and whole grains. Fuel Tastefully The top reason why we choose certain foods over others is taste. Boring, bland food is not satisfying, and we often eat more than we would if our meals were flavorful. If you have been upgrading your culinary skills at work, the same cooking techniques can actually help you eat smarter and enjoy it more at home, too. With just a little planning, fuel for your workout can be full of delicious flavors and important nutrients. Skip the expensive protein shakes (which may be full of sugar, sweeteners and other artificial ingredients) and pack a tasty snack that you can enjoy either pre-or post-workout. To help your muscles do their best, choose a combination of some protein with mostly complex carbohydrates (as opposed to the simple carbs found in soft drinks and candy). The protein helps repair your muscles after exercise and carbs help to replace glycogen, which is the fuel stored by your body for later use—like your next workout! Here are a few options for any taste buds: • Hummus and whole-wheat pita bread <br/> • Greek yogurt with fresh seasonal fruit <br/> • Apple slices with nut butter (peanut, almond or cashew) <br/> • Chocolate (low-fat or skim milk) and a banana Eat Mindfully Although you rarely hear this as a fitness or diet tip, paying attention to your meals is one of the best ways to improve your eating habits. Slow down and go screen-free; focusing on your food and enjoying meals actually increases satisfaction. Eating mindfully also helps to reduce stress snacking, allowing you to eat when you are hungry and stop when you are satisfied. While this tip might have little to do with fitness performance, it does help improve your overall health. Need more information about smart fuel choices for your fitness program? For personalized nutrition counseling, make an appointment with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). And, in the end, don’t stress too much about what you’re eating—unless you’re training for a marathon or other rigorous activity, it’s more important to eat smartly and mindfully than it is to count every nutrient that enters your body. Choosing an Eating Plan A plentiful food supply usually gives way to diet fads. In recent years, you’ve seen the diet pendulum swing from fat-free at one extreme to carb-free at the other. We’ve lived through Dr. Atkins, the Grapefruit Diet, the Zone Diet, the Wheat Belly Diet, eating for your blood type and every variation possible of “Paleo Schmaleo” (as one of my dietitian friends calls it). While these diets claim all sorts of science to back them up, very few of them are based on any rigorous evaluation or actual scientific research. When you are tempted by the latest diet book or new diet program, ask yourself three questions: Can I follow this diet for the rest of my life? If you think that it is unlikely, don’t even bother starting—it won’t last long enough to help you. Does this diet make miraculous promises about weight loss or fitness progress? If it sounds too good to be true, it will be a miracle if it actually works. Does it eliminate entire foods groups, such as grains or dairy? When you stop eating entire food groups, you miss out on some key nutrients that your body needs for optimal performance during a workout. Seeking Sound Advice For more general guidance on healthy eating, there are dozens of online blogs written by registered dietitians; some also provide online counseling services. Here are four of my favorites: • Nancy Clark, RD, CSSD blog.nancyclarkrd.com Clark is a best-selling author and a certified specialist in sports dietetics and internationally known sports nutritionist trusted by top athletes. Her blog addresses many fueling up questions. • Holley Grainger, MS, RD www.holleygrainger.com Grainger has instructed millions of home cooks on how to make simple, fast and healthy meals through her online videos, media appearances and writing. • Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RDN, HFS www.rebeccascritchfield.com/blog Scritchfield is an expert on the connection between health and happiness and believes the foundation for a long, happy life lies in enjoyable habits. • Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD www.betteristhenewperfect.com Ward is a registered dietitian, writer, recipe developer and mother of three who believes in progress, not perfection. She serves up recipes and debunks nutrition myths on her blog. Dayle Hayes is a nutrition consultant and speaker based in Billings, Mont. She also maintains the School Meals That Rock Facebook page (www.facebook.com/SchoolMealsThatRock). You can reach her at EatWellatSchool@gmail.com.
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