Exercise is essential to good health, but it’s not enough on its own. Healthy eating is also imperative. In fact, a growing body of evidence points to the symbiotic nature of physical activity and diet when it comes to achieving overall health and wellness.
This applies in a general sense, but also in the more specific context of your fitness routine: The right nutrition can not only give you the fuel to power through a workout, but can also help you recover faster. Here’s a closer look at why healthy eating is a crucial part of any comprehensive fitness program, along with tips for reaping the biggest nutritional benefits.
Why Healthy Eating Matters
The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition states: “Unhealthy eating habits have contributed to the obesity epidemic in the United States: about one-third of U.S. adults (33.8%) are obese and approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese.
Even for people at a healthy weight, a poor diet is associated with major health risks that can cause illness and even death. These include heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer. By making smart food choices, you can help protect yourself from these health problems.” The takeaway? While healthy eating is critical to weight loss and weight management, it’s also much more than that.
When it comes to exercise, eating the right foods at the right time can help you keep your energy levels up, feel full longer, and function at optimal levels. This is not only advantageous from a physical perspective, but also from a mental one. The better you feel, the more motivated you’ll be with your workout regimen.
Maximize Your Diet, Maximize Your Workout
Everything from what types of food you’re eating to when you’re eating them can impact your workout performance. These five nutrition tips support optimal results. (Dealing with a sweet tooth? Be sure to check out our 12 Healthy Dessert Recipes.
1. Eat breakfast.
You’re probably familiar with the saying that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” This absolutely holds up, according to an article in the Harvard Health Letter. Why? Because breakfast replenishes glucose stores necessary for energy throughout the day. Without breakfast, according to nutrition expert Dr. David S. Ludwig, the body is forced to tap into the energy reserves in the muscles. Not only does this lead to depleted energy levels, but it also increases the chances that you’ll make unhealthy food choices later in the day.
Of course, eating the right foods at breakfast is paramount. Steer clear of sugary breakfast cereals and white bagels and instead choose whole-grains and proteins.
2. Make the most of your carbohydrates.
Contrary to common misconceptions, carbohydrates aren’t the enemy. In fact, the Mayo Clinic reports that they’re “vital” to health for several reasons, including their role in providing energy, protecting against disease, and controlling weight. Carbs are so important, in fact, that they should make up somewhere between 45 and 65 percent of total daily caloric intake.
As with breakfast, not just any old carbohydrates will do when it comes to supporting staying power. To keep your body running its best, stick with fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and legumes. Additionally, avoid added sugars whenever possible.
3. Pack in the protein.
Want to get even more out of your next workout? Be sure to eat plenty of protein, which is necessary for building and repairing muscles. Choose lean proteins such as poultry, fish, low-fat dairy, legumes and eggs. Red meats and processed meat intake should be limited.
4. Plan a pre-workout snack.
Most people are familiar with the difference between a terrific workout and a terrible one. In some cases, it all comes down to energy levels directly associated by whether or not you fueled up properly before exercising.
According to research published in the Journal of Nutrition, eating carbohydrates prior to exercising can lead to enhanced endurance performance. In a CNN interview, Nancy Cohen, a professor in the department of nutrition at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, recommends eating 1 to 4 grams of carbohydrates per every 2.2 pounds of body weight for workouts longer than an hour about an hour to four hours ahead of your workout.
Meanwhile, Stuart Phillips, professor at McMaster University in Canada and director of the McMaster Center for Nutrition, Exercise, and Health Research, suggests eating “eating eggs, cereal and milk, toast with peanut butter, or fruit and yogurt.”
5. Plan a post-workout snack.
While most people are aware that their bodies need fuel prior to a workout, they may fail to realize that what they eat afterwards is just as important. Topping the list of best choices is the right combination of carbs and protein.
Cohen told CNN, “”After long or very high-intensity workouts, consuming 1 to 1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per hour for four to six hours, along with 15 to 25 grams of protein within the first hour after exercise, will replenish muscle glycogen stores as well as support muscle protein synthesis.”
In addition to the usual choices like hard-boiled eggs, chicken, tuna, and apples with peanut butter, nutritionists also recommend a surprising source of post-workout sustenance: chocolate milk. According to Fitness magazine, “It has everything you need in one glass: carbs and protein for muscle recovery, water content to replace the fluids lost as sweat and calcium, sodium and sugar — all ingredients that help you recover faster, retain water and regain energy.”
One last thing to keep in mind? Just as a mindful diet of healthy eating is essential to making the most of your fitness program, a well-designed fitness program is essential to making the most of your diet. Ready to get started? Sign up for a personal trainer session today.