You'll enjoy more of the benefits of physical activity if you also make healthy food choices. Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide recommends eating a balanced diet that is high in whole grains, vegetables, fruit and is low in fat.
Avoid the obvious, such as fried foods and fatty meats (i.e. pork, bacon, ham, salami, ribs and sausage). Choose lean sources of protein such as chicken. Switch to lower-fat versions of dairy products such as cheese, cottage cheese, milk and yogurt. Eat other high-fat products such as nuts, mayonnaise, margarine, butter and sauces in limited amounts. Think of yourself as a lean, mean, fat-burning machine....then become one!
Eating small meals more frequently (4-5 meals a day) rather than your regular 2-3 large meals a day will help you metabolize fat more efficiently, making you leaner and more energized throughout the day. Think of your metabolism as an engine: it needs fuel to keep running at its peak.
Frequent eating fuels your metabolism evenly throughout the day. Your energy levels will also stay high as you will be regulating your blood sugar and insulin levels throughout the day.
Hydration is another important factor to consider when becoming more active. When it comes to hydration, a drop of prevention is worth an ocean of cure. Drink water or other low-calorie fluids in small, steady quantities throughout each day, to the point when your urine flows almost clear. Bring a water bottle with you wherever you go, or take a drink every time you pass a water fountain at work or school. Staying well hydrated throughout the day benefits you in ways beyond your exercising. It helps keep you alert and will prevent that dull, headachy feeling that can slow you down in the middle of the day. It's also important to be hydrated when you start exercising so that you're performing at your peak.
During exercise drink between 5 and 12 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes. If you're exercising for less than an hour, you'll be fine drinking just water. After an hour you may need to switch to a sports drink to replace the electrolytes that you are losing in your sweat.
Sports drinks also contain carbohydrates, which are essential as you burn through carbohydrates while you exercise; they are the fuel your muscles are feeding from.
In the Middle
To maximize your energy on days when you're physically active, try amping up the nutritional value of your snacks. The challenge with smart snacking is deciding what kinds of food to snack on - and how much of it to eat. Read the following guide to get your snacking on the right track. Plan healthy snacks by consulting Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide. While this guide is a good start you should also consider other resources: www.runnersworld.com, www.peakperformance.ca, and information pamphlets found at your local gym.
- Think of your snacks as mini-meals: eat smaller portions of dishes you'd eat at meals, such as sandwiches or soups. This will help increase your resting metabolism, which will help to burn more calories throughout the day.
- If you keep feeding your "engine" throughout the day, the more calories it will burn. This will help you to shed weight if you need to and will help to prevent you from overeating during some of your meals.
- Aim for 2-3 healthy snacks a day. As mentioned above, snacking through the day keeps your metabolism burning, will prevent you from overeating at mealtime, and reduces the temptation to make poor food choices. For each snack, try to include food from at least two of the four food group (i.e. chicken wrap with cheese, roughly 250 calories). This allows you to have a well balanced diet.
- Choose fruits and vegetables, low-fat milk products, whole-grain snacks and lean protein whenever possible.
- You've probably heard a lot of talk about carbohydrates and whether you should avoid them or not. The trick here is to choose complex carbohydrates.
- Both complex and simple carbohydrates contain sugars; however, complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and are healthier for you. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are complex carbohydrates. They give you energy and contain fibre which keeps you regular and feeling full.
- They also take longer to digest and therefore maintain a more steady level of sugars within your body. Simple carbohydrates are found in more processed foods; they are digested quickly giving you a "sugar rush" and can contribute to weight gain.
- The more you workout and exercise the more you need to consider protein items as a snack. Your body requires protein to rebuild and repair muscle tissue after a workout. Items to consider that are high in protein: chicken, chocolate milk, egg whites, peanuts, tuna, cottage cheese, lentils, peanut butter, oatmeal, low-fat and natural meat jerky, etc.
- Whole fruit is a better choice than juice. Juice can sometimes have added sugars added to them as sweeteners. Real fruit is higher in fibre and will fill you up more easily. Avoid drinking too much juice, which can be high in calories and carbohydrates (4oz. glass of orange juice can contain 60 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrates). Therefore, if you are drinking more than 4oz. of juice at a time, those excess carbs and calories will begin to add up. It is a better idea to drink water with your snacks.
- Pay attention to your food! Avoid snacking while watching TV or driving as this can lead to overeating.You are more likely to overeat if your mind is not focused on what you are eating.
- Another option to consider is energy and/or protein bars. These bars can be found at a fitness store, running shop, cycling store or at your local gym. They can be high in carbohydrates (needed to give your body energy to workout) and in protein (needed to repair and recuperate your muscles after working out).
- The general rule of thumb is to focus on ingesting carbs before and during a workout, and then switch to protein-rich foods after your workout.
If you’re super-active and keen on staying that way, you’ll want to learn how and what to eat to maximize your workouts. Here’s how to tailor your eating to your personal workout style.
If you work out first thing in the morning, your body will need some fuel before you get started. But because you won’t have much time to digest between eating breakfast and working out, make sure you grab something that’s easy to break down – think high-carb, low-protein and low-fat. 100 to 200 calories about 30 minutes before your workout works for most people. Some suggestions: fruit and a protein shake, eggs, a slice of bread with a teaspoon of peanut butter or fresh fruit.
Not hungry when you wake up? If you can’t grab anything before your workout, make sure to have a high-carb food before bed, like a glass of sugar-free hot chocolate. Your muscles will store the leftover energy into the next morning.
Look to simple carbohydrates as part of the snack you have immediately after your workout. Simple carbs facilitate the body's ability to recover more effectively immediately after exercise, particularly if the exercise was intense. So grab a banana, a handful of whole-grain cereal, a sports drink or a glass of juice.
Once you're back at home, the office or school, sit down to a satisfying, high-protein meal such as an omelette made out of egg whites with some oatmeal, low-fat milk and fruit.
If you exercise directly before lunch, eat a light snack with protein and carbohydrates such as a grilled chicken salad two hours before your scheduled workout. If you exercise after lunch, make sure to wait at least two hours after eating before working out.
Eating immediately after your workout will increase your metabolic rate and help your body build more muscle. Keep a light snack in your gym bag or locker like a protein shake, yogurt or some crackers and a piece of fruit ready for your post-workout snack.
If you eat lunch after you exercise, choose a meal that is rich in complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and protein to replenish your body's stores. Complex carbs take longer to break down and therefore will stay in your body longer as energy, helping to replenish what you burned off in your workout. Try a sandwich made with whole-grain bread, lean chicken, lettuce and tomatoes.
About two hours before your evening workout, eat a healthy snack or have dinner. If you work out while hungry, you’re likely to go straight home and overeat or make bad food choices. Try some cheese with whole wheat crackers or half a whole-wheat peanut butter sandwich for a quick pre-workout snack.
If you don't have time for a snack before exercising, try eating a handful of nuts to ease your hunger so you won't overeat at dinner. For dinner, prepare dishes with lean protein and complex carbs like chicken fajitas or grilled fish with brown rice and a mixed green salad.
At Any Time…
Everyone’s digestive system is unique. You may have to experiment to see what makes you feel best both during and after your workouts. Some days you may feel great if you work out right after a meal, while on other days you might get cramps or nausea.
To hit on a formula that works for you, try keeping a food journal, making sure to note what you eat, when you eat it and how it makes you feel during your workout. This will help you identify the foods that enhance your performance and those that slow you down.
Once you know what works for you and when, you'll be able to maximize your performance and get the results you've been aiming for.