Food as Fuel
Written by: Jack Schliewe | Health Fitness Specialist at Allianz | AdvantageHealth Corporation
What you eat can help fuel all your fitness activities, whether you're just starting an exercise program or are a competitive athlete. Focusing on nutrition for performance isn't just for competitive athletes. Your diet provides the fuel for all your physical activities, from a casual walk around the block to an intense weight lifting session at the gym. Even if you are just beginning your exercise journey, being mindful of your nutrition and how if fuels you can help you achieve your goals quicker, whether it's weight loss, weight gain or maintenance. While there are many sports drinks, bars and nutritional supplements out there that claim to increase your performance or recovery, the best way to fuel your body is to eat real food.
What to eat each day
If you are an active person, your nutrition should help maximize energy to your muscles and facilitate recovery. To start out it is best to find out how many calories you need based on your goals. Do you want to lose weight, maintain weight, or build muscle mass? Are you training for a sports event or an endurance race? These are things that you need to think of when determining your nutrition.
Every day, eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods, including whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables. If you're physically active, there are 3 main components to your diet that are particularly important.
Healthy carbs. Carbohydrates provide a quick source of energy, but it's important to know which ones are best. Go for whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, or oats which provide a balance of healthy carbs as well as fiber and protein.
Lean protein. Protein is crucial for repairing and building lean muscle tissue. Consuming protein evenly throughout the day is a good way to make sure you muscles are getting what they need. Aim to eat about 15 to 25 grams at each meal or snack focusing on lean meats, nuts/nut butters, legumes, and some dairy products.
Water. Staying hydrated not only helps you stay physically active but may also help reduce your daily calorie intake. A simple trick is to keep a water bottle on hand and drink your H2O throughout the day. The goal should be about 2-3 liters of water a day and increasing that the more active you are or sweat you lose.
When to eat
Beyond focusing on what to eat when you're physically active, also consider when you eat. The two important times to focus on are just before and immediately after exercise.
Pre-exercise: Generally, it is advised to eat a snack or small meal one to four hours before exercise. A good choice is carbohydrate-containing foods with moderate to low protein and fat. The carbohydrates in the meal will help provide adequate fuel for your workout, but with lower protein and fat. Digestion will speed up so you don’t have that full feeling while working out.
Here are some great options:
Greek yogurt with fruit and or nuts
Banana or apple with peanut butter
Oatmeal and berries
Post-exercise: When you complete your workout, eat a snack or meal consisting of both carbohydrates and protein. The carbohydrates help replenish the glycogen lost in your muscles during your workout, while protein provides amino acids that facilitate muscle repair and rebuilding. Depending on how you are feeling, you can either eat a light snack and meal a little later, or go right into your meal.
Some good examples would be:
Tuna/Turkey on a whole-grain wrap
Fruit smoothie with yogurt
String cheese with an apple