Eating for Fuel & Recovery
A lot of people have been speaking to me about nutrition and exercise lately and since it is on the forefront of my mind, I thought why not make my first blog about it. Anybody who knows me, knows that I do like to keep active and I am very passionate about incorporating physical activity into my lifestyle. For me, physical activity is not about maintaining my current weight but it’s about challenging my body and becoming surprised at how strong I am and what I can do if I just give my body that little push that it needs. A lot of us use weight loss as the motivating factor for exercise but it happens… time and time again… that motivation does not stay. Either because we lose the weight and there goes the motivation or we don’t lose weight as fast as we think we should. Studies have shown that focusing on motivators other than weight loss can help keep that motivation so exercise becomes an important part of your lifestyle for the long run.
So what can we focus on to motivate us to exercise other than weight loss? Lots of things like:
- improved sleep
- increased energy
- better management of depression and anxiety
- more of a positive body image
- improved cardiovascular health
- reduced risk of osteoporosis
- reduced risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes
- increased chance of living a longer life
- increased quality of life
I know that people are aware of the other benefits of exercise but it never hurts to have a reminder especially when weight seems to be the main focus. There is so much more to it than that!
So here’s where I start bringing nutrition into this discussion. I also have heard from some people who do exercise tend to eat whatever they want and whatever portions they want stating that they will burn off all of the calories already. For those of you out there, I am sorry but I am going to have the burst your bubble. When it comes to leading a healthy life, both nutrition and physical activity work hand in hand. We need the proper nutrients to both fuel our bodies for exercise and to recover following a good work out.
Let’s begin with what to eat before we start exercising. Eating a meal 1 – 4 hours before you work out is essential for your body to have a good source of energy and to enhance your level of performance. One problem is when a person does not eat enough. Having very little food can cause fatigue to hit very quickly as your body does not have much energy in it’s stores to use. The best thing to eat before exercising is a source of complex carbohydrates and a source of protein. The longer you have before you exercise, the bigger your meal can be. Having a big meal just before exercising can cause to feel sick so if you don’t have much time before your work out, you would be probably be just better off with a snack. See below for some examples to pre exercise meals and snacks:
- examples of meals
- a piece of fish with steamed vegetables and sweet potato
- small bowl of whole grain pasta with chicken and a side salad
- bowl of oatmeal with a banana and peanut butter
- examples of snacks
- apple and a handful of almonds
- cheese and whole grain crackers
- fruit with some Greek yogurt
It may take some time to learn how much to eat before working out to reach that balance of avoiding fatigue while at the same time not having to much that you will feel stomach sick. Pay attention to how you are feeling while working out and think about what you ate before to help you figure out if you ate the right amount.It also helps to avoid large portions of very fatty foods as these foods may hang around in your stomach for awhile making you sick while you are exercising.
What happens after you exercise? We only really need to eat to recover from an exercise if the exercise was intense. Something gentle that does not cause you to sweat a lot like walking, does not warrant a recovery snack (unless you are feeling hungry at the time). If you have been doing a more intense activity such as running of HIIT (high intensity interval training), you may benefit from a snack about 30 mins after you finish the exercise. When it comes to picking a recovery snack, again complex carbohydrates and protein are good choices. We need that carbohydrate to replenish those energy stores and the protein works to rebuild those worked muscles and make them stronger.
I am leaving the most important tip for last… fluid intake! We need fluid throughout the day and if we exercise frequently, we need even more to replace the fluid we have lost through sweat. Water is usually the best choice but milk, tea and coffee also count. We know if we have been drinking enough if our pee is light in colour. If it looks like apple juice, then you probably getting a little dehydrated. Are sports drinks any good? Sports drinks don’t really benefit us unless we have been exercising intensely for over a hour (such as long distance running).
Andrea Kennedy RD CDE