It is no surprise that people who exercise regularly have a greater calorie budget for their eating pleasures. Yet, athletes and exercisers, whether Olympic hopefuls or not, can enhance the quality of their workouts and their performance if they pay particular attention to quality, quantity and timing.
In general, seek out minimally processed whole foods. Highly processed food often contains undesirable ingredients and can wreak havoc with your blood sugar or blood pressure. Manufacturers of sports beverages and foods design products to support the science behind what makes athletes tick, but often, these foods are also highly processed and expensive. Exercise also increases your need for antioxidants which are most abundant in color-rich plant foods – yet another reason to stick with Mother Nature’s whole food options.
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Studies support that consuming a ratio of approximately four parts carbohydrate to one part protein within 45 minutes after finishing exercise, shifts your body from exercise induced stress mode to one of building and restoration. People who consume this ratio show increased muscle mass and improved fat mobilization as compared to people who ate nothing or carbohydrates alone. Don’t you love it when science tells you to eat?
While exercise can help immensely with calorie balancing, it cannot wash away food sins. Athletes have arteries too. Additionally, it is wise to come to terms with how quickly you can consume calories and how long it takes to burn them. Are you choosing muffins over muscles too frequently?
When exercising for less than 90 minutes, people vary in whether they prefer to eat something in the one hour window prior to exercise. If you have eaten within three or four hours prior to exercise you may find your energy level and blood sugar are fine without additional food. If you ate more than four hours prior to exercise you may benefit from eating ~200-250 calories of a carbohydrate and protein containing snack. If you choose to eat, consume easy to digest foods. Most importantly, experiment and see which approach and which foods provide you with the greatest energy and comfort during your workout.
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When exercising for greater than 90 minutes, eating a carbohydrate and protein-based snack within one hour of exercise helps to preserve glycogen stores in your liver and muscle so that you can draw upon them later in your workout. Carbohydrate loading is a strategy for depleting and than repleting glycogen stores which serve as your body’s suitcase for additional fuel when other sources are depleted.
The following suggestions provide you with ideas for balancing quality, quantity and timing:
½ to 1 cup vegetable juice
1 cup fresh fruit or ¼ cup dried fruit with or without nonfat or low fat yogurt
½ cup cold whole grain cereal, 1 tablespoon dried fruit and ½ cup nonfat or low fat milk or yogurt
½ whole wheat bagel, 1 tablespoon low fat cream cheese and 1 ounce smoked salmon
½ cup cooked whole grain hot cereal, ½ cup milk with cinnamon
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After exercise (within 30-45 minutes):
1 whole wheat English muffin with 1 hard-boiled egg
1 cup nonfat or low fat yogurt with all fruit preserves, dried fruit or fresh fruit
½ cup trail mix with whole grain cereal, nuts and dried fruit
1 ½ cups cold whole grain cereal or ¾ cooked whole grain cereal with ¾ cup nonfat or low fat milk
1 cup whole grain or pasta, 1 ounce cooked protein with ½ cup marinara sauce
2 slices whole grain bread, 1 tablespoon natural nut butter and 1 tablespoon all fruit preserves
3 ounce whole grain bagel with 2 ounces reduced-fat cheese
As an athlete trains and enhances their competitive edge, total calories, quality of calories and timing of those calories become increasingly more important. Consider experimenting with these variables during training and figuring out what works best to turn your gold medal foods into gold medal results.
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Lori Reamer, RD is a nutritionist with more than 20 years of experience. Her most recent accomplishment is a book/website/blog entitled The Food That Fits: A Guide to Mastering Your Food Style. It is a concept that uses fashion theory to help you find your food practice. A lover of both fashion and food, she hopes to entertain and educate you about a topic that never goes out of style....food!