Healthy Eating: Food fit for an Olympian

The Olympics are a great excuse to hit the gym, so check out this list of the best and worst foods to munch on after working out.

August 1, 2012 14:44
Bicycle Spinning in gym

Bicycle Spinning in gym 370. (photo credit: Thinkstock)

The Olympics have sprinted off to a great start, and aside from cheeringIsrael on, the Games inspire some of us to run, bike, swim, and just exercise a little harder. However, there is more to getting in shape and building muscle than just exercising. Food plays a significant role. Most of us know, that to trim down and tone up we need to cut out foods that are high in fat and sugar. Everything from candy, to snicker bars, to chips, hot dogs and fries must go. However, if you are on the road to a gold medal body there is more to it than cutting out the junk – specifically when it comes to what to eat after hitting the gym.

Many of us will try to not eat after a workout; after all, who would wants to put calories back into their body right after they have spent an hour sweating them out? While this may seem counter intuitive, one of the most important times to eat is immediately following a workout, even if you are not hungry.

After a hard workout, our bodies use up energy stores in the muscles, so they need to be replaced. Additionally, right after exercising, our muscles need to start repairing and restoring themselves. In order for them to do so, they need food, and this means calories.

Now this doesn’t give us a ticket to splurge. In fact, it’s important to pay extra attention to the foods you ingest after a workout, as eating the wrong ones can negate some of the work you’ve done. Depending on your workout, whether it involves cardio or weights, you will need to eat a certain carbohydrates to protein ratio. The protein repairs muscles, while the carbs are essential for delivering the protein to muscles throughout the body.

Typically, the ratio of carbs to protein should be about 4:1; however, this varies depending on your goals (weight loss or muscle gain) and of course the type of exercise. If this wasn’t tricky enough, timing is also key because waiting too long after a workout to eat can cause extreme hunger later in the day. This in turn causes us to consume too much food at once.

All the discussion about what to eat,what not to eat and when to eat it can be very confusing, so to lend a helping hand here are a few foods that you should watch out for post workout, and a few that you should keep your eyes peeled for.

Top five foods to avoid

Flavored water: Vitamin-enriched flavored waters have been marketed as the ultimate fitness drink; however, these beverages are unfortunately no more than colored, sweetened water. While they are enriched with vitamins, the sugar content can match that of a bottle of coke. 

Protein bars: These bars may seem healthy, after all they are supposedly high in protein, and the nutrition label says that they are loaded with vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, most protein bars contain very little protein, or at least not enough to compensate for the massive amounts of sugar pumped into the bars to make them taste good.

They are also generally low in dietary fiber, a key ingredient that help keeps us feeling full. What’s more, you don’t need all those additional vitamins as you can get them through fruits, vegetables and grains if you eat a relatively healthy diet. Now this isn’t to say that all protein bars are evil – some can actually be very good for a post workout regime; but make sure they contain a significant amount of protein, and a smaller amount of sugar.

Salty snacks: Salty foods are not good for you at any point of the day; however, they are really bad after hitting the gym. During a workout, you sweat, and when you sweat you lose electrolytes, particularly potassium. Foods that are high in sodium can drive potassium levels down further. Low levels of potassium can lead to muscle cramps, pain and weakness; while high levels of sodium in the diet can cause feelings of being bloated.

Salty snacks (Thinkstock)

Crunchy crudities: After a workout, you might be inclined to snack on raw vegetables. This seems feasible as they contain very few calories, yet are surprisingly filling. While carrot, celery and red pepper sticks are great to munch on throughout the day, after a sweaty workout out, your body needs more substantial food that offers more energy.

Sweet treats: After hitting the gym, taking a swim, or biking outside in the heat for hours, it’s easy to feel a bit drained, and in need of quick sugar rush. While your brain might crave sweets to re-energize, eating sugaris one of the worst things you can do after an intense training session. Stay clear of all chocolate and candy bars, and even fruit if you are not eating it with a high protein source food.

Sweet treats (Courtesy)

Foods to include as part of a post-workout regime

Veggie Omelet, a breakfast for Champions: Working out before eating breakfast is one of the best times of the day to do it.  When it doesn’t have any food in its system, the body will start to immediately rip through its glycogen stores, creating an optimal environment to burn fat. 

However, when you get back from the gym, you need to replenish those energy stores, and give your body a mix of protein and carbs. One of the best meals is a vegetable omelet, with a slice of whole wheat bread. The protein from the eggs will help to rebuild the muscles, while the carbs from the bread and veggies will help deliver protein to aching muscles. Make sure to watch how much bread you consume, as those calories can quickly add up. In order to cut back on the amount of fat and cholesterol, use egg whites – they contain half the protein of the egg.

Chicken breast sandwich, a winning midday solution: If you are a late afternoon exerciser, than a half a turkey or chicken breast sandwich is a great solution. Both of these are extremely lean meats that provide the body with a great amount of protein - 100 grams of chicken has 18grams of protein.One piece of bread supplies just the right amount of carbs to transport the protein to your muscles. Add some freshly cut vegetables, such as tomatoes and yellow peppers which are high in Vitamin C, to help improve blood circulation.

Salmon and sweet potato, a super supper: A healthy meal in its own right, a piece of salmon accompanied with a plain sweet potato delivers an abundant supply of vitamins, minerals, as well as Omega-3 fatty acid to the body. A 100 gram piece of salmon also supplies the body with just under 20 grams of protein. This ample amount of protein combined with the carbs from the sweet potato, will help your muscles feel as good as new in the morning. On top of this, sweet potatoes are high in fiber, and will therefore keep you feeling full, thus preventing you from wanting to snack between dinner and the time you go to sleep.

Water, any time anywhere: While sodas, juices and flavored waters are out, plain old H2O is so in.  It may seem obvious to drink up after a sweaty exercise session, but most people fail to drink enough water before, during and after they train. This results in dehydration.

Water (Courtesy)

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