Healthy Eating: The ultimate fitness foods

A few quick snack ideas that will help you get the most out of your work out time and time again.

By KATHRYN RUBIN
August 31, 2011 12:05
TRAINING IN A GO ACTIVE FITNESS CENTER

TRAINING IN A GO ACTIVE FITNESS CENTER. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Time after time, it has been shown that what and when you eat has a significant impact on your workout – and not just on how you perform while working out (i.e. endurance and speed), but also on your post-recovery rate too. Unfortunately how many of us actually eat before and after exercising?

While some do grab a quick bite to eat or even go as far as to prepare a whole meal after a vigorous exercise session, many of us (probably mostly women) feel that it might be slightly counterproductive to consume a few hundred calories after you have successfully just burned them off. The same holds true to pre-workout eating habits – many people are tempted to skip a pre-gym snack, especially when they are trying to lose a few pounds. However, the truth of the matter is that what you eat before and what you eat after exercising is an important factor that has a significant impact on your exercise regime and should not easily be dismissed.

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So here are a few healthy snack ideas that will fuel you before the gym and re-energize you after without adding unnecessary and “empty” calories to your day:

Pre-work out 

While it is not good to work out on a full stomach, an empty stomach is not the best idea either, especially if it has been a while since your last meal. Skipping meals before exercising can cause low blood sugar levels, which can leave you feeling weak, light-headed and will definitely prevent you from giving your workout your full effort – limiting your calorie and fat burning potential. Now what you shouldn’t do is use the fact that you are about to work out as a license to eat unhealthy refined carbs (such as a cookies or ice cream). These foods may cause your blood sugar to spike fairly quickly; however, what goes up must come down, and your blood sugar levels could crash shortly after, causing you to lose energy mid-workout. So before hitting the gym, make sure to eat the right foods to maximize your efforts and results. Here are a few low calories, highly nutritious pre-gym snacks:

Oranges

How many times have you been about to hit the gym when you suddenly feel tired and in need of a quick energy boost? A small bite to eat – a piece of chocolate, a handful of sugary cereal, or few bites of candy -  that will provide that much needed sugar so that you can run those three or four miles, or last a full hour on the elliptical.

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However, more often than not, while these snacks succeed in increasing our energy levels (temporarily) they are often high in calories as well as providing no nutritionally beneficial nutrients whatsoever. Instead, reach for an orange! That’s right, the world's most popular citrus fruit is rich in natural sugars that will help to give those dwindling energy levels a much needed lift. However, that’s not all! As most of us know, oranges are abundant in Vitamin C; however, apart from acting as a powerful antioxidant, this vitamin can help lessen post-exercise muscle soreness – allowing you to get the most of your exercise regime time after time and making this fruit an ideal snack anytime throughout the day!

Bananas

Many believe that the high sugar content in bananas is bad for you; however contrary to this popular belief, bananas are not bad for you . In fact, with only 100 calories (per medium size banana), this fruit is actually an ideal pre-work out snack. Why? While bananas are loaded with easily digestible energy loaded carbs, they are also an excellent source of potassium which is an essential mineral needed to maintain proper electrolyte balance in the body and which also aids in maintaining proper nerve and muscle function.

Water

While many people remember to drink a glass or two of water after the gym, how many of us actually do this before getting on the treadmill? While it is important to stock up on the right nutrients before exercising, it is equally, if not more important, to make sure that you are properly hydrated before working out. Dehydration can result in loss of coordination and sudden fatigue - two factors that not only will prevent you from giving your work out your all, but can also cause serious injury.

In fact, according to the American Council on Exercise, exercise performance can be significantly impaired if a person becomes mildly dehydrated (i.e if hydration level decreases by just two percent) during a workout. While this may not sound like a lot, the truth of the matter is that most people are walking around mildly dehydrated, so make sure to consciously drink some good old H2O before hitting the gym.

Post work out

During the first one to two hours after your workout, according to MayoClinic.com, you should eat a meal rich in carbohydrates and protein. However, other health experts claim that this window is shorter, reducing it to only an hour. Whichever time frame you trust in, the fact of the matter is that you must eat a combination of these two food groups after you train. Why? In short, the protein is needed to repair microscopic tears in the muscles, while the carbs replenish lost energy. Some examples of some post work out meals would be turkey on whole wheat bread or grilled chicken breast on a bed of quinoa. But what happens if you don’t have time to prepare a whole meal, or you are working out at night, and therefore already ate your last meal of the day? Here are some ideal snacks…

Low-fat cottage cheese

Cottage cheese provides 75 milligrams of calcium, 5 grams of carbohydrates and 14 grams of protein per half-cup – making it an ideal post work out snack. Working out (whether it be cardio or weights) causes microscopic tears to occur within the muscles. The high protein content in cottage cheese is crucial to repairing those muscles.

Eggs

While eggs may have earned a bad reputation for being high in cholesterol, they are extremely high in protein. Two eggs offer 16 grams of protein at the expense of only 150 calories. They are also rich in many essential nutrients such as choline, a nutrient needed for proper brain function, as well as Vitamin B12 – a vitamin needed for proper metabolism of macronutrients, including protein. If you are looking to make a full meal, make an omelet and scramble in some veggetables for extra vitamins and minerals, or grab a hard-boiled egg if you are looking to just pop something into your mouth on the go. Just remember to include some form of a complex (low GI) carb, such as whole-wheat toast or high fiber crackers.

Greek yogurt

Offering around 14 grams of protein per serving (6 oz.), Greek yogurt has more than 50% more protein than regular yogurt. However, make sure to grab the low-fat or even fat-free kind to keep the calories and fat content within a reasonable limit. Add in some fresh fruit, such as berries or even an apple, for some extra vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants and to help replace those lost energy levels.

Chocolate milk

Believe it or not, 1% chocolate milk tops the list of best post-work out recovery foods. Aside from containing sugar - which is needed to replenish those lost glycogen stores - one cup of chocolate milk packs 8 grams of protein as well as offers nearly 30% of one’s daily-recommended intake of calcium at the expense of only approximately 150 calories. While the calorie content may be a little up there and one glass still contains 3 grams of saturated fat, an occasional glass of chocolate milk is a great way to give yourself an extra boost after hitting the gym.

Please note these are just few suggestions. What and when you eat before and after working out varies depending on your physical condition as well as the type of exercise you are doing.

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