If you compete or simply enjoy working out, eating right helps you train harder, delays the onset of muscle fatigue and aids in recovering from a workout. Eating proper foods doesn't have to be complicated or rigid, and certainly no one approach fits everyone. Your body needs carbohydrates, protein, fat, minerals and fluid to fuel it for exercise. Eating right helps your body adapt to workouts, improves body composition and strength, enhances concentration, helps maintain a healthy immune system and reduces the chance of injury. The timing of meals and snacks is equally important. At a recent American College of Sports Medicine meeting, Nanna Meyer, Ph.D., and dietician at the University of Colorado and United States Olympic Committee at Colorado Springs, told an audience, "Don't bother lifting if you haven't eaten breakfast." Current research recommends Greek yogurt with some fruit and nuts, oatmeal cooked with milk, cereals or a carbohydrate sports bar pre-exercise, with an emphasis on protein, like yogurt, chocolate milk, recovery mix or a bar containing some protein as soon as possible after training.
Are you getting enough protein?
Recently, research has demonstrated that having some protein before and immediately post-workout results in greater strength gains and muscle repair. Nancy Rodriguez, Ph.D., R.D., director of sports nutrition programs at the University of Connecticut, notes that increased protein, greater than the dietary allowance but within the recommended range, helps reduce body fat, maintains muscle mass and increases satiety—all positive weight management outcomes. Post-workout, research suggests about 15-25 grams of protein, found in milk (eight grams of protein per cup), Greek yogurt (15-20 grams of protein per cup) or a carbohydrate/protein mix, for example.
We also snack a lot less if we get enough protein. According to Dr. Alison Gosby, in the online journal PLoSONE, "Humans have a particularly strong appetite for protein, and when the proportion of protein in the diet is low, this appetite can drive excess energy intake. Our findings have considerable implications for bodyweight management in the current nutritional environment, where foods rich in fat and carbohydrate are cheap, palatable and available to an extent unprecedented in our history."
It's always a good idea to talk to a registered dietician for your specific needs. For example, the Soya Granules by Fearn is recommended for those who are lactose-intolerant. Remember also that 15 minutes to an hour after a hard workout lasting more than an hour, nutrient-rich snacks help replace carbohydrates, sodium and potassium. Less time than that, if you're watching your weight, water is a good choice. Whether you're training hard, or just enjoy being active, make good food choices for optimal energy and improved performance.
Connie Aronson is an American College of Sports Medicine Health & Fitness specialist at the YMCA in Ketchum.