The balance for physical fitness is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise.
Well, that’s what most health professionals agree on. There are slight variations in those figures, but they all agree that what you eat has the largest impact on your health and fitness. Nutrition plays an integral part in your health, and there is no question that staying active is also important.
As a matter of fact, while some nutrients tend to gain endorsements (vitamin D, for example), others fall short of their promised values (such as excessive amounts of protein). Controversial food groups are added or eliminated from diets often. However, exercise continues to be a constant in all plans for healthier living.
Doctors and nutritionists agree that increasing your heart rate via exercise at least five times weekly is one of the best ways to prevent serious chronic diseases. Along with an exercise routine, it is crucial to have the adequate nutrients to support your body throughout the process. Each time you exercise, your body will have some muscle breakdown which requires fuel to rebuild.
A pre-exercise snack or meal is best taken within 1-2 hours of your workout, as it provides the energy you’ll need during your activity. The post-workout snack will repair muscle tissue and replenish glycogen stores. Perhaps the most interesting fact about these pre- and post-exercise foods is that those two snacks are very similar in terms of what they should contain. They both need to have some quality carbs, preferably a slow-release whole grain to fuel your entire workout, and lean protein. Your muscles need amino acids for repair, and lean protein fills that need.
Eating within 1-2 hours before starting the activity will allow your body to stock up on and utilize enough energy without compromising performance. Feeling bloated and full just before workouts is not part of the program. Most people grasp the concept of eating before exercise: it allows for a longer period of activity with better results. On the other hand, the post-workout snack is something you may have to get used to including in your routine. But, those 30 minutes post-workout are crucial for replenishing your body. After all, there is another workout to look forward to, usually the next day!
It’s not just a happy coincidence that usually after most sports events, such as road racing, all athletes will pick up their free bananas (after their medals, of course). Bananas are an excellent source of electrolytes and energy to replace your depleted stores. They are an easy-to-digest source of carbohydrates packed with a healthy dose of potassium. In other words, just what your muscle needs to recover.
Are there other foods that are recommended post activities?
Of course! There are plenty; here is another example: tart cherries. Tart cherries and tart cherry juice are popular items among many elite athletes. Tart cherries, famous for their anti-inflammatory properties, are also able to ease muscle soreness after exercise, speeding up your recovery process. The pain one feels after a long run is attributed to muscle damage, inflammation and inevitable oxidative stress. Fortunately, tart cherries’ concentrated amounts of anthocyanins are able to tackle all three issues.
A recent study looked at runners in a 196-mile relay race in Oregon and showed that those who drank cherry juice reported significantly less muscle pain after the race. Besides their delicious tart flavor, this proves to be an additional reason to add some chopped tart cherries to your cookies, muffins or any other recipe for snacks you can eat after exercising.
One more example: nut and seed butters. There is a large variety of them available now at most natural food stores. Almond, cashew, sunflower seed and peanut butter are some of the most common varieties consumed by athletes. They are a versatile way of ingesting some quick protein with carbohydrates. Nut and seed butters are also convenient since they don’t require refrigeration. Therefore, you can pack a squeeze pack of your favorite nut or seed butter and a piece of fruit in your gym bag and have a perfect snack on your way out the door. An added bonus is their rich vitamin and mineral contents, which will help you achieve your nutrient goals for the day.
Don’t forget to drink plenty of water when engaging in any physical activity. Staying hydrated is a key component of physical health as well.
Try these quick energy bites that you can prepare ahead of time so they are ready to eat before you exercise and also waiting for you after you’re done.
Nut Butter Energy Bites
Makes 12 Servings
½ cup of your favorite nut or seed butter (ex: peanut butter, almond butter)
2 ½ tbsps. honey
½ cup quick oats
¼ cup chia seeds
¼ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
¼ cup chopped nuts
¼ cup raisins or chopped tart cherries
Add nut or seed butter and honey to bowl, and mix well. Add oats and chia seeds, and mix again. Lastly, add the coconut, nuts, and raisins/tart cherries. Cool mixture in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes, and then roll into small balls. Store in air-tight container in refrigerator.