A person who’s committed to fitness must ensure his diet is on par with his active lifestyle, writes Meera Murugesan
YOU have started to exercise regularly. Congratulations! But have you also made a shift in your diet?
What we eat before and after a workout is important to help us achieve the best from our fitness routine.
Learning to avoid nutritional mistakes also ensures we can sustain the goals achieved through exercise.
People hear about sports nutrition and often assume it’s only for professional athletes when in fact it applies to anyone who is exercising, says Dr Dana Ryan, an expert in nutrition and sports at Herbalife Nutrition.
Ryan was in Malaysia recently to present her views on sports nutrition and leading a healthy, active lifestyle.
She says that when people embark on a healthy lifestyle, they either talk about nutrition or exercise.
They tend to compartmentalise these two things when they actually go hand-in-hand. In fact, the equation for a healthy life stands at 80 per cent nutrition and 20 per cent exercise.
The common mistake many active people make is to assume they can eat anything if they are exercising regularly.
Ryan says one can never “out-exercise” a bad diet.
“You can exercise 10 hours a day but if you eat a terrible diet, it’s not going to undo that damage. You have to balance the amount of calories you put into your body with the calories you are burning through exercise.”
Sports nutrition is simply about understanding when to eat certain types of food and eating them with a purpose. It talks about the timing of nutrients that we put into our body.
Ryan says no matter who you are, what type of athlete or active individual, start the day with a good quality breakfast.
Many times we wake up tired, don’t make the effort to cook a good breakfast and just reach for whatever is available.
But we need a breakfast that comprises good protein, good quality carbohydrates and some fibre as well and aim for a nutrient dense meal that provides a variety of vitamins and minerals.
“When you’re exercising and your body moves, you rely more on vitamins and minerals than when you’re sitting still. So having a meal that has, for example, 23 or 24 different vitamins and minerals is very important.”
Before a workout, every individual must aim to top off his or her glycogen stores or one’s internal storage of carbohydrates.
This is basically the body’s “gas tank” and, says Ryan, one must ensure the tank is ready.
Just as we wouldn’t start a car with an empty tank, we cannot start a workout in the same manner. Putting “fuel” into our body is crucial.
People who exercise to lose weight often don’t eat before a workout because they think it will help them to shed the kilogrammes.
In reality, taking in the right nutrition before a workout gives you that extra push to perform better.
“If you put in 50 calories worth of energy into your body, you will be able to finish that workout harder and faster and stronger and ultimately burn more calories.”
You could perhaps lift weights one more time or run that extra kilometre and that gives you better results.
But obviously eating a hamburger and fries before a workout doesn’t make sense because one would have to exercise even longer to burn off the added calories.
However, consuming a light fish and salad meal before exercising will ensure that our workout becomes more beneficial because we have put in the right nutrients at the right time into our body.
Even a simple meal such as a smoothie and a piece of toast with peanut butter and some fruit makes for good pre-workout food.
During a workout, staying hydrated is the only concern, especially if one is exercising in a hot and humid climate.
TIMING AND PORTION
After a workout, one needs to eat right too. Many active individuals avoid eating in the post-workout period and this is a huge mistake, says Ryan.
After you exercise, you must consume about 20 grams of protein plus some carbohydrates. You also need to eat within 30-45 minutes of finishing your workout because your body is working at a higher rate at this point so the nutrients will be better absorbed.
A simple meal of fish with some rice, for example, is good after a workout.
Ryan says a lot of people think 20 grams of protein is a large amount but it’s actually the minimum that one needs to start building muscle.
When you consume protein, you are helping your body to build muscle and that in turn is going to help you burn calories at a faster rate.
“If you have more muscle, your body is going to burn more calories in a day than if you have fat and we’re not talking about body builder type muscles but nice lean muscles so your body becomes more efficient at burning calories.”
Not eating after exercise works against you because you may gain fat and not see a change in body composition and not experience the weight dropping off.
So often, we go wrong with our diets not just because of what we eat but also what we drink.
Ryan says some active individuals complain that they don’t lose weight even though they eat right and exercise regularly but a closer inspection of their diet will reveal the “culprits”.
These people start their day with huge cups of coffee that’s loaded with milk, cream and sugar. They also have wine, beer or carbonated drinks frequently with their meals.
“These beverages add calories, don’t make you feel full and you put yourself in a position where you have to do hours of exercise to burn off the calories.”
The same applies to fruit juice which many health-conscious people consume.
Ryan says there is a lot of sugar in fruit but there are also good things like fibre and antioxidants.
The trouble with fruit is when we juice them. Orange juice, for example, is basically sugar because you have removed the fibre from the orange and all the other good components.
On the other hand, when we eat an orange with the fibre, it slows down the absorption of sugar into the body so we don’t experience a huge sugar spike.
“If you have just the juice, it’s like eating three pieces of white bread.”
When it comes to fruit, blending is always better than juicing because you keep most of the fibre intact.
There’s also no reason for health-conscious active individuals to cut out carbohydrates completely from their diet.
Ryan says carbohydrates are important because they are our body’s main energy source. Even our brain runs on carbohydrates.
People who cut out carbohydrates may lose weight but it won’t be sustainable. Instead strive for a balance.
Typically 40 per cent of our calories should come from carbohydrates, 30 per cent from protein and 30 per cent from fat, says Ryan.
“Do you need a lot of carbohydrates before you sleep at night? No, so it’s all about timing. But cutting it out completely is not going to do you a favour,” she adds.
Carbohydrates and protein actually work together so after a workout if you consume a combination of carbohydrates and protein, the carbohydrates will spike your insulin levels and this allows the “gauge” to our muscles to open so the protein and amino acids can go right into our muscles.
* Cover image courtesy of Herbalife Nutrition
Eat well for fitness
Consume protein and good quality carbohydrates. If you have a mid-morning snack, make it protein based so you are feeding your muscles.
Some good-quality carbohydrates and protein. It is important to consistently give your body protein throughout the day as it makes you stay full and maintain muscle mass to help you burn calories.
Focus more on protein to “feed” your muscles as you sleep throughout the night so your body stays nice and strong and you can continue to exercise day in and day out.
Source: Dana Ryan
Unhealthy food and exercise
IF you regularly consume desserts and junk food, your daily exercise routine will have to be much longer to burn off the extra calories.
Here are some examples:
Hamburger and fries — two hours of running.
Ice-cream sundae — two hours of exercise.
A slice of pie — 40 minutes of exercise, such as jumping.
Carbonated drinks/soda – 20 minutes of exercise for each can consumed.
Source: Dana Ryan
* Choose an exercise or sport you enjoy because you’re more likely to stick to it.
* Aim for 30 minutes of activity five times a day or three 10 minute slots a day.
* Do everything with a purpose including the food you put into your body.
* Body composition is way more important than body weight.
* Exercise is important throughout your life, even as you get older.
* Sitting is the new smoking so it’s dangerous. Get active.