Want to Get Fit? Learn to Eat Right First
This Monday, fans and spectators from all over the world will flock to Boston’s streets to watch one of the most well-known sporting events in the world take place: the Boston Marathon. It’ll be a show of exceptional physical prowess and undeniable effort, and for many who watch it, it’ll also be an inspiration, a push for change and self-improvement, no matter the starting point.
Sometimes that inspiration drives people to want to run a marathon themselves, for others, it pushes them to start swimming, or biking, or just finding a way to add just a touch more fitness and exercise into their daily life. And if this year finds you hitting the streets the day after race day, do it right and don’t forget the one, too-often-neglected universal component for any athlete, beginner or otherwise — nutrition. Here’s how to do it:
Build a Foundation: Nutrition plays a huge role in fitness, giving you everything from the energy to train to the ability to recover — so it’s incredibly important to create a foundation of whole foods that’ll give you all the carbohydrates, protein, heart-healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals you need. Refer to the USDA MyPlate recommendations to assess your diet. The message there is simple: fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, make at least half of your grains whole grains, choose lean sources of protein, and if you eat dairy, make sure it’s from a fat-free or low-fat source.
Hydrate Right and Often: Hydration status is influenced by all sorts of factors: air temperature, type of activity and intensity, disease conditions, weight and gender, length of activity, and level of fitness. Drinking enough throughout the day, as well as during your activity of choice, is vital for exercise performance. To estimate hydration status, pay attention to your urine color — dark urine is a sign of dehydration; you want to shoot for pale yellow. And for most beginners in the gym, you can lose the sports drink. There’s a big misconception out there that any type of activity requires an electrolyte replacement, but the truth is, plain water will usually do just fine when it comes to replenishing the fluids lost during exercise bouts of an hour or less. If you’re exercising for more than an hour — or if you’re performing at a high intensity, you might require an electrolyte replacement or sports beverage. Otherwise, it’s just unnecessary calories.
Plan Your Meals: The timing of meals before and after exercise goes a long way towards helping your performance and recovery. Go for a combination of healthy carbs plus a lean protein and heart healthy fat roughly two hours before your work out. This might be a turkey-and-avocado sandwich on whole wheat bread, oatmeal with banana and peanut butter, or a grain salad, perhaps with quinoa or millet, with nuts, chopped vegetables, and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Also, going back to the point above: don’t forget to hydrate! Drink water, herbal tea, milk, or 100 percent juice with your food. Post-exercise meals should also be a balance of carbohydrate, protein, and fat, and you should also try to eat a small amount of carbs and protein within an hour of your exercise. Remember, though, many people tend to overeat after a workout, which is a great way to put on pounds. Put it in perspective: the average person burns around 80 to 100 calories per mile running (a heart rate monitor will better estimate calories burned). If you run three miles, that means you’ve burned around 240 and 300 calories, the equivalent of three graham crackers and a tablespoon of peanut butter, so don’t overindulge if you’re also trying to maintain or lose weight.