If you're inspired by the Olympics to be more physically fit, experts say that exercise is only half the equation. In fact, food is fitness fuel and you won’t get far without it, as the 2018 Winter Olympics prove every day.
Kacie Vavrek, a registered dietician and sports medicine specialist with Ohio State University, tells Newsmax Health she always emphasizes the importance of food-as-fuel with the athletes she works — before and after working out.
“After exercise you need carbs to replace stored carbs, and protein to rebuild little tears in muscle,” she explains. “Within an hour after you exercise, get a meal in. Two hours after exercise, the muscles aren’t absorbing as much and the process slows down.”
Healthy post-workout meals might include sushi, a deli sandwich, rice and vegetable stir fry, or a protein shake — Vavrek’s favorite is made with whey protein powder and a banana.
But it’s also important to eat carbs before a workout, even if it’s just a healthy snack.
“If it needs to be a quick snack, something like a piece of toast with honey, or a fruit smoothie, is good, but if you’re in a rush you can go for a sports drink or a banana,” she says.
Endurance athletes need more food to fuel their training. For them, she suggests yogurt and fruit, oatmeal and banana, a bagel and peanut butter, or cereal and milk. Her advice is to stay more focused on carbs because fats and proteins can be hard to digest during exercise and this could cause gastrointestinal problems.
How many calories you take in is highly personal and differs from one person to the next, depending on your health and fitness goals.
“If you are a strength athlete or losing weight, try a ratio of two or three portions of carbs to one of protein,” Vavrek says. “Otherwise, stay with a three to four ratio of carbs to protein.”
For instance, 20 grams of protein and 40 grams of carbs is enough to help you maintain weight and replenish your body.
Other suggestions from Vavrek:
Take care with protein supplements. They can strain the kidneys. Opt instead for lean proteins in foods
Stay hydrated. Dehydration can cause muscle cramps. Hydrate throughout the day and during your workout. Vavrek recommends at least two liters of water a day for women, and three for men. This varies a bit based on body size. Sometimes you just forget to drink water, but it also helps you to control weight, so drink water all day.
Avoid sugar. Foods with a lot of starch or sugar ingested just before an even can speed up dehydration. Control portions of food that you like that may not be the healthiest options.
Go for milk. Cow’s milk is not only good for hydration, but it also contains casein and whey protein. The whey protein is absorbed quickly, helping to mend muscles, and the casein aids in long-term recovery.
Eat a balanced diet. Make sure to eat lots fruits and vegetables for nutrients, as well as protein throughout the day to preserve muscle mass.
Choose higher-fiber carbs. Reach for whole wheat pasta and bread, for instance, instead of refined products.
Finally, you might consider seeking the advice of a professional, if you have special needs or concerns.
The balance of carbs and protein differs depending on your sport, workout intensity, and your weight. The average 150 pound person may need about 88 grams of protein while an endurance athlete who weighs 200 pounds may require 150 grams of protein.
Knowing what your body needs will help you to be a stronger athlete, Vavrek notes.
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