After a Workout: The Essentials Everyone Needs in Their Diet
Eating nutritious foods to support a healthy body is important for everyone, but it’s even more critical for active folks. Running a race, spinning on a stationary bike, and rowing are all great activities to get your heart pumping and offer numerous health benefits. The harder you work, the more energy your body needs. It can be tempting to stock up on sweets and other empty-calorie foods to fill you up, but doing so could jeopardize your workouts and your health.
With so much conflicting information, though, it can be hard to determine what the “right” foods are. There’s a difference between carbohydrates from sweet potatoes and those from white bread, and it can really make a difference. Fortunately, we’ve put together a guide to some of the most important nutrients to fuel your gym routine and keep you feeling fine.
1. Complex carbohydrates
Athletes around the world gathered in a collective eye-roll with the sudden boom of the Atkins diet, a meal plan based around consuming only low-carbohydrate foods. While some might successfully lose a few pounds with this method, it isn’t an ideal choice for those with high physical demands. Livestrong.com explains that carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel, and that inadequate carb consumption can leave you feeling fatigued and lead to a number of deficiencies.
Instead of eliminating this group of important nutrients, focus on getting the best quality carbohydrates. That means whole grains and vegetables. Runner’s World explains these types of complex carbohydrates provide fiber and digest more slowly to provide a steady energy supply. That doesn’t mean simple carbs are out, though. The story went on to note foods like white rice and pastas offer up an energy boost that’s ideal immediately before exercise.
2. Healthy fats
If there’s one thing we learned from the low-fat diet craze, it’s that eating less fat doesn’t make anyone healthier. WebMD explains that many low-fat or fat-free products rely on fillers like sugar and flour to sub for the missing ingredients, which could bring the number of calories right back up to where they were in the first place. What’s more, fat is essential to good health. Fitness says the nutrient helps to keep your body functioning and aids in absorbing key vitamins. The article stresses the importance of consuming unsaturated fats, while limiting saturated and trans fats.
And it’s even more important for athletes. Colorado State University states that frequent exercisers should consume at least 15% of their calories from fats, or risk suffering poor performance. So don’t shy away from the avocados and nuts, but maybe cut back on the bacon a little bit.
You may have heard bodybuilders talk about the importance of eating enough protein, but it’s not just those seeking to get ripped who need to focus on the nutrient. Researchers have found diets rich in protein can help prevent obesity, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure. Protein is also important for those who frequently exercise, as it ensures you lose the flab and not muscle mass.
In addition to obvious sources like eggs, meat, and dairy, protein can come from vegan-friendly sources as well. Foods like nuts, quinoa, and legumes provide plenty of the good stuff without relying on meat or animal products. Health offers some great options for vegetarians and vegans.
Don’t go protein crazy, though. Fitness explains that consuming too many calories, even from these types of healthy foods, can still lead to weight gain. Just because you’re burning calories on the treadmill doesn’t give you an excuse to go on an all-you-can-eat red meat binge.
There’s noting worse than competing in a game or race and suffering from a dreaded cramp. The culprit is usually an electrolyte imbalance. Prevention explains this can happen when we don’t have enough of these minerals, but also when we have too many. So what exactly are electrolytes? According to MedlinePlus, electrolytes are minerals in our blood that impact the amount of water in the body as well as muscle function.
While many have traditionally turned to sports drinks to replenish these minerals after a serious sweat session, NPR reports that many athletes are choosing whole foods over the neon beverages. One thing everyone seems to agree on? The need to get enough of them. Leslie Bonci, a dietary adviser for several baseball teams, told NPR, “Electrolytes are minerals essential in helping the body retain water — and it’s true: We can’t live without them.”
So do you really need that sports drink? It all depends on your effort. Runner’s World reports that most people don’t need the sweetened beverages for their workouts, but those who exert themselves for over an hour could benefit from the electrolytes. Just keep an eye on portion size.
We’ve all heard that drinking enough water is important, but it becomes even more crucial for those sweating on a regular basis. Many health professionals suggest letting thirst be your guide, but that can be problematic. Dan Trink, director of of personal training operations at Peak Performance NYC, told Men’s Fitness that “by the time this warning sign kicks in, you are likely already dehydrated.” He also added that even a 2% loss in body weight due to dehydration can negatively impact performance.
If you need more reason to guzzle a couple of more glasses, consider what it can do for your waistline. Prevention reported findings from research that indicated drinking water over sugary drinks can slow the rate of weight gain.
Be aware that it’s possible, though rare, to drink too much of this vital beverage. Scientific American reported overdoing hydration can be fatal. The story explained this condition, hyponatremia, occurs when sodium concentration in the blood drops too low. Again, it’s rare, so just be aware of how much you are actually sweating.
6. Vitamins and minerals
Vitamin or mineral deficiencies can lead to health problems for anyone, but it can be catastrophic for athletes. A study in the North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy discussed how an inadequate supply of iron can negatively impact athletic performance by preventing the efficient transportation of oxygen through the body.
The study concluded the condition can “severely affect an athlete’s ability to perform at an optimal level.” And that’s just iron. Everything ranging from calcium to vitamin C plays an important role. WebMD offers a whole list of different vitamins and minerals, explaining what they do and how to get more of them. Hint: Many sources are fruits and veggies.