Since all I’ve been watching on tv for the past week has been the Olympics, and since a good amount of my time for the past two months has been consumed with talking about nutrition and weight loss (two of my favorite topics!), I thought it was perfect timing when my sister emailed me a link to an article entitled Eating Healthy for Energy. This article offered tips from a sports nutritionist and three Olympic athletes on the best foods to eat, whether you’re an athlete or just a casual exerciser who wants to feel a little more energized. A lot of the suggestions in this article have come up in conversation during recent Lunch ‘n Learn seminars, and I think it’s important to know which foods are the best to consume both before and after exercising, no matter what your fitness level is.
As attendees of the Lunch ‘n Learn seminars on nutrition know, one of my favorite facts related to food and exercise is that the best “food” to consume after working out is chocolate milk. Surprisingly, there are actually studies out there to support the fact that chocolate milk contains the perfect ratio of carbs to protein essential for a post-workout food. The carbs in the milk and chocolate syrup help restore the body’s fuel sources (mainly in the form of glycogen) that have been depleted during exercise; the simple carbs in the chocolate syrup provide a quick energy boost; and the protein in the milk starts immediately repairing muscle tissue that was damaged during the workout. I’d recommend you choose low-fat chocolate milk, and limit your consumption to just one glass, but you can feel good about drinking chocolate milk post-workout.
As for other foods to choose before and after exercise, the article points out that a balanced diet rich in fruits and veggies is never a bad idea, and it’s important to eat a mix of protein, fat, and carbs and choose lean protein, unsaturated fat, and complex carbohydrates whenever possible. Foods like bananas, yogurt, peanut butter, oatmeal, and dried fruit are all part of a healthy diet for athletes, and non-athletes can certainly benefit from eating these foods, too. Just be sure not to fall into the common trap of using exercise to justify overeating; make sure you burn the same amount or more calories from physical activity than you consume from food in order to maintain or lose weight. You can track your calories consumed and burned by keeping a food and exercise journal, and the WellMASS website has a neat calories burned calculator that tells you how many calories you burn doing all sorts of exercise and leisure activities. And if you’re looking to add more physical activity to your day (and you’re a GIC-covered employee of the Executive or Legislative branch or Constitutional Offices or an early retiree or spouse), be sure to log onto the WellMASS site starting August 20 to register for the Step It Up! pedometer campaign, which will challenge you to walk 10,000 steps a day. Who knows, you may decide you want to exceed this challenge and give some of the Olympic stars a run for their money!