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Food as fuel: Basics of eating for better workout performance

Fitness fuel
Fitness fuel

If you want to get the greatest benefit from your workouts, your diet is just as important as the workout, itself. Feeding your body the proper fuel will boost your results and help your body to perform more efficiently.

Skipping meals is a big mistake, particularly if you are exercising in an attempt to lose weight, because your body needs a sufficient amount of calories to keep your metabolism functioning well. Exercising on an empty stomach is not a great idea, either, because you won’t be able to push your body to its limit. Just as your car can’t run well on an empty tank without ruining the engine, you can’t expect your body to perform at its best without the proper fuel.

If you have not eaten a regular meal within the last 3-4 hours, you should aim to eat a small snack about ½ to 1 hour before your workout. You want to eat something that is rich in carbohydrates since they are your body’s main source of energy or fuel. Adding a little bit of protein is okay, too. Great choices would be a piece of fruit with string cheese, a slice of bread with a small glass of milk, a cup of pasta, a small baked potato, or some instant oatmeal.

After your workout, your muscles are hungry for nutrients and this is the perfect opportunity to load up on more protein-rich foods to help repair and build your muscles. You will still need some carbohydrates with your protein to help carry the protein to your muscles more efficiently. Great post-workout choices would be a fruit smoothie with protein powder, grilled or baked chicken, a 1-2 egg omelet (with the nutrient-rich yolks), or a bean salad. Beans are great because they are loaded with fiber and protein, they are low in fat, and they have plenty of vitamins and minerals.

Don’t forget to drink your water!! The daily fluid intake that is required for optimal health varies from person to person. A good rule of thumb to follow is to consume ½ ounce of water per pound of body weight. For example, a 190-lb man would need to consume approximately 11-12 cups (8 oz) of water daily (.5 oz x 190 lbs / 8 oz), whereas a 135-lb woman would need only about 8.5 cups. This recommendation is similar to those of the Institute of Medicine. Their recommendations for general fluid intake from water and other beverages are approximately 9 cups/day for women and 12.5 cups/day for men.