eat and exercise

Eating and exercise: The Right Foods for Exercise

Do you find yourself ditching healthy habits when you’re at home, even if you didn’t intend to? Can’t get to the gym, so you don’t work out. There are goodies in the pantry and pizza delivery is just a text away. Being at home can be a minefield of temptation!

And then, since you’ve “blown your diet” or skipped workouts anyway, you just keep going with the free-for-all. When that happens, chances are good that you might not go back to it. On top of that, yo-yo dieting can play havoc with your metabolism over time, making it even harder to lose weight.

While many fitness and diet plans promise to deliver exceptional results for every participant, they often fail to live up to their lofty claims. In reality, no good one-size-fits-all approach to dieting exists. A plan that works wonders for one person could prove disastrous for the next. Hence, the need for a targeted system that takes your unique situation into account — a customized exercise and nutrition regimen built with your unique goals and fitness level in mind to deliver real results.

Get off to a good start

According to an article published in Harvard Health Letter, eating breakfast regularly has been linked to a lower risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Starting your day with a healthy meal can help replenish your blood sugar, which your body needs to power your muscles and brain.

Eating a healthy breakfast is especially important on days when exercise is on your agenda. Skipping breakfast can leave you feeling lightheaded or lethargic while you’re working out.

Choosing the right kind of breakfast is crucial. Too many people rely on simple carbohydrates to start their day. A plain white bagel or doughnut won’t keep you feeling full for long.

In comparison, a fiber- and protein-rich breakfast may fend off hunger pangs for longer and provide the energy you need to keep your exercise going.

Follow these tips for eating a healthy breakfast:

  • Instead of eating sugar-laden cereals made from refined grains, try oatmeal, oat bran, or other whole-grain cereals that are high in fiber. Then, throw in some protein, such as milk, yogurt, or chopped nuts.
  • If you’re making pancakes or waffles, replace some of the all-purpose flour with whole-grain options. Then, stir some cottage cheese into the batter.
  • If you prefer toast, choose whole-grain bread. Then pair it with an egg, peanut butter, or another protein source.

Boost your fruit and vegetable intake

Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of natural fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other compounds that your body needs to function properly. They’re also low in calories and fat.

Aim to fill half your plate with fruits and veggies at every meal, recommends the United States Department of Agriculture.

Try to “eat the rainbow” by choosing fruits and veggies of different colors. This will help you enjoy the full range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that the produce aisle has to offer.

Every time you go to the grocery store, consider choosing a new fruit or vegetable to try. For snacks, keep dried fruits in your workout bag and raw veggies in the fridge.

Choose healthy fats

Unsaturated fats may help reduce inflammation and provide calories.

While fat is a primary fuel for aerobic exercise, we have plenty stored in the body to fuel even the longest workouts. However, getting healthy unsaturated fats helps to provide essential fatty acids and calories to keep you moving.

Healthy options include:

  • nuts
  • seeds
  • avocados
  • olives
  • oils, such as olive oil

Your Winning Strategy

Move your body every day.

Make time to exercise, even if it’s a short amount. Our bodies were made to move!

Plan your exercise by scheduling a specific time each day to work out or go for a walk.

If you don’t feel like doing it, commit to at least five minutes. Chances are, once you start you won’t stop there. Getting started is the hardest part.

If working from home, set a timer to ensure that you get up to walk around and stretch at least every hour. You can even exercise from your living room couch.

Think moderation, not deprivation.

Learn to practice moderation and portion control so that you can still enjoy the food and drinks you love.

Watch your alcohol, sodas and snacks. For example, it’s easy to overeat while you’re enjoying a movie or game. Four cans of beer (620 calories), four slices of stuffed-crust pizza (1,520), and one cup of peanuts (828) adds up to almost 3,000 calories! Instead, you could limit the beer and pizza to one or two, and have a lower-calorie crunchy snack like popcorn instead of peanuts.

Make a food plan.

To save time (and to cut out the temptation to hang out in the bakery aisle), do your grocery shopping order online if you can. This frees up time to plan your meals and prep for the week.

If you’re cooking ahead, freeze some of the meals so you don’t run out at the end of the week.

If meal prepping just isn’t your thing, you might try one of the ingredient-and-recipe meal kit delivery services which have become popular.

Why take the time to plan or prep? Because when you have ready-made nutritious meals at home, you won’t be as tempted to grab unhealthy fast food. You’ll save calories and money.

Limit take-out, and cook at home instead. Even if you only make a few dinners a week, you’ll still be coming out ahead.

Unplug and go outdoors.

It doesn’t have to be an iron-pumping workout to count as exercise. You can fit in activities with your family. Anything that gets you up and moving is good.

For example:

  • Walk in your neighborhood or at a park. Walking the dog is a great way to do this.
  • Go for a bike ride.
  • Play ball in the yard with the kids.
  • Do yard work.
  • Craving some alone time? Go outside for a stress-busting run or power walk.

Whatever activity you choose, your body, mind and spirit will benefit from the exercise, fresh air and sunshine.

Don’t keep tempting treats around.

Leaving it out on the kitchen counter where you’re constantly seeing it, or anywhere that’s too easily accessible, only leads to overeating. You’re only human. Better yet, don’t bring junk food home at all. Keep your fridge and pantry stocked with healthier options, and fruit on the counter.

Boredom, loneliness and stress can be powerful triggers to over-snack. Distraction and keeping busy with a project can help fight this.

Get enough rest.

Research has shown that lack of sleep can make you hungrier. It increases levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, while lowering levels of the appetite suppressor hormone leptin. And, cortisol levels rise if you don’t get enough sleep — a stress hormone associated with abdominal fat increase.

Don’t feel guilty about taking time to relax. It’s important to recharge, for your well-being.

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Rethink dieting.

If you’re having difficulty staying on track, ask yourself if your plan is too restrictive. Maybe it’s not the right one for you. Perhaps that’s the reason you’re having trouble.

Fad diets and those that promise rapid weight loss may help you drop a few pounds in the short term, but if you can’t stick with it because you’re hungry all the time, not getting the nutrition your body needs, or because you can’t have the foods you want, then what good is it?

Dieting can easily lead to overeating or even bingeing when you’re inevitably not able to stay on it. That can wreck your health as well as your waistline.

Instead, focus on nutrition and on sustainable healthy lifestyle choices that you can actually keep up with on a daily basis, rather than being on or off of a diet.

One method that works for many people is the 80/20 principle: Sticking to your plan of exercising and eating healthy foods at least 80% of the time. This helps you practice balance and moderation while incorporating healthy habits into your lifestyle in a more doable way than a strict plan.

Just as with exercise, when it comes to diet it’s important to find what you like, what you can live with long term, and what works for YOU.

Fuel up before exercise

When it comes to fueling up before or after a workout, it’s important to achieve the right balance of carbs and protein. Pre-workout snacks that combine carbohydrates with protein can make you feel more energized than junk foods made from simple sugars and lots of fat.

Consider stocking your workout bag and refrigerator with some of these simple snacks:

Nuts

Nuts are a great source of heart-healthy fats and also provide protein and essential nutrients. They can give you a source of sustained energy for your workout.

Pair them with fresh or dried fruit for a healthy dose of carbohydrates. However, test these options to see how they settle. High-fat foods can slow digestion, and they may make food sit in your stomach too long if your workout is coming up quickly.

Nut butter

Many grocery stores carry single-serving packets of peanut butter that don’t require refrigeration and can be easily stored in a gym bag. For a tasty protein-carbohydrate combo, you can spread peanut butter on:

  • an apple
  • a banana
  • whole-grain crackers
  • a slice of whole-grain bread

If you don’t like peanut butter, try almond butter, soy butter, or other protein-rich alternatives.

Berries, grapes, and oranges

These fruits are all full of vitamins, minerals, and water. They’re easy on your intestines, give you a quick boost of energy, and help you stay hydrated. Consider pairing them with a serving of yogurt for protein.

Bananas

Bananas are full of potassium and magnesium, which are important nutrients to get on a daily basis. Eating a banana can help replenish these minerals while providing natural sugars to fuel your workout. For added protein, enjoy your banana with a serving of peanut butter.

Balance is key

As you settle into an active lifestyle, you’ll probably discover which foods give you the most energy and which have negative effects. The key is learning to listen to your body and balancing what feels right with what’s good for you.

Follow these tips:

  • Aim to make breakfast a part of your routine.
  • Choose complex carbohydrates, lean protein sources, healthy fats, and a wide variety of fruits and veggies.
  • Stock your fridge and gym bag with healthy workout snacks.

The right balance of carbohydrates, protein, and other nutrients can help fuel your exercise routine.

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