Editor’s note: This article by Registered Dietitian, Cynthia Saas, was originally posted on May 23, 2016.
Throughout my years as a sports nutritionist the focus on nutrition has grown. Healthy eating is now a well-recognized, critical strategy for optimal physical and mental performance, injury prevention, and recovery. But you don’t have to be a professional athlete in order to prioritize nutrition and reap the rewards. Adopt these five tactics to get the most from your workouts, and maximize your personal wellness.
Food as “fuel”
Everyone wants to eat food that tastes good. But athletes need to be strategic about nutrition in order to feel energized when they perform. If your workouts last an hour or less you may not need to eat as much as a pro, but the principles remain the same. Before activity choose nutrient-rich, slow-burning carbs to fuel your cells, and keep your energy steady. Good choices include oatmeal, bananas, and baked yams.
Eating for recovery
Exercise puts wear and tear on your body, and the nutrients from healthy foods supply the raw materials needed to maintain, heal, and repair tissue. In fact, failing to properly recover from exercise can make your body weaker rather than stronger. That means what you eat after a workout is key. Even if you worked up a sweat and feel like you’ve “earned” the right to eat whatever you want, choose quality calories. My rule of thumb: combine a generous portion of veggies with lean protein (chicken, turkey, fish, beans), a whole grain (quinoa or brown rice), or a pulse (like black beans or chickpeas), and a good-for-you fat (such as olive oil, avocado, or nuts).
Choose beverages wisely
In addition to helping with temperature regulation, your body needs fluid to transport oxygen and nutrients, flush out waste and toxins, lubricate joints and organs, and convert food into usable fuel. As with meals, the quality of the fluids you choose matters. Reach for good old H20, limit or eliminate sugary drinks, and rely on electrolyte containing sports drinks during workouts that last over an hour, or if you sweat heavily or are exercising in high heat and humidity.
In fact, failing to properly recover from exercise can make your body weaker rather than stronger.
Beyond traditional food groups
To up your antioxidant game, incorporate herbs and spices into your meals and snacks. In addition to adding flavor and aroma, options like ginger, cinnamon, basil, rosemary, turmeric, garlic, and mint, can help reduce inflammation, support brain health, and protect your cells. Whip ginger, cinnamon, or mint into smoothies, and experiment with using herbs and spices in everything from omelets to vinaigrette dressing, stir frys, oven roasted dishes, and sautés.
Working out can make you feel like you deserve to indulge more often, but athletes are savvy about how often they splurge and what they choose. Pre-plan how you want to treat yourself, maybe once mid-week, and once over the weekend. And select truly worthwhile, can’t-live-without goodies. Or, make your own with “healthied-up” ingredients, like: “bark” made with melted dark chocolate drizzled over dried fruit and nuts; mock cobbler made with warmed fresh fruit topped with a crumble made from oats, cinnamon, and almond butter; frozen pops made with coconut milk, fruit, and dark chocolate; or brownies made with chickpea flour instead of all-purpose. When your palate becomes accustomed to healthy ingredients you’ll crave them in your splurges too!
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Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.