Nutrition is key in reaching fitness goals

By Mr. Robert Nathan Gregory

MSU Extension Servic


STARKVILLE, Miss. — Local gyms are popular places in January, but good nutrition is just as critical as exercise in achieving fitness goals.

Food consumed after workouts — known in sport dietetics as recovery nutrition — has as much of an impact on improving well-being as the workouts themselves.

“Recovery nutrition ensures proper growth and development for adolescents. For the rest of us, it provides much-needed nutrients to promote hydration, repair muscles and prevent fatigue. This helps all that hard work translate into strength and good health,” said Chandler Knox, a dietetic intern with the Mississippi State University Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion.

“Using a well-designed nutrition plan as part of your exercise routine could make the difference between reaching your goals and not,” he said. “Proper nutrition will help keep you hydrated and fueled in order to increase intensity and aid in recovery. Nutrition is essential in fueling the body before, during and after training, and a critical part of reaching the goals you have set.”

Brent Fountain, an associate Extension professor of human nutrition with the MSU Extension Service, said people who are considering going back to the gym after several years of physical inactivity should assess their current level of health and conditioning honestly before their first workout.

“This may include a visit to their physician or health care provider to assess whether they are healthy enough to begin an exercise regimen,” Fountain said.

Knox and Fountain offered five nutritional tips to use with a workout routine that can assist in meeting fitness goals.

(1) Drink plenty of water.

Proper hydration should not just be centered around workouts. Aim to stay hydrated throughout the day. To help with this need, carry a water bottle and set a goal. Many dietitians recommend 10 cups a day — about 2.5 liters.

“Always drink water before, during and after your workout. Hydration is just as important as what you eat,” Knox said. “Water helps to keep the body cooler when exercising during warmer temperatures, aids in transport of nutrients and can make hard bouts of exercise feel easier.

(2) Give muscles time to heal.

Soreness is a normal occurrence after a workout, but prolonged soreness can be damaging.

“Listen to your body while exercising and recovering from a workout,” Knox said. “Make sure you have a well-designed exercise and nutrition plan. Too much, too fast can cause an injury that will limit your progress. Proper recovery nutrition can also help prevent excessive soreness.”

(3) Eat after exercising.

Eat healthy snacks or meals about 30 minutes after a workout. Food helps repair muscles and replenish all the burned energy.

“The rationale behind eating immediately postexercise is to allow the body to take advantage of the increased blood flow created from your exercise,” Knox said. “If time is an issue, be sure to include carbohydrates and protein in your meals for the rest of the day. Liquid forms of a protein and carb combo will be digested easier and faster after a workout than a dense protein bar.”

Postworkout snacks or meals can be creative.

“Smoothies, chocolate milk and other dairy products are a good place to start,” Knox said. “Some other possibilities can include string cheese with pretzels or nuts, fruit and peanut butter or yogurt with an energy bar.”

(4) Do not be afraid of carbohydrates and proteins.

Foods containing carbohydrates often have a bad reputation for causing weight gain, but in proper moderation, they are vital in replenishing the energy used during exercise. They also boost performance, fighting fatigue and encouraging muscle growth. Carbohydrates and proteins play important roles in providing initial energy before a workout and aiding in recovery afterward.

“Matching carbohydrate intake with the level of activity is always a good idea,” Fountain said. “Long periods of sustained energy, such as jogging, or intermediate bouts of high intensity will require greater daily carbohydrate intake than a rest or recovery day.”

Aim to choose a variety of foods rich in color to boost vitamin and mineral intake. Foods such as red bell peppers, beets, carrots, berries and dark, leafy greens are beneficial. Lean protein such as turkey, chicken, fish and loin cuts of meat can help repair muscle tissue damaged through exercise, but consuming too much does not contribute to muscle gain. Protein supplements are gaining popularity, but they can often lead to excessive protein consumption.

“Too much protein may stress your kidneys and cause you to become dehydrated due to the excess water needed to filter it out,” Knox said.

(5) Plan ahead.

Make a shopping list to include pre- and postworkout foods, and consider preparing different meals in advance to match your daily exercise.

“If you are going to invest time in making sure you are maximizing your health through exercise, you want to give yourself every opportunity to be successful,” Fountain said. “You may have to experiment with different foods during training to determine which ones work best. Learning what works doesn’t usually happen by accident, but through trial and error.”

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