Getting Into Exercise after the Holidays? Eat Well! – Part I

I am definitely not a cold weather person. Don’t get me wrong about that!

What I do love about January is that it’s a relatively quiet month compared to the busyness, added social engagements, and too much food – healthy or otherwise

January offers us a big invitation lined in glitter to get back to self-care : eating well, resting well, beginning or returning to a regular exercise program, drinking plenty of water – all the things that we try to do, that somehow take a back seat during the holiday season.

When healthy eating and regular exercise are routine, the rest follows more easily, it seems to me. So, let’s start with getting into or back into some good body movement, and making sure we have the fuel we need for fitness.

Nutrition is Important for Fitness

Eating a well-balanced diet helps you to get the calories and the nutrients that you need to fuel daily work, including regular exercise. And it’s not just about choosing carrots over doughnuts – although that’s certainly not a bad place to start.  It also takes getting the right kinds of food into your body at the right times of day.

Get Off to a Good Start

Many studies over the years have advised that eating a good breakfast 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.

On exercise days, hopefully most days of the week, a good breakfast is especially important. Skipping it may leave you feeling lightheaded or lethargic as you work out. And a plain white bagel or doughnut won’t keep you feeling full for very long. In comparison, a fiber- and protein-rich breakfast may fend off hunger pangs for longer and provide all the energy you need to get through your exercise.

Try these tips:

  • Lose the sugar-laden cereals made from refined grains in favor of oatmeal, oat bran, or other whole-grain cereals that are high in fiber. Add some protein such as nuts or seeds.
  • Breads are also processed grains which the body immediately recognizes as sugar, and proceeds to burn quickly. Choose instead a whole-grain bread, add some almond or walnut or peanut butter for some fat and protein
  • The answer to the question “What’s for breakfast?” should be some high quality protein with some fiber rich foods – grains, fruits, vegetables.

Lean into the Right Carbohydrates

The plethora of low-carb fad diets has given carbohydrates a bad rap. Still, they are your body’s main source of energy. The Mayo Clinic recommends about 45-65 percent of your total daily calories should come from complex carbohydrates. This is especially true for exercisers.

Rather than go for simple carbohydrates, though, such as those in sweets and processed foods, focus on the complex carbs found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, and legumes. They take longer to break down and turn into body fuel, which gives you a steady push of energy over time, rather than the “rush/crash” phenomenon produced by simple carbs. Complex carbs have considerably more staying power when you need it. They will help you feel full for longer and, more importantly, fuel your body throughout the day, even as they are helping to stabilize your blood sugar levels.

Pack Protein into Your Snacks and Meals

Protein is needed to help keep your body growing, maintained, and repaired. It is also essential for the building and repairing of muscles, so that you can enjoy the benefit of your workout. It can be a source of energy when carbohydrates are in short supply, but is not a major source of fuel during exercise.

In general, adults need to eat about .8 grams of protein for every kilogram of their body weight. That’s about 3.6 grams of protein for every pound of body weight.  Exercisers and older adults may need even more.

All foods in their natural state contain some protein. Thus, you are always doing your body a favor by eating lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, which have the best ability to absorb into your body and be useful there. They are also less likely to be a factor in a disease process than animal products. (I am not saying don’t eat meat or eggs or dairy. I am saying to eat them in moderation, because they are more likely to be factors in many illnesses.)

The healthiest options include, after nuts, seed, beans, and legumes, lean proteins that are low in saturated and trans fats. Limit the amount of red and processed meats, for sure. For more about protein and how to get it, click here.

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 are also low in calories and fat. I recommend filling your plate 75 percent full of fruits and vegetables at every meal. Eat as many different colors as you can.  (Over the holidays, I noticed some plates than were very white or almost white – mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, stuffing, etc. Did you?) Go for the color! This insures that you get the full range of vitamins, minerals, and  antioxidants that the produce aisle has to offer.

When you shop, make it a point to choose a new fruit or vegetable. Keep some cut-up vegetables in your refrigerator for easy snacking.

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. Healthy, unsaturated fats help to provide essential fatty acids and calories to keep you moving and moving well.

Consider nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and any fruit or nut oil, such as olive, coconut, walnut, etc.

Simple is Best

As we head into this brand new year, remember that the best eating for life and for exercise is a wide variety of foods in as close to their natural state as possible.  Keep that in mind as you shop and prepare. How can I make this more nutrient rich by cutting down on the processing and adding more color.

Have a great year!  Next time I’ll share some ideas about specific pre-workout foods

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