Whatever your activity level—whether you’re a regular gym visitor or a biker, swimmer, walker or runner—you need to eat well. Eating well means eating thoughtfully and purposefully, so that you get the wide variety of nutrients you need to keep yourself in tip-top shape, with sufficient energy to fuel all of your activities.
The Fuel You Need
The three key components of a “fuel-you-up” diet are fluids, carbohydrates and proteins.
Regardless of your activity level, you need to stay well hydrated. But when you exercise, you need to drink even more generously throughout the day. Fluid intake before, during and after exercise is very important. You can get a lot of these fluids from sports drinks that contain carbohydrates and replacement electrolytes.
To figure out your fluid requirements, an easy rule of thumb is to divide your weight in pounds by 2. The resulting number is the minimum amount of fluid ounces you need to take in during an active day. So a 160-pound person should consume 80 fl. oz. (160 divided by 2), or 10 cups of fluid.
To get some idea of your level of hydration, keep an eye on the color of your urine. Pale yellow or almost clear urine usually indicates good hydration.
Foods and beverages that contain carbohydrates provide the energy that fuels your body while you’re engaged in exercise. It’s especially important to consume enough carbohydrates if you plan to be active for more than an hour at a time.
Although people differ in terms of how well they tolerate sports drinks, most people can handle them well before and during exercise. In the hour following a workout, you should enjoy some carbohydrate-containing foods like fruits, whole-grain crackers, pretzels or mini bagels—but be mindful of your serving sizes and how many calories these foods contain.
We need protein for the maintenance, repair and growth of our muscles. Excellent sources of protein include dairy foods like cheeses and yogurt, fish, poultry, and lean meats. Those who prefer vegetarian options should consider nuts and nut butters, tofu and tempeh, quinoa, or dried beans and peas.
Immediately after exercise, try to eat about 15-25 grams of protein, which you can get by consuming any of the following: 2 cups of milk, a smoothie made with yogurt and milk, 1 cup of Greek yogurt, or two hard-boiled eggs.
Other Necessary Nutrients
Although fluids, carbohydrates and protein are essentials for an active workout day, planning meals that include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables will provide other essential nutrients, like vitamins and minerals.
If you are involved in competitive sports or are an endurance or ultraendurance athlete engaged in intensive workouts of 1-3 hours, your diet takes on a whole new level of importance, and you will have nutritional requirements that are very specific to your activity or sport. In this case, it would probably be beneficial to have a session with a registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition.
Fueling an Active Day
• 2-egg veggie omelet
• 1 toasted whole-grain English muffin with butter and fruit spread
• Grapefruit sections
• 1 glass of 1% milk
• 1 medium seasonal fruit
• Sandwich: 2 slices whole-grain bread, tuna fish salad, lettuce, tomato and avocado slices
• Homemade vegetable/white bean soup
• Natural applesauce
• 1 glass of 1% milk
• Cheese slices on whole-grain crackers
• Plenty of fluids before, during and after your workout—including sports drinks, if exercising for more than an hour
• Greek yogurt topped with chopped walnuts
• Grilled shrimp over whole-grain linguini, tossed lightly with olive oil
• Grilled assorted vegetables: squash, onions and peppers
• Vanilla pudding topped with fresh berries
Evening Snack(2 hours after dinner and 1–2 hours before bedtime)
• Frozen pureed fruit bar
NUT BUTTER POWER BITES
Prep. time: 20 minutes
1 cup natural nut butter (peanut
butter, almond butter, etc.)
2/3 cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats,
2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup ground flaxseed
1 cup mini chocolate chips
½ cup dried fruit (cherries, raisins, blueberries, cranberries, etc.)
1. Combine the nut butter, honey and vanilla extract together well.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well.
3. Using a small scoop, scoop up the mixture, packing it in well. Place in a single layer in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Store in the refrigerator.
SPINACH FETA FRITTATA
Prep. time: 15 minutes; cook time: 10 minutes
Makes 4 servings
1½ cups cholesterol-free egg substitutes, or 6 eggs
1/3 cup evaporated fat-free milk
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
½ cup finely chopped green onions
1½ teaspoons dried oregano or basil leaves
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups cooked whole-wheat spaghetti noodles
4 ounces crumbled sundried tomato and basil
or plain feta cheese
1. Preheat broiler.
2. In medium bowl, combine egg substitute and milk; whisk until well blended. Stir in spinach, green onions, oregano and black pepper. Stir in noodles and feta.
3. Spray a 10-inch cast iron or ovenproof skillet with cooking spray. Heat over medium heat. Add egg mixture and cook 5 minutes or until nearly cooked through, stirring occasionally.
4. Place skillet under broiler 3-5 minutes or until just beginning to lightly brown and set. Cut into 4 wedges.
5. Serve at breakfast or for an after-workout snack.
HIGH PROTEIN BREAKFAST OR AFTER-WORKOUT MEATBALLS
Prep. time: 15 minutes; cook time: 25 minutes
Makes 48 meatballs
2 pounds lean bulk turkey sausage
1 pound lean ground beef
2 tablespoons dried onion flakes
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ pound shredded 2% reduced-fat cheddar cheese
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In large bowl, using hands, blend together all of the ingredients until mixed well. Form into 48 meatballs. Place on a cookie sheet coated with cooking spray.
3. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Freeze the extras for a quick breakfast or snack protein.
WHITE BEAN TURKEY CHILI
Prep. time: 20 minutes; cook time: 25 minutes
Makes 6 servings
1 pound ground turkey breast (use soy veggie crumbles to make vegetarian)
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 (14.5-ounce) cans great northern beans,
2 (14.5-ounce) cans petite diced tomatoes with green chiles
1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles
1 tablespoon minced dried onion
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne
3 (14.5-ounce) cans reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1. Cook crumbled turkey in oil in large pan over medium heat until brown, stirring occasionally.
2. Add remaining ingredients. Stir to combine. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Serve immediately.