I love that the Olympic games inspire many people to become more active and eat healthier. As a sports nutritionist who works with professional and competitive athletes, I know that nutrition is a key piece of the athletic puzzle. Healthy meals and snacks fuel exercise, and support recovery from the wear and tear training puts on the body. But the same principles that apply to Olympians hold true for everyone; even people who are just starting to become active.
Whether you like to walk, hike, bike, swim, take fitness classes, or play a sport, like tennis, you need energy to move your body. That’s why what you eat before you’re active is so key. A too heavy meal, an unhealthy one, or food that’s difficult to digest, can leave you feeling sluggish. But eating too little can leave you feeling weak. To properly fuel up and feel invigorated during exercise the best strategy is to reach for nutrient-rich carbohydrates, your cells’ preferred fuel source. Great options include a banana, a small bowl of oatmeal flavored with a touch of honey or maple syrup and cinnamon, or a baked sweet potato.
Protein is a building block of muscle, so after being active be sure to include a protein-rich food for recovery. An ideal post-exercise meal should also include good fat, which is also needed for healing muscles and joints. Plenty of produce is another important element to replenish nutrients and provide antioxidants. One quick option is a smoothie made with leafy greens, fresh or frozen fruit, avocado, nut butter or nut milk, and protein powder or Greek yogurt. Take Nature’s Greens Kool Kale Smoothie here for a test drive! For a savory meal whip up an omelet made with veggies and avocado, with a side of fruit, or a gingery veggie and citrus stir fry, paired with salmon, shrimp, or chicken, and topped with nuts or seeds.
To stay hydrated as you work up a sweat follow this general rule of thumb: drink at least two cups of water two hours before exercise, another two cups fifteen minutes prior, and a half cup every fifteen to twenty minutes during, and a few cups afterwards. If you’re sweating heavily be sure to use a sports drink or electrolyte replacer, since plain water alone won’t replenish electrolytes.
Making healthy eating a priority can motivate you to be more active, and help you get the most out of any activity you engage in. And the combination will deliver a healthier, happier, fitter you. So this summer chant “Go USA!” and “Go me!”