Your Health

Get more out of your workout

Proper diet can up your fitness factor

Proper diet can up your fitness factor

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, Fall 2009

It's not uncommon today to find people heading off to the gym or rink after a long day at the office. After all, getting in a quick workout or game of hockey a few times during the week is not only fun, it's a great way to keep fit and relieve stress.

Unfortunately, many of us are missing an opportunity to get the most out of our workout, in part because energy levels tend to be a bit low by the end of the day. Indeed, some may forgo a workout altogether because they are simply too tired. But there are ways to combat this fatigue and get more out of your workout.

Research shows that proper training techniques can dramatically improve athletic performance, even for the amateur who is simply trying to keep his or her waistline under control and maintain fitness. And a key part of proper training is planning and implementing a balanced nutrition plan.

What, when and how much we eat and drink can have a significant impact on our ability to get the most out of our workout. A good rule of thumb for maintaining your energy through the day is to try and eat every three hours.

Start with a good breakfast: a fruit smoothie (milk, frozen berries, banana) with a small low-fat muffin is a good example. Follow it up with a lunch that is high in fibre, moderate in protein and lower in fat.

Some examples include a whole-wheat torilla (stuffed with leafy greens, peppers, salsa) and a bowl of minestrone soup, or whole-grain crackers, tuna with salsa/seasoning and a side of mixed veggies. You can also try a stir fry with mixed beans rather than meat and a small portion of rice or pasta.

Your pre-workout meal is also important. It should generally be lower in fat and fibre, low to moderate in protein and higher in carbohydrates.

Focus on the first three food groups in Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide - fruits and vegetables, grain products, milk and alternatives. A bowl of cereal with low-fat milk, or adding berries to a low-fat yogurt would make an ideal pre-workout meal. This will ensure you maintain blood sugar levels and maximize glycogen stores (muscle glycogen is the storage form of glucose in the muscles and liver, a.k.a. the "quick energy" for muscle activity). Depletion of glycogen can occur with long and intense (marathon running, cross-country skiing) or strenuous activity (hockey, soccer, dance), leading to early fatigue and exhaustion. Your pre-game or exercise meal/snack will allow for a quality workout or performance.

What you drink during the day can also affect how much energy you have for an evening workout. Coffee, for example, may give you a caffeine kick in the morning, but drinking several cups throughout the day can sap your energy by late afternoon, especially if coffee is taking the place of high-energy, nutrient-dense foods.

Your fluid needs during the day cannot be met by simply quenching your thirst. It's always important to drink plenty of fluids during the day, particularly if you are planning on working out. Keeping hydrated allows you to feel more energized throughout the day, enhances concentration, decreases food cravings, keeps the body temperature regulated, and allows your body to keep metabolism and other organs working. A general rule is to consume at least two litres of fluid (eight cups) daily. Plain water is enough if your workout is an hour or less. A sport drink may be of benefit for activities lasting longer than an hour.

Exercise causes muscles to generate heat. Heavy sweating can lead to muscle cramping, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. That's why it is important to ensure you are well-hydrated before a workout. Try to consume 1½ to 2½ cups of fluid two to three hours before you begin exercising. During your workout, you should drink enough to maintain a fluid balance: aim for about two to three gulps of water every 15 to 20 minutes.

Remember that tolerance is also key, and fluid needs can be quite individual depending on climate/room temperature/ humidity, sweat loss and hydration status prior to working out. If you want to recover after a hard workout, you need to re-hydrate.

Proper nutrition and hydration following the workout is also important. The post-exercise meal plan should include fluids, carbohydrates and protein. Within the first 15 to 30 minutes post-exercise, a high carbohydrate drink/food should be consumed. A balanced meal or snack should be consumed within two to four hours - depending on when your next meal will be or when you are working out. Some protein with the post-workout snack has been thought to help with recovery. Try a smoothie, beans and rice, one to two slices of turkey on a bagel or a whole wheat tortilla, peanut butter and banana, or a cup of chocolate milk.

Tips to help enhance your workout performance, body composition and overall health

  • Eat every three hours, and consume between five to eight meals a day.
  • Include three of the four food groups at main meals (fruits and vegetables, grain products, milk and alternatives, meat and alternatives).
  • Consume lean, complete protein (chicken, fish, beef, pork, soy or combine beans and rice/pasta) every time you eat (at least at your main meals).
  • Limit fat consumption to about 20 to 30 per cent of energy intake.
  • Incorporate vegetables into every meal. Aim for four to five servings of vegetables a day and three to five servings of fruit.
  • Eat fibre by consuming vegetables, fruit and whole grains. It will fill you up and promote regularity.
  • Eat foods high in antioxidants and phytonutrients, such as deep blue, purple, red and orange fruits, red, yellow, and leafy dark- green vegetables. They help prevent cell damage and promote optimal health.
  • Always remember to hydrate before, during and after exercise.
  • Limit calorie-containing drinks. Calories in any form, including fluids, can add up. Drinking plain water instead will help lubricate the joints, help muscle tone, and enhance concentration and physical performance. Limit your "indulgence" foods to about 20 per cent of your total diet.
  • Increase your level of motivation by getting adequate rest . . . every day.

Jorie Janzen is a registered dietitian with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and sports nutritionist with the Sport Medicine and Science Council Manitoba and Canadian Sport Centre Manitoba.

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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