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Dietitians Dish: How to fuel your workout

June 17, 2014 at 1:17 a.m.

Lauren Vesely is a registered dietitian nutritionist for DeTar Healthcare System.

By Lauren Vesely,

With June being Men's Health Month, let's take a look at how to fuel your workout. Here are a few frequently asked questions.

Will protein make my muscles grow?

Protein is an important part of a balanced diet, but eating more protein will not magically make you stronger. The only way to grow muscles is to put them to work. Carbohydrates are the best fuel for working muscles. Carbohydrates are partially converted to glycogen, which is stored in your muscles to power your workout. Fifty to 60 percent of energy used during one to four hours of continuous moderate to intense endurance activity is derived from carbohydrates. Carbohydrate foods include bread, tortillas, cereal, potatoes, corn, green peas, chips, crackers, popcorn, beans, fruit, dairy and sweets. Of course, some carbohydrates are a better choice than others.

Is it best to work out on an empty stomach?

Your body needs fuel to function, especially if you're asking it to run, jump, swim or lift weights. Don't skip breakfast. Eating before exercise as opposed to exercising in the fasted state has been shown to improve exercise performance. Eating in the morning helps replenish liver glycogen and steadies blood sugar levels. If it's hard to stomach solid food first thing in the morning, try a fruit smoothie or a liquid meal supplement, and always hydrate before you exercise.

Regular exercise means I can eat what I want and not gain weight, right?

Wrong. Working out doesn't mean to abandon portion sizes and healthy eating guidelines. It's easy to overestimate the amount of calories you burn while working out. You should adjust your calorie intake if you're engaging in serious training, such as for a triathlon in which you might be working out more than once a day. Recovery nutrition is necessary if you are an athlete participating in strenuous activity, especially if you are participating in multiple events in the same day. For the casual exerciser working out for an hour or less, a healthy, balanced diet will do the trick.

Is chocolate milk really an athlete's best friend?

Because of its favorable carbohydrate and protein content, chocolate milk is indeed an effective recovery aid, but it's not your only choice. Yogurt, cottage cheese with fruit or half a turkey sandwich on whole wheat can be just as effective. Do note: Chocolate milk is high in sugar, and increased intake can lead to weight gain.

Happy exercising.

Lauren Vesely is a registered dietitian nutritionist for DeTar Healthcare System.

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