People who are involved in an exercise program for fitness and health can learn to maximize their training efforts and get more out of a workout by learning to fuel their bodies with the right foods and fluids.
Fluids: Staying hydrated If exercisers lose too much fluid in sweat without replacing what they've lost in both fluids and electrolytes (like sodium and potassium), they risk becoming dehydrated. Exercisers of all ages are at increased risk for dehydration. Children and older adults are susceptible to dehydration and should pay special attention to their fluid intake. Dehydration can diminish energy and impair performance. Even a 2-percent loss of body weight through sweat (i.e., 3 pounds for a 150-pound exerciser) (Gisolfi, C.V. and D.R. Lamb. Perspectives in Exercise Science and Sports Medicine: Fluid Homeostasis During Exercise, Chapt 1 pp. 1-38, 1990.; Gopinathan, P.M. et al. Arch Environ Health, 43:15-17, 1998.) can spell trouble. Maintaining proper hydration is important for all fitness enthusiasts.
Hydration for improving workouts
Exercisers who work out in warm weather or a hot gym risk dehydration. The risk becomes greater the longer the workout lasts, or when there is more than one workout in a day.
Here's how to prevent dehydration and get the most mileage out of a general fitness routine: Remember fluids throughout the day. This may be as simple as grabbing a sports drink first thing in the morning, then using fountains, coolers, and cafeteria beverages as triggers for drinking throughout the day. Hydrate 2 to 3 hours before exercise. Active people should aim for at least 16 ounces (2 cups) of fluid at this time and an additional 8 ounces (1 cup) 10 to 20 minutes prior to exercising. Drink during workouts. Sports drinks, like Gatorade, can help ward off dehydration and muscle cramps because they help replenish both fluid and electrolytes (i.e., sodium and potassium) lost in sweat without overdrinking. However, for active people who prefer to drink plain water, a fitness water, such as Propel Fitness Water, may be a better option. Fitness waters are lightly flavored to help exercisers drink more than they would of plain water, thus staying better hydrated. Consider carbohydrates. Many exercisers are hesitant to use sports drinks during a workout, not wanting to take in extra calories. However, recent research has shown that consuming some carbohydrates by drinking a sports drink during a workout can limit calorie intake throughout the rest of the day.
Foods for high energy
Carbohydrates are energy powerhouses for fitness. Foods high in carbohydrates, like whole grains, cereals, fruits, and vegetables, supply energy to working muscles during exercise.
They also offer a variety of important nutrients like vitamins C and A and antioxidants, crucial for maintaining healthy cells in the body.
Protein is essential for building and maintaining enzymes, tissues, and muscles. Although most fitness enthusiasts don't need as much protein as carbohydrate, it's also important.
An easy way to eat for fitness is to divide a plate into three equal portions. Fill 1/3 with grains, preferably whole grains, 1/3 with fruits and vegetables, and 1/3 with lean protein sources, like chicken or turkey breast, eggs, or nonfat/lowfat yogurt. Then, choose a high-nutrient drink like skim milk or 100 percent juice.
Quick snack ideas
Try these quick snack combinations to fuel the fit system before or after workouts, or provide energy throughout the day: Whole grain crackers with peanut butter and raisins
Oatmeal topped with fresh strawberries
Lowfat yogurt with walnuts and dried apricots
Whole grain pita with hummus and fresh spinach
Cottage cheese with fresh peaches and almonds
Pasta salad with fresh tomatoes, carrots, and green peppers
1/2 of a turkey and mozzarella sandwich on rye bread
Broccoli and cauliflower with nonfat yogurt dip
Scrambled eggs and whole grain toast
Watermelon, raspberry, and blueberry fruit salad
Keep healthy foods at your fingertips
When fueling for fitness, take a little extra time to have healthy food options available. Exercisers should stock up on these foods regularly:
Grains Whole grain breads
Whole grain cereals like oatmeal or whole wheat flakes
Whole grain pastas
Whole grain crackers like stone-ground wheat crackers
Barley or bulgur
Fruits Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines
Bananas, kiwi, and pineapple
Apples, pears, nectarines, papaya, and peaches
Plums, prunes, and apricots
Grapes and raisins
Watermelon, honeydew, and cantaloupe
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and cherries
100% fruit juices
100% fruit leather
Frozen 100% fruit bars
Vegetables Broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams
Green beans, snap peas, corn, and asparagus
Tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato juice
Spinach, cabbage, kale, collards, and greens
Green, red, and yellow peppers
Onions and leeks
Milk/dairy products Lowfat/nonfat milk or soymilk
Lowfat/nonfat cheese or cottage cheese
Lowfat/nonfat yogurt and kefir
Lowfat/nonfat frozen yogurt or
Protein sources Skinless chicken or turkey breast
Lean roast beef
Salmon, tuna, whitefish, and shrimp
Soy-based vegetarian burgers and meat alternatives
Tofu and tempeh
Nuts, seeds, and nut butters
Dried beans and peas
Susan Kundrat is the sports nutritionist for Northwestern University Athletics and owner of Nutrition on the Move (www.eatnmove.com) in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. She specializes in providing sports and wellness personalized nutrition programs, personal consultations and workshops for athletes, coaches, health professionals, and the public.