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Nutrition For Exercise: Food That Keeps You Going Strong

by Sarah on October 16, 2010

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Good nutrition is essential for fun family exercising.  To move you need fuel.  And just like you wouldn’t put crude oil in your car’s gas tank, you don’t want to use junky food to fuel your body.


Eating right before and after your workouts can make a world of difference in how enjoyable exercising becomes.  When you exercise, food and hydration can make the difference between working out feeling like a chore or a delight.


The other day, for example, we grabbed some Burger King burgers on the run.  Boy did we feel knocked out.  It was like zombies had taken over my household.  The lifeless bodies of my children and husband sprawled across the couches, occasionally emitting a moan that sounded like, "Uhhh, I feel terrible.  I can’t move!"


In contrast, I recently discovered the delight of early morning smoothies.  I usually make one for my husband first thing to take to work.  It’s packed with berries we grow, whey protein powder, a few kale leaves and yogurt.  Before I go do my rounds of farm chores, I’ll take a few swigs myself. 


Wow, did I feel light on my feet moving goats, picking up, and chasing chickens!  Packed with nutrients and good stuff, my body took this in easily and used it well.  And it kept me going – alert and focused – into my writing tasks as well. 


Good nutrition throughout your day will affect your energy levels overall.  And when it comes to exercise, what you eat will determine how your body feels afterwards and what it’s ready to take on tomorrow and the next day. 


Finally, like most things, adjusting your diet can take some getting used to.  Especially with kids.  If you’ve been loading up on empty calories – foods that have no nutritional value even though they fill you up (junk food), the transition may take some forethought and determination.


Your body’s used to one thing and now you’ll have to teach it to get used to something else. But don’t worry. Your body is a quick learner.  And it knows what it really likes to have for a meal.  Eventually you can turn your cravings around so you and your family hanker for carrots and whole grains instead of ice cream.


Read my article "Family Fitness How To:  Healthy Eating As A Way Of Life" to get some more understanding of how to do this.




Food Before Exercising: 


Forget those early morning jogs with nothing in your stomach.  When you exercise like this, it’s like telling your body that food is scarce while demand on the body is high.  Your body reacts by going into supersaver mode.  It holds calories tightly, slowing your metabolism and trying to store as much as fat as possible.


It’s the worse way to lose weight, not to mention the stress it can put on your body.  And mentally, it certainly ups the burden on your mind to push through when you don’t have calories to burn easily.


A light carb-rich snack before a workout tells your body, "Calories available.  Feel free to burn through them as need be."


And don’t worry about burning off the calories.  A moderate snack simply signals your body that it can kick into high metabolic gear.  It knows to take advantage of the snack and then move on to the stored calories as well, burning them at the same rate.


Pre-workout snacks should focus on complex carbohydrates (whole grains) with some protein and a touch of sugar for immediate energy.


Some of our favorite pre-workout snacks are whole grain bread with a little peanut butter and jelly.  Nuts and dried fruit.  A small bowl of whole-grain cereal.


And even with these easily digestible snacks, make sure you give yourself at least 30-40 minutes before any activity.


During Exercise:  Food To Keep You Going


Some family fitness ventures are all day-ers.  We’ve gone mountain-biking for five hours.  Or skiing for eight!  Okay, we do stop for lunch.  But in addition, we needed some extra fuel to keep us going.


Our favorite during workout snacks are mixes of complex carbs, a bit of natural sugars and protein.  There are plenty of good snack bars out there with minimal sugars, loaded with nutritious, natural ingredients.  Sometimes we just take along some lightly roasted almonds and raisins.


And hydration is also key during the workout.  See my article on hydration for more information. 


After Exercise:  Food And Recovery


After working out is one of the best times to get great nutrients into your body.  Your body just laps up the good stuff.  High protein foods with some restorative carbs and lots of good vitamins make an excellent choice.


We like a good smoothie with protein powder, humus and bread or a nice beefy stirfry for dinner with brown or black rice.  And often, if we’ve finished a nice workout but I still need to get dinner on the table, I’ll snack on a few almonds, a yogurt or a spoonful of natural peanut butter to keep me going while I cook up the main meal.


When you fuel your body right, you make it easier to get into the workout groove.  It’s hard enough to get motivated some days and get moving.  Don’t double the burden on yourself and your family to get active by depriving your body of the food that makes it easier.  When you exercise, food and drink can make all the difference in how much you look forward to tomorrow’s activities.  And mark the results when you look in the mirror.


Eat right.  And the beautiful thing is, the better you eat and pay attention to your body’s reaction, the more you’ll actually crave the good stuff.  And as for the junk food – you’ll start to replace those cravings with distaste as you note how yucky it makes your body feel.

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