Your body is like a machine. And like all machines, it needs the right fuel in order to function at its best. Proper nutrition before and after your workout helps your body maintain its blood glucose concentration during exercise, maximize your exercise performance, and improve your recovery time. That being said, you don’t need to be a dietician or go on a specialized diet plan to get the nutrients you need for a good workout. With the right balance of fruits, vegetables, carbs, and proteins you’ll be on your way to your fitness goals. Here are our healthy diet tips to help you have a great workout.
Don’t Shy Away from Carbs Before Your Workout
If your fitness goal involves losing weight, eating carbs might seem a bit counter-productive to you. After all, carbs tend to get a pretty bad rap. But when you’re working out, carbs are one of the main sources of energy your body taps into to fuel your body and brain.
Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches, and fibers that you find in fruits, grains, vegetables, and milk products. They’re the macronutrients that kick-start your central nervous system, muscles, and brain function. Carbs play such an important part in keeping your body running that scientists have even found that they play a key role in your brain’s ability to make decisions!
When it comes to working out and having a healthy diet, it’s important that you make the distinction between simple carbs and complex carbs. Simple carbs are the processed sugars you find in candy, cookies, soda, and syrups. They hold no nutritional value, lacking vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Simple carbs are often referred to as “empty calories” and can lead to unwanted weight gain. They’re not going to give you the energy you need for a good workout.
Instead, you want to focus on eating complex carbs (also known as polysaccharides) before your workout. They can be found in:
- Whole-grain bread
- Nuts and seeds
- Fruits such as apples, berries, and bananas
- Vegetables such as broccoli, leafy greens, and carrots
Good Fats Help You Lose Weight
Yes, you read that correctly. The right fats can help you lose weight! In fact, about 20-35% of your daily calorie intake (around 45-75 grams) should come from healthy fats. When it comes to working out and having a healthy diet, eating healthy fats a few hours before you exercise can help to curb your hunger after a workout so that you stay away from unnecessary junk food.
Healthy fats help to boost your metabolism, cut inches off your waist, repair body tissues, regulate your hormones, absorb nutrients, and reduce inflammation. Fats also provide energy and helps your body absorb vitamins. Some vitamins (like A, D, E, and K) actually need fat to properly benefit your body. The best foods to get healthy fats from are:
- Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, or trout
- Olive oil and coconut oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Organic eggs
Fruits and Veggies Are a Necessity
For some people, including fruits and vegetables in their meals can feel like a chore. In fact, according to the CDC, only 1 in 10 adults eats the recommended portion of fruits and vegetables per day. But we can’t overstate how important adding them to your diet is — both for great health and a great workout.
Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of natural fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other compounds your body needs in order to work at its best. The average adult should eat between 1½ to 2 cups of fruit and between 2 and 3 cups of vegetables a day to maintain a healthy diet.
For a great workout, you should look for:
- Antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies. Foods that are rich in antioxidants are great for reducing muscle soreness and inflammation. These include food like cherries, blueberries, plums, dark leafy greens, raspberries, artichokes, broccoli, and tomatoes.
- Foods that are packed with Vitamin C. Not only does Vitamin C boost your immune system, but it also reduces exercise-induced oxidative stress. These foods include oranges, peppers, strawberries, brussels sprouts, and potatoes.
- Foods that are iron-rich. Iron plays a crucial role in the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to your tissues and boost your metabolism. Look for fruits and vegetables like beans, peas, raisins, apricots, and spinach for your iron-intake needs.
Protein is the Key to a Great Workout and a Healthy Diet
It’s impossible to talk about workout nutrition without mentioning protein. Because protein is a crucial source of amino acids, it is the most important nutrient needed to both build and repair muscles. Protein is also an excellent source of energy if your carbohydrate intake has been low throughout the day.
Research shows that those who are very active should consume between 1.2 and 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day for proper muscle-building. For example, a highly active person who weighs 150 lbs should eat between 82 to 136 grams each day. Eating protein is especially important after your workout if you’re looking for muscle growth.
Protein can be found in both animal and plant-based products. The healthiest proteins to include in your diet are low in both saturated and trans fats. Some of the best sources of protein include:
- Fish, such as salmon and tuna
- Dairy products like milk and Greek yogurt
The Bottom Line
It’s important to know that every person’s body is different, and your nutritional needs might differ from someone with another workout routine. These rules are general guidelines that should be tailored to your specific fitness goals, exercise routine, and health concerns. When in doubt, you should always consult your doctor, nutritionist, or coach for nutritional advice. However, no matter if you’re looking to lose weight, gain muscle, or simply maintain a healthy lifestyle, a balanced diet with good nutrition will give your body the fuel it needs to function at its best.