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You don't need to be in the midst of training for a marathon to use these guidelines; you can apply them to your everyday exercise routine.
Step 1: Aim for well-balanced, nutritious meals every day
Your body doesn't run well on an empty tank or cheap gas. Eat three meals and two snacks throughout the day to keep hunger at bay and energy levels steady. Fill your plate with a balance of fruits and veggies, lean protein and healthy carbohydrates, such as whole grains. It's also important to keep hydrated, so drink plenty of water. This combination of healthy eating and proper hydration can positively impact your performance during a workout.
Step 2: Nourish your body before exercise
A pre-exercise meal helps prevent low blood sugar levels and feelings of hunger during your workout, plus it provides energy to your muscles.
Three to four hours before hitting the gym, snack on complex carbohydrates, since they are easily digested and absorbed into the blood. Avoid high-fat and high-protein foods. You may also want to steer clear of high-fiber or gas-forming foods, as they may cause discomfort during exercise. Good examples of pre-exercise meals rich in complex carbohydrates are a bowl of Cheerios with non-fat or low-fat milk and a banana, and whole-wheat waffles topped with sliced strawberries and vanilla yogurt. Or try this engine-starting breakfast recipe:
Kiwi Orange Parfait*
1 kiwi, peeled and sliced
Directions: Place yogurt in a bowl and layer with fruit and granola.
Another way to get the energy you need is with a small snack one to two hours before you begin your workout. Try a granola bar and a piece of fruit, or blend a fruit-and-yogurt smoothie.
Step 3: Nourish your body after exercise
Generally, you should eat after a hard workout that lasts longer than an hour. This will help replenish those stored carbohydrates and fluids your body just worked off and aid muscle repair and recovery. It can take 24 to 48 hours for full muscle recovery after carbohydrate stores have been depleted. Your muscles are most receptive to replacing glycogen within the first two hours after a hard workout, but the sooner, the better. Try a protein drink or smoothie immediately after an endurance activity and then follow with a balanced meal two hours later.
Examples of great post-exercise meals include a sweet potato with chili and mozzarella, a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, or pasta tossed with chicken and vegetables.
*Nutrition Information: 286 calories, 7g protein, 62g carbohydrates, 3g fat, 1g saturated fat, 66mg sodium, 9g fiber.