You know exercise is key if you want to stay fit. But did you know that what you eat and drink can help you reach your fitness goals faster? By feeding your body the right nutrients, you can ensure it’s getting the raw materials it needs to help you power through your workout and build and repair muscle afterward. Jump start your exercise program with these 10 essential food and drinks.
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When it comes to priming your muscles for a workout, carbs are your best friend. They provide glucose, the fuel your muscles run on. But, like different grades of gasoline, not all carbohydrates are created equally. Slowly-digested, complex carbs from whole grains deliver a sustained blood sugar release that energizes you throughout your workout. And oatmeal is a winning choice. It’s rich in beta-glucan, a fiber that slows digestion and keeps blood sugar on an even keel. For maximum results, choose whole oats. They’re digested more slowly than quick cooking or instant oatmeal.
If you’re a java junkie we have happy news for you. Downing 12 ounces of coffee an hour before you hit the gym or track can help you workout longer and boost your endurance. It can also ease exercise-related aches and pains. A 2009 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign study found that men who received a jolt of caffeine an hour before bicycling intensely reported less muscle pain during their workout than a similar group of cyclists who went caffeine free. Worried that cup of Joe will dehydrate you? Don’t be. The American College of Sports Medicine states that caffeine isn’t an issue when it comes to hydration.
These mollusks are loaded with iron, needed to build hemoglobin, which delivers oxygen throughout your body. Skimp on this crucial mineral and you might not have the energy to drag yourself to the gym. Or, when you do, you’ll feel it. When working muscles don’t get the oxygen they need, they pump out lactic acid causing you to tire quickly. Just six medium oysters supply 20 percent of the iron a woman needs and half the iron a man requires in a day.
It may sound counterintuitive, but the more intensely you exercise the more damaging free radicals your body produces. Enter almonds. They’re a top source of antioxidants like flavonoids, phenolic acids, and vitamin E—all of which protect against harmful free radicals. In fact, cyclists who ate 60 almonds a day before meals for four weeks boosted their antioxidant capacity by 43 percent according to a study presented at the 2009 annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine. They also increased their trial time distance by 5 percent too.
Skip the energy bar and fuel up with a small box of raisins instead. They’re just as portable as an energy bar, yet deliver so much more, like energy-boosting carbs and potassium, one of the most underrated sports nutrients around. Potassium naturally maintains fluid balance, helping to prevent dehydration as well as muscle cramps. But when you work up a sweat, you loose it. Conveniently, a small box of raisins provides more than 300 milligrams of this mighty mineral, nearly as much as you’d get from a small banana.
Think you need a sports drink during or after exercise? Not if you’re hoofing it for less than 60 minutes according to the American Dietetic Association’s Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Dietetic Practice Group. Unless you work out an hour or more—or are an extremely heavy sweater—good old H2O is the perfect hydration drink. The best way to make sure you’re getting enough fluids: weigh yourself before and after exercise. Then drink two and a half cups of fluid for every pound you’ve lost.
Low Fat Ricotta with Honey
After hitting the weight room, your muscles are hungry for protein to help them repair and rebuild. Whey protein, used to make ricotta cheese, is a top pick. Whey is rich in B-lactoglobulin, a protein that’s especially effective in stimulating muscle resynthesis according to a 2010 Nutrition & Metabolism study. Adding some quickly digested carbs—like a drizzle of honey—to this post-exercise snack encourages your muscles soak up that protein even faster.
If you’re pumping iron salmon could make you stronger. With 22 grams of high quality protein per three ounces, this smart catch provides the building blocks your body needs to re- synthesize muscle tissue after a tough workout. And that’s not all. Salmon is also nature’s number one source of vitamin D, a nutrient that many of us don’t get enough of. That can make it harder to build muscle according to a 2010 Osteoporosis International study which links low vitamin D levels to decreased muscle strength.
If you bike or run an hour or more, you’re not just losing fluids. You’re also sweating out electrolytes like sodium and potassium. You could replace them with a sports drink or you could chase down some water with a glass of tomato juice. It’s filled with potassium and sodium. One eight-ounce glass delivers six-and-a-half times the sodium and 15 times the potassium you’d get from your standard sports drink.
Does your workout leave you aching? Instead heading to the medicine cabinet for a couple of aspirin, make a b-line to the kitchen for some ginger. According to a 2010 Journal of Pain study this potent anti-inflammatory root eases post exercise muscle pain. It’s also been shown to reduce joint stiffness and swelling too. Try fresh ginger in Carrot, Apple, and Ginger Refresher (pictured) as an after-workout snack or Curry Ginger Butternut Squash Soup for a soothing supper.