Food and Working Out

— Written By and last updated by Meghan Lassiter
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If your New Year’s resolution is to add some (or more) fitness to your life,
it’s important to keep in mind that you can start slow and build.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (PAG) developed by the US Department of Health and Human Services start off by simply saying that adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none.

The PAG recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week. You can knock that out in just 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Additional health benefits are gained when you do more, but you don’t have to make big lifestyle changes to see benefits. The PAG offers specific recommendations for every age group. The Executive Summary provides brief information for adults of all ages and all health conditions.

If it’s hard for you to schedule regular exercise, look for ways to build short bursts of activity into your daily routine, such as parking farther away and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Every minute of moderate to vigorous activity counts toward your goal. Just start building more activity into your day, one step at a time.

But don’t forget to fuel your body for this added fitness. This doesn’t mean that just because you’ve started exercising, you can eat anything (or everything) in sight. You need to eat the right foods and drinks in the right amounts at the right times.

Riska Platt, MS RD, a nutrition consultant for the Cardiac Rehabilitation
Center at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, advises that there aren’t any hard and fast rules to working out and eating. She offers some simple ideas to keep in mind before, during, and after a workout.

Before: If at all possible, eat before you work out. If you don’t, you won’t have enough energy to maximize your workout and you also limit your ability to burn calories. Platt recommends hydrating about two hours before exercising by drinking water. She also recommends eating some healthy carbohydrates such as whole-grain cereals (with low-fat or skim milk), whole-wheat toast, low-fat or fat-free yogurt, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, fruits, and vegetables. She says to avoid saturated fats and a lot of protein (even healthy proteins) because these types of fuels digest slower in your stomach and take away oxygen and energy-delivering blood from your muscles.

If you don’t have two hours, at least eat something. She suggests an easy digested carbohydrate such as an apple or a banana.

During: Whether you’re a professional athlete who trains for several hours or you have a low to moderate routine, keep your body hydrated with small, frequent sips of water. Platt notes that you don’t need to eat during a workout that’s an hour or less. But, if you’re doing longer, high-intensity vigorous workouts, she recommends eating 50-100 calories of carbohydrates such as low-fat yogurt, raisins, or a banana every half hour.

After: Again, her recommendation is to continue to hydrate by drinking
more water. You could blend this with juice such as 100% OJ to provide a few more carbohydrates. When you work out, you burn a lot of carbs — the main fuel for your muscles. In the 20-60 minutes after your workout, your muscles can store carbohydrates and protein as energy and help in recovery. Also, add some healthy protein to help repair and grow your muscles.

She concludes that these are just general guidelines and we all need to do what works best for each of us. But, do remember that what you put into your body is just as important as what exercise you do. And both are critical to keeping you at your best.

Platt’s complete article on “Food as Fuel” can be found at the American
Heart Association’s Website. This is also a great place to find additional information on starting and maintaining a healthy fitness program.

Cheryle Syracuse wrote this article and more similar ones for the Family and Consumer Sciences Column in the Brunswick Beacon. Syracuse is an FCS team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, 910.253.2610 or by email at