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Fuel Your Workouts: The role of proper nutrition in living an active lifestyle

Nutrition is a critical aspect of achieving your fitness goals. A balanced diet not only supports your body's basic needs but also fuels your workouts, aids in recovery, and enhances performance.


Smoothie bowl with berries and nuts
Photo by Taryn Elliott: https://www.pexels.com/photo/red-and-white-round-fruits-on-brown-wooden-bowl-4099237/

Three nutrients that make up the foundation of nutrition


Nutrition can be broken down into three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat.


According to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a balanced diet consisting of 45-65% carbohydrates, 10-35% protein, and 20-35% fat can provide the necessary energy and nutrients for physical activity (2).


Carbohydrates


The primary function of carbs is to provide fuel for the body, particularly the brain and muscles.


Carbohydrates also play a role in maintaining healthy digestion, as they are a source of dietary fiber, which helps to regulate bowel movements and prevent constipation.


Additionally, certain complex carbohydrates, such as those found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are important for overall health and disease prevention.


Protein


Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of the body's tissues, including muscles, bones, and organs.


Repairing and maintaining tissues, supporting the immune system, and aiding in the production of enzymes, hormones, and other molecules are just a few of the important roles proteins play in the body.


In addition, proteins can help with weight management, as they are satiating and can help to reduce hunger and cravings


A few food sources that contain healthy proteins are:

  • Lean meats

  • Fish

  • Eggs

  • Legumes

  • Nuts

  • Seeds


Fat


While fats are typically looked down upon, healthy fats are essential to good health.


Healthy fats are composed of fatty acids, which play an important part in the growth and development of the body's cells, as well as for the production of hormones and other molecules.


Healthy fats are also important for brain function, heart health, and reducing inflammation in the body


Healthy fats can be found in foods such as:


  • Avocados

  • Nuts

  • Seeds

  • Olive oil

  • Fatty fish

  • Flaxseeds



Pre-Workout Nutrition


Fueling your body with the right nutrients before exercise is essential for optimal performance, which is exactly what pre-workout is meant to do.


When you eat a pre-workout snack or meal that is high in carbohydrates and protein, you provide your body with the energy and nutrients it needs to perform at its best during your workout.


Because carbohydrates are the body's primary source of energy, consuming them before a workout can help to increase glycogen stores in the muscles, which can improve endurance and performance.


Protein is important for repairing and building muscle tissue, and consuming it before a workout can help to prevent muscle breakdown during exercise.


The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition conducted a study that suggests consuming a high-carbohydrate and moderate-protein meal before exercise can improve endurance and reduce fatigue during prolonged physical activity (3).


Good examples of pre-workout snacks include a banana with peanut butter or Greek yogurt with berries.



Post-Workout Nutrition


During exercise, the body’s muscles are broken down, which makes replenishing your body with healthy nutrients crucial for muscle recovery and growth.


The muscles need to be repaired and replenished in order to grow stronger from the exercise and adapt to the stress of physical activity.


Consuming a post-workout meal or snack that is high in protein and carbohydrates can help to speed up the recovery process and promote muscle repair and growth.


The importance of protein and carbohydrates during muscle repair


Protein provides the amino acids needed to repair muscle tissue and build new muscle.


Carbohydrates help to replenish glycogen stores in the muscles and provide energy for the body to use during the recovery process.


In addition, post-workout nutrition can also help to reduce muscle soreness and fatigue, improve immune function, and promote overall health and wellbeing.




3 Tips for Eating Nutritiously


Because nutritional eating is intertwined with fitness, it can be very beneficial to incorporate highly nutritious foods into your diet.


Here are some practical tips for incorporating healthy eating habits into your daily routine:


1 Plan Your Meals in Advance


One of the best ways to ensure that you're eating a nutritious diet is to plan your meals in advance.


This can help you avoid the temptation of unhealthy convenience foods and ensure that you're getting all of the nutrients your body needs.


Consider setting aside time each week to plan your meals and snacks, and make a grocery list to ensure that you have all of the ingredients you need on hand.


2 Choose Whole Foods


Another key aspect of eating nutritiously is choosing whole, minimally processed foods whenever possible.


Whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, provide the body with essential nutrients and fiber, while processed foods often contain added sugars, salt, and unhealthy fats.


Aim to make whole foods the foundation of your diet, and limit your consumption of processed and packaged foods.


3 Practice Mindful Eating


Mindful eating is the practice of paying attention to your food and eating habits.


This can help you tune into your body's hunger and fullness signals, prevent overeating, and promote a more positive relationship with food.


When practicing mindful eating, try to eat slowly, without distractions, and pay attention to the flavors, textures, and sensations of the food you're eating.


You can also try keeping a food journal to track your eating habits and identify areas where you can make healthier choices.




How to incorporate nutritious foods into your diet to increase fitness performance


There are a few key foods that you can incorporate into your diet to boost your overall nutrition:


Leafy Greens


Leafy greens like kale, spinach, and broccoli, are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, while also being low in calories.


They are particularly high in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as folate; all of which are important for maintaining good health.


Try adding a handful of leafy greens to your smoothies, salads, or stir-fries for a nutrient boost.


Berries


Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are all rich in antioxidants, which can help to reduce inflammation in the body and support overall health, including heart health.


Particularly rich in vitamin C and manganese, berries support the immune system and promote healthy skin.


Adding berries to your yogurt, oatmeal, or smoothies can make for a delicious, easy-to-prepare, and nutritious snack or meal.


Nuts and Seeds


Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds, are high in healthy fats, protein, and fiber, making them an easy snack or a delicious addition to meals.


Consuming nuts and / or seeds can help reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.


Additionally, the large amount of antioxidants found in nuts/seeds may also help protect against oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.


Spice up your oatmeal, yogurt, salad, or other meals with a handful of nuts.




Conclusion


While fitness and active living play a crucial role in maintaining and improving health, it becomes much more effective when paired with a highly nutritious diet.


By figuring out the correct nutrition plan for your body type and fitness regime can help you reach your health goals sooner.


On top of that, nutrient dense foods and ingredients can help to maintain fitness levels during periods of reduced exercise.


Combining regular exercise with a highly nutritious diet that meets your specific nutritional needs is a key factor to achieving optimal health and fitness.




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