Meet Mary Creel, one of our on-staff Registered Dietitians and the host of a series eMeals launched (click for part one & part two) about eating healthy and staying fit. An avid marathoner, Ironman triathlete, and all-around champ in the health world, Mary is the perfect expert to answer your fitness/nutrition questions. Feel free to leave your questions in the comments section for Mary to answer throughout the series.
Give yourself a high five if your goal in 2015 was to start or continue with your fitness routine—if you’ve kept it up for 21 days, there’s a better success that it will be a habit!
You’ve probably discovered that keeping your energy up throughout the day is key to sticking to a fitness program. If you’re exhausted at 4 pm, chances of making the 5 pm spin class or meeting a friend to run are slim. Prevent your low-fuel light from turning on with revitalizing foods that contain nutrients and compounds to help your energy level soar. A few small changes in what you choose for snacks and some new recipes could make big changes the quality of your workouts.
Here are 10 tips and suggestions of foods to add to meals and snacks to tune up your diet between workouts.
Nuts like walnuts, cashews, almonds and hazelnuts are rich in protein and magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral that plays a key role in converting sugar into energy. Being low on magnesium can zap the quality of your workout. Nuts have a strong satiety value. They have fat, fiber and protein. Walnuts are also a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your body clock and helps you sleep, making it a good nighttime snack. Sleep better, and you’ll have more get-up-and-go for that morning workout.
Tip: Closing down the kitchen after dinner is common diet advice, but if you want to build and repair lean muscle (which may lower your risk of injury), consider a high-protein bedtime snack.
Many fruits and vegetables are naturally full of water, but they also have vital nutrients and compounds. Some studies suggest even mild dehydration can slow your metabolism and sap your energy and mood. Twenty percent of your water intake comes from food—especially fruits and vegetables. Melons, peaches, strawberries are mostly water and rich in potassium, an electrolyte lost through sweat.
Tip: Eat red, yellow, orange, green and purple fruits and vegetables. They’re not only loaded with vitamins and minerals but they’re rich in fiber. Beets and spinach contain nitrates that boost oxygen delivery and improve muscle functioning.
Pears and bananas supply carbs that replace spent energy stores after your workout.
Almonds, kale, salmon and whole eggs (it’s the yolk) have key nutrients that nourish the brain and boost its function to help you make simple decisions about fatigue level that can effect the quality and duration of your workout.
Coffee is one of the world’s most popular pick-me-ups, at least in the short-term. Caffeine steps up the body’s metabolism, temporarily improving mental focus and energy. Frequent mini-servings will keep you alert and focused longer than one large dose (and drinking so much coffee can interrupt your sleep. That certainly won’t help your energy!).
Tip: If you’re not a coffee drinker, try green tea. Green tea in particular has amino acid, which improves alertness, reaction time, and memory without the jitters from coffee. A little bit of dark chocolate can boost your energy and mood, because of the caffeine in chocolate, along with another stimulant called theobromine.
Another way to keep your energy, mood, and blood sugar steady: Eat small meals and snacks every three to four hours prevent dips in blood sugar that leave you lethargic. Fiber- and protein-rich foods keep your appetite in check. Edamame is high in protein, complex carbs, and slowly digested fiber. It’s also high in magnesium and B vitamins that convert carbs into energy.
Related Recipe: Clean Eating Wild & Brown Rice Salad with Edamame
Opt for solids versus liquids (they’re more satisfying). It’s as simple as choosing an apple over apple juice. The real deal also has 5 more grams of fiber and takes longer to finish than guzzling a glass of juice.
Oats provide beta-glucan, a fiber that may improve running performance.
Greek yogurt is high in protein that tames your appetite.
The polyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish like salmon and sardines are high on every cardiologist’s list of healthy foods. And research links speculates that omega 3’s are agents that help reduce age-related muscle loss. It’s not just the oils in fish that are healthy, the proteins enhance fat-burning—good news if your goal is to lose or maintain a healthy weight. Aim for at least two (3.5-oz) servings a week. You can also supplement with walnuts, ground flaxseed, and omega-3-enriched eggs. The body needs some fat to regulate hunger and absorb vitamins A, D, E and K.
Feel free to leave your questions in the comments! And click here to check out our eMeals Healthy Lunch and Low-Calorie plans, which can help you eat healthy lunches and dinners to support your weight-loss or health-related goals.
– Text by Mary Creel, MS, RD