You've heard it before: exercise can really help when it comes to healthy living. For those of us committed to getting the most out of our workouts, diet plays an important role. Maybe you're a serious runner training for your first (or fifth) marathon, or a former college athlete, or a Cross Fit participant, or a social tennis player, or just someone who enjoys a good gym session a few days a week. No matter what form it takes, if you are working on your physical fitness, there's a bit of an athlete in all of us. Here are my tips for upping your performance, from spin class to the soccer field, through nutrition.
The key to a successful workout is staying well hydrated before, during and after. Long workouts, excessive heat and humidity and fluid losses through sweat can significantly affect your ability to exercise and compete.
Q: Will Carbs Make Me Fat? Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients your body needs to survive, so the simple answer to this question, is no. But obviously it's more complicated. Any food eaten in the appropriate serving size will not make you gain weight, but calories in excess of your bodies metabolic needs will, whether they come from fat, carbohydrates or protein. Often it’s fat-laden goodies piled on top of carbs that are the weight culprit, such as sour cream on potatoes, butter on bread and cream sauces over pasta. Identifying realistic portion sizes for carbohydrates can be challenging. A single serving of pasta (2 oz. dry) is 220 calories. Most restaurants serve you two or three times that, plus all the bread you can consume. Learn what constitutes a serving and pay close attention to food labels.
Why high protein diets don’t work for athletes: High-protein diets like Atkins are also generally high in fat, inadequate in calories, and severely restrict the intake of carbohydrates. Dancers who consume too little protein are at greater risk for missing periods, suffering from stress fractures, lacking sufficient nutrients, and destroying lean muscle mass. When we consume too much protein, our body protects itself by converting toxic ammonia into urea, which is then excreted by the kidneys. People with inflamed kidneys can suffer from low back pain or even worse. If your leotard or sweatshirt smells like ammonia after a workout, it’s a pretty good indication that you need to reduce the amount of protein in your diet.
By consuming 300 calories of calcium-rich foods each day, such as yogurt, skim milk, broccoli or pudding, you supply your teeth and bones with the 1,200 mg of calcium needed to help prevent stress fractures today and osteoporosis in the future. Dairy products are the best sources of calcium and of the many other important vitamins and minerals crucial for bone health, such as phosphorous and vitamin D. If you are lactose intolerant or vegan, you may want to include lactose-reduced dairy products, nondairy foods such as calcium-rich tofu, calcium-fortified orange juice, broccoli and other leafy greens, or even a supplement containing calcium carbonate or calcium phosphate—two forms of calcium that are easily used by the body.
When the body’s red blood cells or hemoglobin (iron-carrying protein in the blood) dip too low, a condition called anemia sets in. Anemia has several underlying causes, but iron deficiency is the most common. Females are particularly susceptible because they lose blood each month during their periods and because their bodies are not as efficient in storing iron as men’s bodies are. The best sources of iron are meats, such as beef, pork and lamb, because the body absorbs and uses iron from meat more easily than it does the iron in other foods. Vitamin C is a key iron-helper, so eat citrus fruit or have a glass of orange juice along with your fortified grains. This is especially important if the iron source is cereal, because milk is one of the foods that blocks iron absorption. While the best source of iron is food, a daily multivitamin will help reinforce your iron stores. But be careful about popping iron pills. A healthy person’s iron requirements are relatively low; too much iron can trigger stomach upset and constipation.