Working out is only half the battle. If you want to supercharge your fitness and all-around health, you need to pay attention to what you put in your body.
In other words, you need to feed the machine, but supplying sufficient calorie intake isn’t enough. The right balance of nutrients fuels muscle growth and prevents certain conditions.
With that in mind, here’s how to optimize your diet while working out.
1. Incorporate Lots of Lean Protein
Protein restores and builds muscle fiber, and the building blocks of this macronutrient are amino acids. All 20 are vital for health, although nutritionists label only nine as essential. You can get enough of the stuff entirely from plant-based sources, although you’ll need to monitor your intake to ensure you get enough of each.
However, animal sources provide a balance of all the amino acids you need. If you are a vegetarian or pescatarian, it’s a snap to find low-calorie choices like eggs and seafood. Fish is particularly healthy because it delivers a dose of immune-boosting nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12.
If you eat meat, try to get most of your protein intake from lean sources such as those above and poultry. Reserve red meat, like beef and pork, for rare treats. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), processed and red meats qualify as carcinogenic or probably so, as their consumption increases colorectal cancer risks.
The bottom line: It’s okay to have the occasional burger, but don’t trick yourself into thinking you need one after every weight-room session. A salad with lentils, chickpeas, nuts and seeds or a salmon steak is a better choice.
2. Go as Plant-Based as Possible
Even though protein is essential, the majority of your intake should stem from plant-based sources. These foods are rich in vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients that are essential to positive health. Additionally, they are lower in calories and saturated fats than animal-based foods and can help you keep your weight manageable without feeling deprived.
Another reason to increase your fruit and vegetable intake revolves around preventing cellular damage from free radicals. These damaging substances arise from oxidative stress when you encounter psychological or physical stressors, pollution or environmental toxins.
Free radicals cause damage by stealing electrons from atoms within your body’s cells, causing them to mutate or die. Plant-based foods provide missing electrons, each type pairing with different molecules — the greater the variety you consume, the better your chances of providing your body with what it needs. Try looking at your plate as a clock and filling it halfway with salad greens or other veggies and fruits at each meal.
3. Reduce White Flour Intake
Some nutritionists refer to white flour as the “glue of the gut,” but please don’t let this phrase panic you if you had a sandwich for lunch. The stuff doesn’t actually turn into paper maché paste in your intestines, although it can make your digestive system feel sluggish.
The problem arises because manufacturers remove the endosperm when processing grain, removing most of the beneficial nutrients. Even if they later enrich the resulting flour, your body doesn’t absorb those vitamins and minerals as readily as they do those from nature. The result is a substance that provides rapidly absorbing calories but little else.
White flour causes your blood sugar to spike as it quickly converts to glucose in your body. As soon as the initial rush wears off, you feel hungry again, prompting you to snack — and add excess pounds.
4. Watch Out for Added Sugars
Added sugar increases your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Fully 88 million Americans already live with prediabetes, a precursor to this condition that can increase your cardiovascular and kidney disease risk.
Added sugars can show up in sneaky places. You probably know they lurk in many baked goods, but shelf favorites such as canned tomato sauce can also contain high amounts. Learn how to identify the many names for added sugars on food labels and pay attention to the amount listed under the carbohydrate section.
5. What You Drink Matters, Too
Please don’t neglect your beverage choices when cleaning up your diet. What you drink matters as much as the solid foods you choose.
Try to avoid alcohol. It’s high in calories, but weight gain is not the only damage it can do to your overall health. Prolonged excessive consumption can elevate your blood pressure and leave you at risk of heart disease. Stick to no more than two alcoholic beverages per day for men and one for women.
In moderate amounts, caffeine improves athletic performance, but don’t overdo it to the point where you become jittery. If you are a coffee fiend, try alternating with herbal tea. Studies show that regular tea drinkers tend to live longer, perhaps because of the valuable antioxidants.
Optimize Your Diet While Working Out With These Tips
Exercise is only half the battle when it comes to your complete health. Optimize your diet while working out with these five tips.