Getting and staying healthy is a two-fold process: move more and eat better. While you can’t change things like your family health history, it is within your power to adopt healthy habits that will lower your risk of heart disease and other ailments. You can get off the couch; you can cut back on sugar.
As we celebrate Heart Month at Thistle, we’re posting about how to best love your body, your eating habits, and our precious planet. To better love your body, think of moving more and eating better as two parts of a whole. Why? When exercising, your body has different nutritional needs that you will need to take into account. Whether you regularly workout or are just beginning your fitness journey, these complementary diet hacks will do you good.
Make Smart Hydration Choices
Chances are you typically consume enough water and other fluids to stay properly hydrated. But do you need more when working out? Probably; especially in warmer weather, when you’ll sweat out a greater amount of fluid and minerals. Moral of the story: always have a water bottle handy when exercising.
What if you don’t like water? Instead of resorting to caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, all of which can cause dehydration, try adding a slice of lemon or lime. Also, consider investing in a quality water filter to get rid of the chlorine “flavor” some find off-putting.
And unless you are exercising for hours at a time, don’t consume sugary, artificially flavored and colored sports drinks. If you do require an electrolyte boost, or simply want to add variety to your fluid intake, try coconut water, an ingredient in hydrating Breeze, one of Thistle’s delicious cold-pressed juice offerings.
Double Check Your Math
We hate to break it to you, but most people (and devices) overestimate the number of calories burned by exercising. A workout—even a grueling one—followed by a cheeseburger and milkshake is like building a house only to immediately tear it down. Best to avoid the habit! Exercise has many benefits, but it is not the defining factor of weight loss, especially if you adopt a “first workout, then eat lots of junk food” approach.
If it’s weight loss you’re after, concentrate your efforts on holistic diet changes. Thistle’s blog has lots of posts about how to better love your body via healthier eating, including tips on improving your relationship with food, learning how to meal prep, and better grasping what constitutes a healthy meal.
Even though you should avoid making overeating a regular part of your fitness routine, if your workout falls far between meals, a snack about 60 minutes before or a meal within about two hours afterward will likely do you good. A pre-workout snack will give you just the right amount of energy to power through your routine, but won’t be so big that it leaves you feeling sluggish. Meanwhile, a post-workout meal helps replace glycogen stores—the body’s most readily-available form of energy. In either case, consider reaching for nutrient-dense, plant-based options: a handful of nuts and fruit, hummus and veggies, or apple slices with almond butter all make for great pre-workout snacks. In addition to our weekly lunch and dinner menus, Thistle’s smaller portion items—a selection of protein-rich, 100% plant based sides and snacks—are designed with exercising bodies in mind.
Get the Right Macros, at the Right Time
Healthy Carbohydrates for Cardio Workouts
Spend time with anyone training for a marathon and you’ll hear the phrase “carb-loading.” To get the energy required to run 26 miles, many endurance athletes consume lots and lots of carbs the day before a race.
But what role should carbs play when you’re running, say, three miles a few days per week? About 60-90 minutes before a heart-strengthening cardio workout, eat a healthy high-carb meal or snack. This gives your body time to digest the food and use it for fuel. To recharge after a cardio workout and replenish the above-mentioned glycogen stores, turn to complex carbohydrates like whole grains, with a side of protein.
Protein-rich Foods for Strength Training
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to resort to gallon-sized tubs of protein powder and slabs of red meat in order to get enough protein. While protein is important for maximizing the impact of strength training, different combinations of whole, plant based proteins can successfully do the job of strengthening and rebuilding muscles challenged by strenuous strength workouts.
As for when to consume all of that plant based protein, perhaps you’ve heard of the anabolic window: the first thirty minutes after exercising when tired muscles are supposedly best able to absorb protein’s benefits. However, recent research suggests this may not be the case. Consuming enough protein over a 24-hour period will do the same thing: it will mend and grow sore muscles that were pushed to their limit several hours or even a day prior. So, don’t stress over the timing of a protein-rich snack. Instead, focus on getting enough healthy proteins, carbs, and fats throughout the day and let your body do the rest of the work.
Be Wary of One-Food Solutions
Chocolate milk? Tart cherry juice? No post on the relationship between fitness and nutrition is complete without mention of these workout recovery darlings du jour. As we caution in this post, no single food will solve all your problems. However, research does indicate that some specific foods will do an exercising body good. Feel free to give some a try, but more importantly, keep your eye on the big picture of optimal health: move and challenge your body, and eat a wide variety of whole foods.
Fitness and nutrition ought to enjoy a symbiotic relationship, so do what you can to make it a loving and mutually beneficial one that improves your entire well-being!