By Avance Care Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist: Erin Burke, MS, RDN, LDN
Did you know that May is National Physical Fitness and Sports month? Physical activity has many benefits for people of all ages! The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, and 2 days of strengthening activities. Exercise can reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer; improve cognitive and physical functioning; and reduce stress and boost mood. Whether you are just starting to exercise or you have a well-established routine, your food choices can either make or break your progress. Well-planned nutrition strategies may be the missing links that bring you closer to your goals. See below for 5 nutrition mistakes made at the gym!
Mistake 1: Starting your workout dehydrated.
Being dehydrated makes your heart work harder and increases your perceived exertion. Who wants to feel like they are working harder than they are? If you enjoy a heart-pumping activity, then being hydrated will allow you to work at a higher intensity. As little as a 2% weight loss from dehydration is enough to increase heart rate, or work load. For a 150-pound person, this is only 3 pounds! Drink a large glass of water before your workout (16 ounces), especially if you exercise first-thing in the morning, and then more water during and after. The current recommendation is to “drink when thirsty”. Alternatively you can weight yourself before and after exercise and replace each pound lost with 16 ounces of water. If you are exercising outdoors on a hot day, eat something salty before your workout to help retain water, such as pretzels, salted foods, or soup.
Mistake 2: Placing protein on a pedestal.
Atkins, South Beach, Keto, Paleo… No matter what you call it, high(er) protein diets are all the rage. While protein is critical for muscle growth and recovery, excessive protein at the expense of other nutrients may result in low-energy workouts, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, dehydration, and gastrointestinal disruption (lack of fiber, anyone?). 3-4 ounce-equivalents of protein, 4-5 times per day is more than adequate for muscle growth. 3-4 ounces of chicken or beef is about the size of a deck of cards. Prefer plant sources? This is about 1 cup of cooked beans or lentils per meal. Be sure to balance your plate with some whole-grains and a fruit or vegetable. These foods will promote optimal glycogen stores to fuel future workouts, as well as vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients that decrease inflammation and support recovery.
Mistake 3: Skipping recovery nutrition.
You just burned 400 calories on a training run and followed that up with some muscle-building squats and lunges. You are in such a hurry to shower and get to work on time that breakfast gets lost in the shuffle. “No biggie”, you think, since a calorie deficit is what you want, right? Wrong! Eating after exercise is the first step toward recovery. It triggers the release of hormones that reverse muscle breakdown and promote muscle growth. That doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all, however. Aim to include a combination of carbohydrate and protein from nutrient-dense sources in your meal or snack. Some ideas include a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; yogurt, fruit, and granola parfait; eggs on a whole-grain English muffin; or a turkey and avocado wrap. Can’t find 60 seconds to make a PB&J? Try 16 ounces of low-fat chocolate milk. It replaces fluid, electrolytes, carbohydrate, and protein, tastes good, can be taken to-go, and even has research backing it.
Mistake 4: Avoiding fruit (because, sugar).
Fruit contains a natural sugar called fructose. High consumption of fructose has been linked with obesity, insulin resistance, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, elevated triglycerides, and other chronic conditions. So you should swear off fruit for good? Not so fast. While high fructose consumption is not so good for our health, the major sources of fructose are not fruit. The biggest contributors are sugar-sweetened drinks like soda, sweet tea, lemonade, sports drinks, and even 100% fruit juice; sugary foods, sweets, and desserts; and sweeteners such as honey and regular table sugar. Hidden sources include foods such as salad dressings, sauces, and breakfast cereals/energy bars. The benefits of fruit outweigh the minimal fructose consumption. Whole fruit contains important vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. These nutrients are important for keeping our bodies in optimal health. They strengthen our immune system, fight inflammation, and provide nutrient-dense calories.
Mistake 5: Weighing yourself every day.
Research suggests that regular self-weighing may help with weight loss and accountability. However, daily weighing can play games with your head. Weight can fluctuate day-to-day, independent of diet and exercise. The type and amount of food we eat can influence our weight for the next hour to the next day. A particularly sweaty workout can leave our weight lower than expected (see above regarding hydration!) while a salty restaurant meal can show up as a few extra pounds the next morning. If you choose to weigh yourself at home, consider monitoring once per week. Pick a day you can track consistently. Weigh yourself on the same day of the week, the same time of day, wearing the same (or similar) clothing. In addition to weight, consider keeping track of waist and hip circumference. If you are challenging your muscles at the gym, you may be swapping fat mass for lean muscle mass. This will not necessarily show up as “weight loss” on the scale, but you may notice your clothes fitting more comfortably or becoming loose. This is actually more favorable than absolute weight loss!
If you are trying to lose weight or get fit, fast, and strong, schedule an appointment with an Avance Care registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN) today! An RDN can assess your diet and lifestyle and provide realistic advice to help you reach your goals.