Fueling for Summer Fun
We have officially passed the Summer Solstice’s halfway mark in the astronomical calendar, and the days are already getting shorter! No, I’m not a Debbie Downer, I just want to remind those of us who cycle through four seasons on the East coast to take advantage of the longer, summer days and more daylight and to engage in some form of exercise after work.
Yesterday, a 51-year-old patient of mine rode his bike in from Boston for a 7PM appointment. A mere 7 miles! When I asked him how he was getting home (another 9 miles), he wasn’t too sure yet but assured me his phone would get him there. Indeed, I texted him that night and he arrived home safely. Phew!
But while I was in awe of his biking aptitude and exercise motivation level, I was equally saddened by his dismay. He had been weighing himself at home and felt his weight was not budging for all of the effort he was putting into the process.
But when we delved further, he told me that, in fact, he felt toner, his clothes were looser and his energy level was higher. But, in further assessing his intake, he wasn’t eating hardly enough to support his physical activity, so his body was not efficiently letting go of its energy stores. To make it worse, a co-worker convinced him to skip breakfast and follow an intermittent fasting diet. EGADS!
There’s so much that’s wrong with treating your body this way. I’m really not sure when people will learn that the quick, fad diet approaches are not sustainable and than they can also be dangerous. In my patient’s case, his body needs sodium and potassium, vital nutrients that he is losing in his sweat. He figured water was enough. And it’s critical that his muscles replete their energy stores (glycogen) so he can continue to pedal the eighteen miles a day to and from work!
I’m going to borrow the following information from a previous post of mine to tie in the key elements of eating healthy (akin to an Olympian), but these suggestions also hold true for the recreational athlete!
Gold Medal: Carbohydrates are powerhouse nutrients that provide energy for all cells in the human body, especially the brain. Carbs provide the body with energy on a short-term basis, but once broken down into smaller units of sugar (glucose) can be stored as glycogen in the liver and skeletal muscles. Glycogen stores serve as energy reservoirs and become depleted based on the intensity and duration of exercise, so athletes practice “carbo-loading” to ensure an adequate supply of it.
Silver Medal: Proteins are made up of amino acids, and play a role in metabolism, hormone synthesis, immune systems, and in tissue repair and restoration. While it provides a small amount of fuel during exercise, it is vital in repairing damaged muscles in the recovery phase.
Bronze Medal: Fats are the most calorically dense, providing twice the amount of calories as the other macronutrients. They provide a source of stored energy and are also important for hormone and immune function. Furthermore, they act as an insulator to preserve body heat. Fats represent between 20-35% of an athlete’s total calories for the day and serve as the primary fuel source for low intensity and long endurance activities.
Staying well hydrated is critical for the athlete. When we exercise, our muscles generate heat. Sweating is the body’s response to avoid overheating, and water is a key element in regulating body temperature. For every one-pound lost with sweat, a person needs to drink 24 ounces of fluid to recover. Since all beverages hydrate (with the exception of alcohol), it’s a good idea to keep your favorite beverages on hand; sipping on fluids throughout the day helps to combat losses during workouts.
-Steel cut or rolled oats are packed with carbohydrates and fiber, which helps to stabilize blood sugars and keeps energy readily available. Mixing in ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, or nuts adds heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids. In a rush, try some overnight oats, which is also more cooling in the summer months.
-Eggs are an excellent source of protein and are great for muscle recovery. They can be prepared in a variety of ways that make them desirable for a wide range of taste preferences. Enjoy them scrambled, as omelets with added vegetables and/or cheese, hard-boiled, or stuffed in wraps for “on the go”.
-Bananas are packed with carbohydrates, Vitamin B-6, and potassium, which helps prevent muscle cramping and spasms. Toss them in a gym bag, and they are easy to eat before or after exercise.
-Greek yogurt is a powerhouse of nutrition. Full of protein, mix in complex carbohydrates such as berries, granola, or muesli, and you have a great pre- and post-recovery food choice.
-Berries are good sources of fiber and Vitamin C and are rich in anthocyanin, a potent antioxidant that may help play a role in defending against heart disease and cancer.
-Salmon and tuna fish are high in protein and the essential omega 3 fatty acids that help reduce inflammation and protect blood vessels.
-Quinoa is fast becoming a favorite for Olympians, even for breakfast. It’s a gluten free grain and is good source of protein, fiber, and magnesium.
-Pasta has always been a food favorite and a “menu-must” of athletes. Whole grain varieties are higher in fiber and help regulate blood sugars. I like a company called, Explore Cuisine. They are legume pasta available at most grocery stores. They are packed with fiber and protein without all of the refined starches.
-Potatoes are a white vegetable packed with potassium and fiber. They contain a compound called allicin, which may help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
-Chocolate Milk: Providing both carbohydrates and protein, this is an athlete’s “go-to” post-exercise beverage to help promote muscle recovery.
-Kale: Whether steamed, or baked as a crispy snack, these cruciferous vegetables are rich in Vitamin K, C, and beta-carotene and contain compounds called indoles, which may help to prevent some cancers.
-Nut butters (almond and peanut) are nutrition powerhouses, full of protein and healthy fats that provide long acting energy and helps to better sustain blood sugars.
-Orange juice and coconut water are good potassium replacers, while sports drinks provide added carbohydrates and salts (sodium).
Enjoy the summer!