Feeding an Active Body

By Mary Schreiner, MPH and Nutritional Chats facilitator, South Suburban Parks and Recreation- Centennial
Posted

I am often asked how a diet for an athlete or a very physically active adult differs from one for a more sedentary person or couch-potato.

Actually, the main difference is in the number of calories. The structure of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats will be similar but the amounts will be different.

Here are some tips for those burning more calories through strenuous activity. Since exercise stresses the body, one wants to make sure that they are fueling the body and brain for maximum efficiency and good health.

* CARBOHYDRATES provide fuel for the brain; the brain does not use protein or fats as the rest of the body does.

Muscles need carbohydrates to supply glycogen for the muscles. When exercising intensely, this supply of glycogen can be diminished within half-an-hour.  That is why during a bout of exercise lasting 90 minutes or longer, one needs to replace carbs and water along the way. And, just as importantly, ideally replace them within 30 minutes of completion of the activity.

* PROTEIN is needed by the body to repair muscle that has been stressed during exercise.

However, protein is more than meat. Having a small serving of meat (3oz-6oz) several times a week is fine, but you should try to increase intake of other, leaner proteins such as beans (kidney, pinto, black, lima, edamame, great northern, etc), legumes (pea, peanuts, etc), tofu items (Boca Burgers, veggie burgers, Amy’s products, tofu offerings especially at Asian restaurants), eggs, and low fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and a moderate amount of cheese, especially mozzarella.

These proteins are valuable to your body while being lower in saturated fats, and cholesterol. They are also often lower in calories than a meat alternative.

*FATS have been a forbidden food for years, but now we realize that people have been cutting out the good fats along with the ones that cause damage to your body, leading people to start having health concerns due to the lack of the good fats. 

Good fats usually come from a plant source and generally have no cholesterol and often contain the highly recommended good fats, like Omega 3 Fatty Acids.  These can be found in nuts, seeds, olives and olive oil, avocados, fish, and supplements like fish oils or flax seed oil and chia seeds.

For most people, getting about 50 percent of their calories from carbohydrates is a good idea. Although most people think of bread, pasta, and cereals when hearing carbs, what you should really be consuming are more fruits and vegetables. 

Fruits and vegetables provide nature’s form of sugar, along with a lot of vitamins and minerals, fiber, and water.  Think of fruits and vegetables as nature’s vitamin pills, but the body utilizes the nutrition from them much better than from a pill.

Keep in mind that you should try to avoid, or limit, fruit juices and sugary drinks. The body does not need this amount of sugar. It is much better to eat the fruit or vegetable than drink the juice from it. 

Vegetable juice (V8, tomato juice, carrot, etc) is better since it is most often lower in sugar and calories, and may even provide some fiber.

*ENERGY DRINKS have become quite popular, especially with kids and teenagers, however, they really are not a good choice because they contain a large amount of caffeine and sugar. 

In a growing body that is still maturing with hormones in flux, this amount of caffeine and sugar can have a negative effect on growth and development. It can also interfere with medication the child is taking, and cause an increase in blood pressure, pulse rate, upset stomach, and anxiety. Having one a day may be okay for a healthy individual, but there have been recorded deaths of teens who drink two or more on a regular basis.

Before a game or endurance exercise it is important to fuel the body, but not overwhelm it with too many calories, fats, or fiber.  It is best to eat about one to one-and-a-half hours before the event; this allows your body a chance to digest the food.

A lighter meal of fruit and yogurt, string cheese and an apple or pear,  an orange and a handful of nuts, even whole wheat bread with a small amount of peanut butter and jelly are good choices. 

Eat things that are easy to digest. High-fat foods take a long time to digest, and high-fiber foods can cause intestinal problems during your activity. Never try a new food before an event; go with a tried and true choice of foods and you will not have any surprises.

Water is also essential for your body to function, especially during physical activity. Unless you are going to be strenuously active for at least 90 minutes, you do not need Gatorade or other replacement drinks. Water is your go-to drink. Add a half cup of fruit juice if you wish, and unsweetened ice tea would work too. 

* ENERGY BARS have improved in taste and texture. Many now are higher in protein, lower in sugar, and are a good source of fiber.

I encourage you to read the label and find ones that taste good to you and that are higher in fiber, and have an appropriate number of calories. Some of them have as many as 350-450 calories, which is considered a meal.  Others hover around 90–200 calories, which is considered a snack.

Be sure to drink a lot of fluid when eating energy bars, otherwise the fiber might not work its way through your system and may leave you feeling bloated and uncomfortable.

Above all, treat your body and mind well.  You’ll feel better physically and mentally, have more energy, and probably enjoy a better outlook on life! 

A good website for more information on calories burned, amount of food to be eaten, keeping track of your foods, and general diet tips is www.caloriesperhour.com.

Go to the calculator offered at this site and find your Resting Metabolic Rate. Then you can find how many calories you are burning doing different activities. This will help you in deciding how many calories you can eat without gaining or losing weight. Summer is here so get outside and play! 

For more ideas about how to incorporate sound nutrition that actually tastes good into your diet, email Mary at mary_schreiner@hotmail.com .

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