Nutrition is all about the study of food and how our bodies use food as fuel for growth and daily activities. The macronutrients, or “big” nutrients include proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. The micronutrients, or “little” nutrients are the vitamins and minerals that we need to be healthy.
Remember, a good foundation for any diet consists of a mix of fresh, minimally processed foods from all food groups, including: lean proteins; fresh fruits and vegetables; whole grain-based breads, cereals, and pastas; and heart-healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, and avocado. A good diet contains delicious foods you enjoy and is one that you can maintain as an ongoing lifestyle choice.
General overall fitness is more than getting the proper amount of exercise each day; it also requires a healthy balanced diet. When starting a fitness program, examine your diet and make the necessary changes to ensure a successful goal.
Understanding Carbs and Proteins
We’ve all heard that carbs and protein are important for a runner’s performance and recovery. Carbohydrates (carbs) are our body’s favorite energy source; it’s stored in our muscles and used for fuel as we run. Protein can help slow down the release of the cabs into the system for a steady energy infusion, kind of like how the corrals at the beginning of a race pace the amount of people leaving the gate at one time.
After a long run your body needs more carbs, to replace the fuel you just used, and more protein, which will help repair your muscles that you just made work so hard. Here is some specific information about how many carbs and how much protein you need and some suggestions on what that can look like as a pre-run meal or post-workout snack.
Stay Hydrated for Peak Performance
Dehydration is one of the biggest reasons athletes’ performance suffers. Drinking the right amount of fluid before, during and after a run or workout will have a direct, positive impact on performance. Everyone is different so there is not one answer to “How much water should I drink?”
Check out these tips on how to stay well hydrated so you can perform at your best.
Understanding a Nutrition Label
Reading a nutrition label can sometimes seem more challenging than running or walking a mile, but with some basic tips you can make the right food choices.
First of all, the choices you make when selecting what you put into your body is very important to overall fitness success. No one wants to spend hours burning up calories exercising, only to make poor nutrition choices. (insert picture of nutrition label)
The first step is to check for the amount of calories in each serving. Don’t be fooled by a label that shows “250” calories under amount per serving. Check out the servings per container line at the top of the label for a better indication on just how many calories you will be consuming. If the label indicates the product has two servings, then that equates to 500 calories. Also keep in mind that an average, active person should consume 2,000 calories per day. Adjustments should be made if you are trying to shed a few pounds, such as lowering your caloric intake to 1,500 per day. Conversely, if you’re trying to build muscle, then you want to increase your calorie intake.
Another often overlooked fact is the amount of calories that come from fat. If more than one third of your calories come from fat, you might want to choose a healthier alternative.
Moving on to nutrients section of the label, you will find a variety of items listed here. Finding the right combination of good nutrients, with ones that should be consumed in moderation can be a balancing act. Most experts suggest limiting saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates and sugars. However, it is important to maintain good percentages of nutrients, such as, calcium, iron, vitamin C, vitamin A.
Kids Need a Healthy Start
You probably heard it from your own parents: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But now you’re the one saying it — to your sleepy, frazzled, grumpy kids, who insist “I’m not hungry” as you try to get everyone fed and moving in the morning.
Even if you eat a healthy morning meal every day, it can be tough to get kids fueled up in time for school, child care, or a day of play. But it’s important to try. Here’s how to make the morning meal more appealing for everyone.
Why Bother With Breakfast?
Breakfast is a great way to give the body the refueling it needs. Kids who eat breakfast tend to eat healthier overall and are more likely to participate in physical activities — two great ways to help maintain a healthy weight.
Skipping breakfast can make kids feel tired, restless, or irritable. In the morning, their bodies need to refuel for the day ahead after going without food for 8 to 12 hours during sleep. Their mood and energy can drop by midmorning if they don’t eat at least a small morning meal.
Breakfast also can help keep kids’ weight in check. Breakfast kick-starts the body’s metabolism, the process by which the body converts the fuel in food to energy. And when the metabolism gets moving, the body starts burning calories.
Also, people who don’t eat breakfast often consume more calories throughout the day and are more likely to be overweight than those who skip lunch. That’s because someone who skips breakfast is likely to get famished before lunchtime and snack on high-calorie foods or overeat at lunch.
Breakfast Brain Power
It’s important for kids to have breakfast every day, but what they eat in the morning is crucial too. Choosing breakfast foods that are rich in whole grains, fiber, and protein while low in added sugar may boost kids’ attention span, concentration, and memory — which they need to learn in school.
Research also has shown that kids who eat breakfast get fiber, calcium, and other important nutrients. They also tend to keep their weight under control, have lower blood cholesterol levels and fewer absences from school, and make fewer trips to the school nurse with stomach complaints related to hunger.
Making Breakfast Happen
It would be great to serve whole-grain waffles, fresh fruit, and low-fat milk each morning. But it can be difficult to make a healthy breakfast happen when you’re rushing to get yourself and the kids ready in the morning and juggling the general household chaos.
So try these practical suggestions to ensure that — even in a rush — your kids get a good breakfast before they’re out the door:
- Stock your kitchen with healthy breakfast options
- Prepare as much as you can the night before (gets dishes and utensils ready, cut up fruit, etc.)
- Get everyone up 10 minutes earlier
- Let kids help plan and prepare breakfast
- Have grab-and-go alternatives (fresh fruit, individual boxes of cereal, yogurt or smoothies, trail-mix) on days when there is little or no time to eat
If kids aren’t hungry first thing in the morning, be sure to pack a breakfast that they can eat a little later on the bus or between classes. Fresh fruit, cereal, nuts, or half a peanut butter and banana sandwich are nutritious, easy to make, and easy for kids to take along. You may also want to check out the breakfasts offered at school or daycare. Some offer breakfasts and provide them at free or reduced prices for families with limited incomes. If your child eats breakfast outside the home, talk with him or her about how to make healthy selections. What not to serve for breakfast is important too. Sure, toaster pastries and some breakfast bars are portable, easy, and appealing to kids. But many have no more nutritional value than a candy bar and are high in sugar and calories. Read the nutrition labels carefully before you toss these breakfast bars and pastries into your shopping cart.
Here are some ideas for healthy breakfasts to try:
- Whole-grain cereal topped with fruit and a cup of yogurt
- Whole-grain waffles topped with peanut butter, fruit, or ricotta cheese
- Whole-wheat pita stuffed with sliced hard-cooked eggs
- Hot cereal topped with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, or cloves
- Peanut butter on a bagel with fresh fruit (banana or apple wedges) and low-fat milk
- Breakfast smoothie (milk, fruit, and teaspoon of bran, whirled in a blender)
- Vegetable omelet with a bran muffin and orange juice
- Bran muffin and yogurt with berries
- Hummus on whole-wheat toast and milk
- Lean turkey on a toasted English muffin and vegetable juice
- Heated leftover rice with chopped apples, nuts, and cinnamon, plus fruit juice
- Cream cheese and fresh fruit, such as sliced strawberries, on a bread or a bagel
- Shredded cheese on a whole-wheat tortilla, folded in half and microwave for 20 seconds and topped with salsa
And don’t forget how important your good example is. Let your child see you making time to enjoy breakfast every day. Even if you just wash down some whole-wheat toast and a banana with a glass of juice or milk, you’re showing how important it is to face the day only after refueling your brain and body with a healthy morning meal.
Nutrition Information: Adults
Nutrition is a very important part of training. Proper food and fluids not only provide energy for an athlete to achieve his/her daily fitness goals, but also helps in muscle recovery after your workout. Clint Verran, a licensed physical therapist – specializing in running-related injuries; a personal running coach; and one of America’s premier runners – is a big believer in the power of nutrition. Here, he provides some nutrition tips for adults participating in the GO! St. Louis Family Fitness Weekend.
The goal of your daily nutrition should be to adequately fuel your exercise, promote recovery, and avoid fat storage. Eat often to help control portion size. Multiple, smaller meals are best rather than large meals which trigger fat storage. Eat a small snack right before you run and fuel up on some carbohydrates immediately after running. Plan snacks between meals. Exercise and a steady caloric intake during the day keep your metabolism hot. Plan your eating around your activity. Monitor carbs. Eat carbs earlier in the day to fuel your exercise and daily activities. Limit mega doses of carbs in the evenings, unless you’re racing the next morning!
Traditional carbo-loading techniques call for a 3-4 day “depletion” phase, where runners completely avoid any and all carbohydrates. The theory is that by starving yourself of carbohydrates, you make your muscles carbohydrate receptors hyper-sensitive to carbs. Then, when you reintroduce carbs, you load your muscles with more than they could normally absorb.
The problem with this method is that you expose yourself to a high risk of illness. Your immune system runs on carbs. The last thing you want is to get sick the week before your big race. INSTEAD, try a very subtle reduction in carb intake for a few days, early in the week. A small reduction should be fine because you are already tapering your training at this point. Then, the last three days before the race, get in as many high-quality carbs as you can.
During the Week
The marathon is the only distance where calories are required during the race. 10Ks and half marathons can easily be run on the body’s own glycogen stores. During the marathon, the best way to take in calories is to drink them. DO NOT pass up a sports-drink station. Sports drinks solve two problems: hydration and calories. Plain water is better than nothing, but you are missing a great opportunity to fuel your muscles. Carbo-gels or Energy Gels can satisfy thisn need if sports drinks are infrequent. You need to practice taking these gels during training. Take the gel with a couple big gulps of water. If you choose the gel route, try taking three. One gel at 6 miles, 12, and 18. Getting them in on the early side will be more beneficial than waiting until the end of the race. Look for caffeinated gels for later in the race. The caffeine will help keep you mentally focused when you really need it.
The most important thing to remember when it comes to recovery nutrition is TIMING. Immediately after exercise, your muscles crave carbohydrates. If you can consume carbs within 45 minutes or so after a cardiovascular workout, your body will do a much better job of storing the carbohydrates as muscle glycogen as opposed to turning it into fat. This muscle glycogen will come in very handy for your next run! TIP: Try to take in AT LEAST 500 calories of carbohydrates (grains, cereal, fruits, energy bars) within 30 minutes following a run. The longer you wait, the more of this wonderful effect is lost. Change into some dry clothes, EAT, then get that shower!
This is intended to be general health information only and not medical advice or services. You should consult your doctor for medical advice or services, including seeking advice prior to undertaking a new diet, exercise, or training program. Your use of this information is at your sole risk.