Maybe you’re making fitness a priority. You’re meeting all of your workout goals, and you’re in a good rhythm as far as regularly exercising. That’s all great, but you might not be seeing the results you want. Results don’t necessarily have to mean weight loss.
There are many other ways that we measure success in the fitness world. How you feel, how strong you are, and your metabolic health, for example, are all relevant.
If you’re at a point where you’re feeling like you’re stuck or you’ve plateaued even when following an intense workout plan, have you considered that it’s time to revamp your workout diet and nutritional strategy?
We hear so often from people who either aren’t making the right nutrition choices or aren’t prioritizing nourishing, healthy food at all. Not focusing on diet holds them back from achieving what they want physically.
Every muscle you engage when you’re moving your body, whether you’re doing cardio, resistance training, HIIT, or anything else, comes from your diet. It’s critical to fuel your body with the right nutrients and enough calories per day before a workout, after a training session, and when you’re recovering between workouts.
Proper Nutrition and Your Health
Everything we consume will, directly and indirectly, affect our health. Our food and nutrition provide our bodies and brains with information to function properly. When you eat well, your body gets the “right” instructions, leading to disease, health problems, and more when you don’t.
A few general things to know about nutrition include:
- What we eat is thought to be responsible for 30-40% of all cancers.
- When you don’t eat enough protein, or you’re not eating quality protein, it can lead to problems with your immune system, low energy, and muscle wasting.
- Our bodies use protein to repair damaged tissue, form blood cells, make hormones and build muscles. The recommendation is to get 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight but you may need more than this.
- Having a high-fiber diet can help with weight loss. When you consume plenty of healthy sources of fiber, like fruits and vegetables, you feel satisfied without eating more calories. According to nutrition experts, high-fiber diets can also lower the risk of some types of cancer, like colon cancer.
- Some fats are important for your health. Unsaturated healthy fats help your body regulate your blood cholesterol levels, and they’re important for your brain. Upping your quality fat intake can boost performance and is even a key component of improving mental health.
- When you take in more calories than you’re burning, it will contribute to weight gain. At the same time, you don’t want too few calories because it can contribute to muscle breakdown and negatively affect your post-exercise recovery.
- Sugary drinks, including fruit juice, raise the risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and gout.
What’s the Best Workout Diet?
The big thing we always want people to remember is that there isn’t one quick-fix or magic bullet diet that will help them achieve their fitness goals. Instead, your workout diet should improve your athletic performance, allow you to meet your training goals, and help you feel your best.
This means you need enough calories, carbohydrates, and fluids. You also need iron, vitamins, and minerals, as well as protein.
- Dietary protein serves a number of functions that relate to your workouts and exercise. Protein is the main component of your muscle tissue. When you have adequate protein, it helps increase muscle mass and boosts your power during your workouts.
- Consuming protein can also help your muscles recover after a workout for better results and decreased time between activities. You can get enough grams of protein from things like lean meat and nuts. You can also get it from protein powder or protein shakes, which are more convenient forms of pre-and post-workout nutrition.
- The right kind of energy-boosting carbs can fuel you during workouts. Carbs can give your muscles the energy they need to work, but you want a healthy ratio of carbs to protein. Complex carbs and high-quality carbs are important for optimal exercise performance. The recommendation is to get around 900 of your daily calories from healthy carbohydrates per day. Still, you might want less than that, particularly if you’re following something like the keto diet. That equates to around 225 grams of carbs per day.
- We need a number of vitamins and minerals and adequate nutrients to produce energy. If you have a low iron diet, for example, you may get winded and tired when you work out because your blood cells carry oxygen that’s bound to iron-rich protein. Vitamin C can also help you absorb iron.
- Electrolytes, including sodium, balance fluids in your cells. If you don’t have enough sodium in your diet, you might have muscle cramps when you exercise. Rather than relying on potentially high-sugar sports drinks, coconut water is a good source of natural electrolytes.
- Getting plenty of water and staying hydrated helps replace the fluids you lose when you sweat during an exercise session. Hydration keeps your heart rate from getting too high and regulates your body temperature.
- Many people experience slumps in energy throughout the day, often because of spikes and rapid declines in blood sugar. Avoid this with afternoon snacks and well-balanced meals that will help your blood sugar levels stay steady. Whole-grain foods, non-starchy vegetables, and foods high in protein are all good ways to stabilize your blood sugar and insulin levels.
- What you eat for post-workout meals and post-exercise nutrition is very important for muscle protein synthesis and meeting fitness goals. You want a balance of protein, fluids, and carbs. When you have a well-balanced meal or snack following a workout session, it helps with glycogen synthesis. Muscle glycogen synthesis refers to the process where energy is restored to muscles.
Foods to Avoid on a Workout Diet
While the above gives you an idea of what you need to achieve your physical goals, what about the things you should avoid?
The following are some of the worst foods that you should make sure to keep out of your workout diet as much as possible.
We touched on this above– avoid high-sugar beverages. This includes fruit juice and soda, as well as sports drinks.
These high-sugar beverages add to your calorie intake but have little to no nutritional value.
Studies confirm the links between sugary drinks and excess weight gain.
Instead of sugar-filled drinks, think about unsweetened almond milk or low-fat chocolate milk.
Baked items like premade desserts, pastries, and cookies are high in added sugar and fructose unless labeled otherwise. When you have a high-sugar baked good, you’re more likely to experience hunger quickly after.
Many baked items also have trans fats, linked to a higher risk of obesity.
The FDA reports that partially hydrogenated oils are the main trans fats in processed foods. Removing these items from food could reduce heart attacks and deaths by thousands every year.
White Bread and Pasta
White bread and pasta are usually high in carbs and calories but low in nutrients, protein, and fiber.
If you want to have bread or pasta, try to choose whole-grain options that are higher in fiber.
Granola and Energy Bars
In our modern lives, we tend to associate certain things with being “healthy,” when in reality, they’re anything but. Energy bars and granola bars are good examples of that misconception.
These bars can contain as much sugar as a candy bar.
Rather than reaching for granola and energy bars, a better snack might be a handful of nuts or a scoop of nut butter, both of which can be protein-rich.
Greek yogurt can be a good food choice, as it has protein and healthy bacteria that promote nutrition. You have to be careful with yogurt and read the labels, though.
You should opt for yogurt that doesn’t have added sugars or choices sweetened with honey.
Non-fat Greek yogurt with berries is an excellent alternative to a sugar yogurt snack.
Like sugary drinks, alcohol is high in sugar, calorie-dense, and doesn’t have much fiber or protein.
If you’re trying to lose weight or meet certain fitness goals, consider significantly cutting back on alcohol or eliminating it.
Alcohol also dehydrates you and can cause you to have low energy levels, impacting your workouts.
Coffee Drinks High in Calories
If you’re going to have coffee, watch what you put in it. Coffee itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it may even increase your metabolism.
If you’re adding a lot of creamers or sugar, then you may end up with a drink no better than soda.
Crackers and Chips
Crackers and chips can contribute to mindless rather than intuitive eating, and they can pack in a lot of calories that you aren’t even thinking about as you’re eating them.
They can also have added sugar.
Opt for healthy snacks like fruit with low-sugar peanut butter, vegetables with hummus, or a whey protein shake.
The more you can work toward a whole-food diet and away from processed foods and sugar, the better.
When working on your fitness goals, you don’t want to eat too little. Instead of trying to be overly restrictive in your diet and food intake, think primarily about balance, maintaining steady blood sugar levels, and keeping your body fueled for optimal performance.
A balanced meal often includes a good protein balance with some carbs.
You also have to remember that everyone’s needs are unique. If you’re following a plan for muscle gain, your caloric and protein needs will be different from someone whose primary goal is minimizing fat gain or reducing body fat.
You might also have different nutritional needs depending on whether you’re going to do a cardio session or endurance training versus HIIT training or weight training.
If you’d like to rethink how you train and empower yourself to meet your fitness goals, reach out to Fort Fitness today at 949-544-1557. We’re a veteran-owned gym, and we believe in accountability and mental fortitude as the foundations of health.