The life of a Dad who strives to be the best dad possible

Diet and Exercise

Nutrition and ExerciseDo you think that avoiding food before getting on that treadmill, taking a spin class, or lifting those weight will cause you to burn more calories?  Do you, instead, eat a protein bar, down a protein drink, or eat a piece of fruit to “fuel” your exercise session?  When you are done, are you so ravenous that you inhale the first burger you see?  Or, can you wait until you get home to start refueling?

If you an answered yes to any of those questions and are one of the masses, those who exercise to stay healthy or lose some weight, you might be undoing all of your efforts depending on your pre- and post-workout food choices.  I find that people often misunderstand how food can help or hurt their exercising goals.  With that in mind, I thought I would share my views on what I think works best in most circumstances.

If you are exercising to “Stay Healthy”

For individuals who are in pretty decent shape, looking to maintain their current weight, or maybe lose just a couple of pounds, aligning your nutrition and exercise is relatively simple.  First, drink enough water.  Chances are, we all need more water but this is especially true for those who live in drier climates (e.g., Arizona like me).  Even if you don’t live in the desert, make sure you are getting enough liquid before and during your exercise sessions.  Obviously, the greater your exercise intensity, the less water I would drink before and during but be sure to replenish when you are finished.

Second, have some gas in the engine.  Remember, food is fuel and having a little in your body (ideally, not sitting in your stomach though) will generally have you feeling good and ready to start your workout.  That means, if you have eaten a normal meal within the past one to two hours before starting, you are set.  If you haven’t though, consider eating something small (i.e., 100 calories) composed primarily of easily digestible carbohydrates.  Some examples might be an apple, a banana, 100 calories of your favorite protein bar, or even half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Sports drinks are decent as well.  Just stick to that calorie amount and consider the exercise you are doing when making your selection.Recovery Drinks

Third, do NOT ruin your efforts!  Far too often, I speak with people who completely undermine their time, sweat, and energy by adding unnecessary calories to their daily total every time they exercise.  So rather than adding a pre-workout snack where none existed before, move some calories from a different part of your day.  Maybe have lunch be a little smaller, for instance.  Doing this will keep your daily totals the same while giving your that little bit you need for an effective session!

Fourth, and just like the prior paragraph, don’t negate your efforts by post-workout poor choices.  We all must immediately refuel calories burned right???  Put simply: No.  If you are a competitive, elite, or professional athlete, different rules apply.  For the rest of us though, those “recovery drinks” or “recovery bars” are just unneeded and unhelpful calories.  Consistently using them in the wrong way will ultimately result in weight gain far more often than not.  However, if you do like I advised above and shift calories from somewhere else in your day, then by all means, have a post-workout snack.  When I am done exercising, I crave food badly and I know many people feel this same way.  That’s natural and normal.  I am just advising you be aware of your overall daily consumption and make certain you are not adding extra calories where they are not needed.

In short, just keep it simple.  Drink water, especially after your session, and then (in most cases) just eat at your next, regularly-scheduled meal!

If you are exercising to “Lose Weight”

For those looking to lose weight, maybe fifteen pounds or more, the “rules” are not more complex, in fact, they are exactly the same.  They are just a little more logistically challenging.

To start, let’s have a short (and hopefully easy) math lesson.  One pound equals 3,500 calories.  So, to lose one pound/week, you must have an effective 500 calories deficit per day.  That’s no small task.  I advise people to strive for a 250-500 calories deficit per day when trying to lose weight but to recognize that erasing 500 calories per day is tough.  Know that weight loss takes time.  Shows like The Biggest Loser do us all a big disservice by making extreme weight loss look attainable.  It can be.  But, just like the contestants, you will need (a) a team of doctors to ensure you stay healthy and fueled, (b) 24 hour per day access to a fully-stoked exercise facility, (c) total freedom with your time so you can exercise and eat on an ideal schedule (this means LOTS of napping), (d) a fully-stocked with healthy food kitchen, and (e) a trainer to scream at your to keep you motivated!  Ummm, yeah, I don’t have all that either.  Rather than shoot for the astronomically difficult numbers you see on that show, give yourself time to not only reach your goal but also (and more importantly) to incorporate these change into your life.  Better to lose weight over time AND have a lifestyle change than ditch weight only to gain it back.

Spinach NutritionAdditionally, fat only burns in a carbohydrate fire.  So, if you don’t have that little pilot light burning, you will only feel slow, tired, or even worse.  Here’s where the tricky part comes to play though.  When you are looking to lose weight, you simply have fewer calories in the day to manipulate.  My advice is to take a view of your whole day (or a typical day).  When will you be working?  When will you be eating?  When will you be exercising?  Now, look at your daily consumption.  Once you know your schedule, see where you can move that pre-workout 100 calories, if you need them.

Likewise, that post-workout recovery meal?  Unsurprisingly, probably not the best move when you are looking to lose weight.  I am obviously a big, big proponent of exercise.  In fact, I love it.  But, do not overestimate its impact and the actual number of calories burned.  Frequently, people burn far fewer calories than they think.  Adding calories at the end of a normal session can completely negate what you just worked off on that spin bike, treadmill, or any other workout!

In short again, just hydrate, replenish your water levels when done, and if you must have a snack, just carefully move those calories from somewhere else in the day.

If you have any specific questions, please just ask.  I always appreciate comments, questions, and feedback.  Thanks for reading!

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