Working out is often seen as a free pass to eat whatever we want. And why not? A one hour ride can burn up to 600 calories. However, even though indulging that sugar or salt craving might not affect your waistline, it could derail your fitness goals.
A recent study found that more than 60% of the calories we eat come from processed foods. Defined simply, a processed food is one that has been altered through the use of additives, artificial flavors, or chemical ingredients. They represent the majority of prepackaged foods and have been linked to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. And most of us include them in our diet.
Because of their convenience, affordability and shelf life, processed foods have become a staple of the American pantry. But they are loaded with sugar, fat, and sodium. Although these additives enhance flavor, they reduce physical performance. Refined sugars offer an initial surge in energy, but it’s short-lived and followed by a crash. Artificial ingredients like MSG and processed fats cause muscle fatigue, hormone fluctuations and play havoc with your metabolism. On the other hand, a nutrient-rich of lean protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates will provide continuous energy, help build and maintain muscle, and replenish vitamins and minerals lost during exercise.
To get the most out of your workouts and feel your best, try to limit processed foods. Eat a diet full of fresh and wholesome foods, particularly before and after exercise. Some simple ways to set yourself up to perform and feel your best are:
- Eat balanced meals that include fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and healthy fats. A dinner of a small salad, grilled salmon, roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli will go a long way to giving your body the fuel it needs to perform and the nutrients it requires for recovery.
- Prepare your own food. Making your own meals lets you control what’s in them, as well as the portion size. Cooking doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. There are plenty of healthy ten-minute recipes.
- Buy seasonal fruits and vegetables from local farms. Much of the produce in the grocery store travels thousands of miles, meaning it’s picked early and ripens in transit. However, the moment produce is picked, it starts to degrade and lose nutrients. Picking before-ripe also prevents it from reaching its full nutritional potential. Local produce can be grown right up until it’s ripe, allowing it hit your table at its most nutritious.
- Consider joining a Farm Share. The wide range of fresh produce you receive will force you to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables with a wide range of health benefits. There are also shares for meat, which offer organic, high-quality meat and eggs.
- When fresh isn’t an option, frozen is a good alternative. Frozen produce is picked ripe then flash frozen. However, it is first blanched to kill harmful bacteria, which can cause some nutrients to be lost. Likewise, many canned fruits and vegetables are reasonable alternatives to fresh produce. However, the canning process can strip some nutrients and some fruits and vegetables are packed in syrups that are heavy in sugar and salt.
- Read labels. The fewer the ingredients, the better. Look for simple ingredients rather than a list of unpronounceable additives. If you’re unsure about your favorite product, check out a site like Eat This, Not That (http://www.eatthis.com/) which offers suggestions on healthy alternatives to common eating mistakes.
You push your body to get the most out of your workouts. It only makes sense to fuel your body properly so that it can perform at its peak