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How to Fuel Your Workout

Which is better fuel for spinning class — protein or carbohydrates? Should you consume a sports drink on a long run? Is it safe to eat before a workout? Listen to locker room talk at the gym and you'll hear lots of conflicting tips about what you should eat and drink before and after you work out. These answers to five common questions about fueling your workout sort fact from fiction.

Will Protein Make My Muscles Grow?

Protein is an important part of a balanced diet, but eating more protein will not magically make you stronger. The only way to grow muscles is to put them to work, and eat enough calories to build mass. Most people can get enough protein from food alone and do not need a supplement.

Carbohydrates are the major fuel for muscles and an athlete's diet should consist of mostly carbohydrate. The body converts carbohydrate to glycogen, which is stored in your muscles to power your workout.

Do Sports Drinks, Gels and Energy Bites Live Up to the Hype?

There's nothing special about the many sports drinks, gels and energy bites on the market. But it is important to replace lost fluids as well as provide carbohydrates to maintain blood glucose levels while working out for longer than one hour.

For some athletes, eating solid food in the middle of a workout can cause digestive upset. In these cases, easily consumed sports gels, chews or drinks may help. Food and fluid intake around workouts should be determined on an individual basis with consideration for an athlete's gastrointestinal tract tolerance, as well as duration and intensity of the workout.

Is It Best to Work Out on an Empty Stomach?

Your body needs fuel to function, especially if you're asking it to run, jump, swim or lift weights. Don't skip breakfast before a morning workout. Eating before exercise, as opposed to exercising in the fasted state, has been shown to improve exercise performance.

Eating in the morning helps replenish liver glycogen and steadies blood sugar levels. If it's hard to stomach solid food first thing in the morning, try a fruit smoothie, or a liquid meal supplement, and don't forget to hydrate before you exercise.

Regular Exercise Means I Can Eat What I Want and Not Gain Weight, Right?

Wrong. Working out isn't license to abandon portion sizes and healthy eating guidelines. It's easy to overestimate the amount of calories you burn while working out.

You should adjust your calorie intake if you're engaging in serious training, such as for a triathlon, where you might be working out more than once a day. Recovery nutrition is necessary if you are an athlete participating in strenuous activity, especially if you are participating in multiple events in the same day. For the casual exerciser working out for an hour or less, a healthy balanced diet will work just fine.

Is Chocolate Milk Really an Athlete's Best Friend?

Because of its favorable carbohydrate and protein content, chocolate milk is indeed an effective recovery aid, but it's not your only choice. Replacing fluid lost during a workout should be first priority. Plain water and water-rich foods such as fruit are good choices. Be sure to eat a balanced meal within a couple hours of working out to help muscles recover. For strenuous workouts, carbohydrate should be consumed within 30 minutes of finishing the workout. This can be done with a sports drink or a carbohydrate-rich snack such as a fruit smoothie.


Different Kinds of Lettuces and Greens

Lettuce, a type of leafy green, is still one of the most commonly eaten veggies in the United States today. Leafy greens can be either dark or light in color and include types such as spinach, Romaine, kale, escarole, and endive. Mesclun, a mix of young salad greens, offers a variety of different types, including arugula, frisée and radicchio.

Dark-green leafy greens offer plenty of the antioxidant beta carotene, which helps to form vitamin A in the body and may help lower the risk for certain diseases. The darker the leaves, the more nutrient-rich the lettuce. For example, Romaine has seventeen times more vitamin A than iceberg lettuce. Some greens deliver folate, potassium and dietary fiber, too. Greens supply lutein, which contributes to good vision and may help protect your eyes from macular degeneration. The small addition of fat helps with the absorption of certain nutrients. Choose dressings made with oils more often, because they provide unsaturated fat, which is considered to be healthier than cream-based dressings.

Perk up your salad-making with more flavor, color and texture by mixing in different greens.

·For a peppery flavor: arugula or watercress

·For leaves that aren't green: red-and-white radicchio

·For flavor with a "bite": chicory or escarole

·For a mild flavor and delicate green color: mâche, Boston or Bibb lettuce

·For a deep-green color: spinach

·For a crisp texture: Romaine

Many leafy greens, such as spinach, kale and collard greens, also are well suited for cooking. Try sautéing them in a little oil, then season with spices, such as garlic and just a little salt and pepper. When cooked, greens usually will shrink down by half, so this is important to consider when planning meals.

Greens also can be added to soups, stews, casseroles and other dishes, too. For example, baby spinach leaves add a nice flavor and color when folded into an omelet. They also can be added toward the end when making a homemade soup. Kale can be baked into chips, which makes for a great tasting, healthy snack.

Look for different types of leafy greens at your local grocery store or farmers market. Be sure to wash and dry the leaves thoroughly before using and keep them refrigerated. Enjoy within a few days, as the leaves are likely to wilt or spoil if stored beyond that time frame.


Go Tropical with Super Fruits

When you shop for fruit, do you usually fill your cart with the same standbys? If the answer is yes, your family could be missing out on some of the tastiest and most nutritious fruits available! Colorful, juicy tropical fruits have a natural sweet flavor that kids love.

If you haven't taken a walk on the tropical side, try these four unconventional picks.


Mangoes are loaded with vitamin C, a nutrient that helps wounds heal, promotes healthy gums and keeps your child's immune system strong. One-half cup of sliced mangoes provides more than two-thirds of the vitamin C children under 13 need per day. For an exotic afternoon snack, serve mango slices with a pinch of sea salt and a squirt of lime. Or, whip up a batch of mango ice pops. Simply puree fresh, ripe mangoes in a food processor, pour into ice cube trays, insert a wooden stick and freeze for a frosty 100-percent fruit treat.


Guavas provide fiber to help keep your child's digestive system in top shape. Just one medium guava boasts 3 grams of fiber. That's as much as you get from a half cup of raisins or a cup of apple slices with skin on. For an even bigger fiber boost, puree whole guavas with the skin on in shakes, smoothies and juices.


Did you know avocados are fruit? With heart-friendly nutrients monounsaturated fat and vitamin E, avocados are a smart pick for cardiovascular health. Try them at breakfast for a new spin on "birds in a nest." Break one whole egg into half a pitted avocado and bake for 20 minutes in a 425°F oven. Serve with a spoonful of your favorite salsa.


These pink-orange fruits provide vitamin A through an especially potent form of beta-carotene for healthy skin and eyes. In fact, the form of beta-carotene in papayas may be even easier for our bodies to use than the kind in carrots or tomatoes. Fat in a meal or snack increases the amount of beta-carotene the body absorbs, so pairing papaya with avocados and chopped fresh mint in a sweet yet savory salad is nutrition-savvy and delicious.


Healthy Tips

Community Health Services of Union County, Inc.