A Beginner’s Guide to Working Out with Right Nutrition
If you have decided to get off the couch and get serious about your physical fitness, you should also focus on following the right diet. Whether you’re aiming to slim down or to bulk up, or just exercising to boost your mood, it is important to eat optimum nutrients to get the most out of your workout routine.
Nutrient intake and working out: What’s the connection?
Exercise — whether it be for weight loss or muscle gain — initiates a range of changes in your body. Your muscle mass and strength begin to improve, which over time boosts metabolism. So, your body starts using up its energy stores to meet these enhanced metabolic needs.
These increased energy requirements along with exercise-induced stress may increase the number of harmful free radicals in your body. Exercising also raises the body temperature, which leads to increased losses of body water and electrolytes through sweat. These bodily changes warrant specific dietary changes to meet your amplified nutrient needs.
It is important to remember that your nutrition requirements will depend on your body composition and fitness goals. But, there are a few general rules for figuring out what to eat so as to get the necessary amounts of nutrients.
Managing energy intake
Most people assume that they need more calories (energy) when they start exercising. But, in reality, your fitness goals dictate your energy requirements as your body’s energy balance regulates your weight and body composition.
So what is this energy balance? It is the balance between the calories you consume and the calories you burn, through physical activity and metabolic processes like breathing and digestion. If your calorie intake matches your calorie output, your weight remains the same. But, if you consume more calories than you burn, you will end up gaining weight.
So, if you are exercising to lose weight, your calorie intake should be lesser than the calories you burn. On the other hand, if your aim is to gain muscle mass, your target calories should increase based on the intensity and duration of your workout.
As a beginner doing low-intensity exercises, you should aim to have 3g to 5g of carbs per kilogram of your body weight each day. Spreading out your carbs intake over main meals and snacks that flow around your exercise schedule will ensure that you have ample energy before, during, and after exercising. It will also help drive protein into the muscles and restock glycogen.
As important as it is to have enough carbs at the right time, it is equally important to eat the right carbs to meet your energy needs. Complex carbs found in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits are great to complement increased physical activity because they are digested slowly and keep you energized throughout the day.
So how can you ensure that you are on the right diet?
Eat adequate protein
Regular physical activity needs to be supplemented with adequate amounts of protein to get the maximum benefits from any workout. Protein is required for growing muscle mass and strength during the workout, as well as to repair the muscle fibers once you are done.
So, you may benefit from eating a portion of protein at each mealtime and for your pre- and post-workout snacks. On an average, eating 1g to 1.5g of protein/ per kg body weight each day is sufficient to meet the needs of your muscles during a low-intensity workout. You may easily meet your protein requirements from a healthy, varied diet without having to rely on supplements.
Animal proteins, including meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products are sources of high-quality protein, which contain all essential amino acids needed for muscle building and repair. Plant sources of protein include cereals, pulses, nuts, and seeds. If you solely rely on plant foods to meet your protein needs, you would need to have a combination of different varieties to ensure the intake of all essential amino acids.
Do not neglect fat in your diet
Dietary fat is used by your body as an energy source (1g fat = 9kcal) to fuel long periods of physical activity, and also provides essential fatty acids like omega-3. So, going for a fat-free or low-fat diet when you start exercising is not a good idea.
On the other hand, consuming too much fat may lead to excess calorie intake, which may be of particular concern if you’re trying to lose weight through exercise. Research suggests getting 20% to 35% of your calories from dietary fat is sufficient to meet the requirements of low-intensity exercise.
In contrast, eating 2g to 3g of omega-3 fatty acids in a post-workout meal is shown to quicken muscle recovery and reduce muscle soreness. So, consuming omega-3-rich foods like salmon, tuna, flax seeds, and chia seeds on your training days may improve your exercise performance.
Vitamins and minerals are important for good exercise performance
Certain vitamins and minerals may enhance exercise performance by improving key bodily functions. B-vitamins support increased metabolic needs by releasing energy from carbs and fat. Iron and folate are required for the production of red blood cells, which transport oxygen to the muscles for sustained physical activity. Calcium and magnesium help in maintaining normal muscle function during exercise, while vitamin D reportedly helps in increasing muscle strength by promoting muscle growth.
On the other hand, antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and selenium may protect against exercise-induced free radicals, which cause muscle fatigue and reduced exercise performance.
You may get sufficient amounts of all these nutrients by adding a portion of green leafy vegetables, colorful fruits, seafood, mushrooms, nuts, and oilseeds to your everyday meals and snacks.
Dehydration caused by the loss of water and electrolytes due to sweating during exercise may cause tiredness and muscle cramping, and may reduce exercise performance. So, aim to drink at least 2 liters to 3 liters of fluids per day to maximize your physical performance and to ensure quick muscle recovery.
To have a hydrated workout, aim to drink about two glasses (500ml) of fluids two to three hours before exercising and another glass (250ml) right before you start working out. Make sure you keep yourself hydrated during the workout as well by sipping on 125ml to 250ml of fluids every 10 to 20 minutes.
It is important to remember that these are general guidelines and individual fluid requirements may vary depending largely on the duration and intensity of the exercise, but also factors like height, weight, and gender of each individual.
Water is also a good choice for rehydration during low-intensity workouts as it provides the necessary hydration without any excess calories from sugars, which are present in most sports drinks.
To sum up, you may maximize the results of your workout by catering to increased nutrition needs as you settle into an active lifestyle. You should eat the right amounts of a variety of whole grains, lean meats, dairy products, pulses, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds in all your meals and snacks to power through your workouts. Also, don’t forget to keep yourself hydrated by drinking water before, during, and after your workout.
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