When it comes to healthy eating for a fit and active lifestyle, certain facts are undeniable: Water is crucial, you can eat as many veggies as you want, and weight loss/maintenance is more a result of diet than exercise. As much as I’d like to think that logging 30+ miles/week when training for a marathon entitles me to that giant slab of cake at Little Cupcake Bakeshop—sadly, it doesn’t. In fact, experts say people tend to way overestimate the number of calories they burn and then compensate by eating more than they burned—which a little simple math says you’d end up gaining weight even though you’re working out a ton.
That being said, your body does have different nutritional needs when you amp up your workout routine—especially when it comes to strength training. So, I turned to Lauren Slayton, M.S., R.D., founder of FoodTrainers and author of of Thin , to find how I should be eating to stay healthy and to compliment my new weight lifting routine as I try to get bootcamp fit in 6 weeks. Here, 4 ways to eat right when you find yourself spending much more time at the gym.
Fuel up pre-workout to improve performance
First, a word about pre-workout fueling: You don’t need to eat before working out if your goal is weight loss, you’re working out first thing in the morning, and not working out for longer than an hour, says Slayton. But if your goals are more performance-related, like mine are, she suggests that you have something small before class. Doing so can give you more energy to help you work even harder in the gym (meaning you’ll likely burn off those extra calories anyway).
Ideally, a smart snack would be a 100- to 200-calorie pick with more carbs than protein (like half a banana and a tbsp. of peanut butter), but since I’m up at 5:00am and don’t have much time to digest, I usually scarf just half a banana, which gives me a boost of energy, but doesn’t weigh me down. Slayton says this is fine—and that liquids are a great option if you’re short on time, too. Try 1/2 an Orgain ready-to-drink protein shake or applesauce with 1 TBSP of protein powder (I like Sun Warrior WARRIOR BLEND).
Timing is everything
It’s not just what you eat, but when, says Slayton. Aim to get in a meal or snack within thirty minutes of exercising to help with muscle recovery—and help you avoid overeating later in the day. That said, choose to snack before or after your workout, but not both. So, if you have a pre-workout snack, make your recovery fuel an actual meal (so, time your workout to end at breakfast, lunch or dinner time). Or, if you exercise on an empty stomach, go for a 100- to 200-calorie post-workout snack that has more protein than carbs (like a hardboiled egg and some fruit or Greek yogurtwith berries.). “I think there’s nothing better than a smoothie post-workout—you get fluid, protein and some fruit all in one,” says Slayton.
Try this Matcha Colada recipe from Little Book of Thin:
- 4 to 6 ounces coconut water (or water) –
- 1/2 teaspoon matcha powder (like Panatea) –
- 1 cup fresh or frozen pineapple or papaya –
- 1 scoop protein powder –
- 1 cup greens (microgreens, spinach, or kale) –
- 1/3 avocado, peeled and roughly chopped –
- 1 slice peeled fresh ginger (the size of a penny) –
- 1 handful ice cubes –
- 6 drops NuStevia (optional)
Place coconut water (or water) in a high-powered blender followed by the other ingredients in the order given. Blend well and serve.
Eat more protein
I was in for a big surprise: Slayton recommends eating 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. That means a 135-pound woman should be eating 135 grams/day! I calculated my goal in grams and then estimated my protein intake from yesterday and was off by almost 50 grams.
“It’s very important to get enough protein when you’re exercising to help you maintain—and build—all of that precious muscle,” says Slayton. I do eat some fish, but I’m primarily a total vegetarian, which makes this even tougher. My favorite sources of protein (approved by Slayton): SunWarrior Protein powder (I put a scoop in my oatmeal), hardboiled eggs, Greek yogurt, quinoa, edamame, almonds, and shrimp. Slayton also recommends spirulina (she likes the Health Force brand). It’s actually powdered green algae, which may sound gross, but packs 5 grams of protein in just one tablespoon and works well as a smoothie add-in or stirred into yogurt.
Check out this list for more great healthy sources of protein (complete with helpful infographic!).
Stock up on cherry juice
Tart cherry juice is high in antioxidants and, when you drink it post-exercise, can help reduce inflammation and aid in muscle recovery, says Slayton (and research). Try 1-2 oz of tart cherry juice (like Eden Foods Montmorency Tart Cherry Juice) mixed with seltzer right before bed (bonus: tart cherries contain melatonin which will help you sleep sounder!) or buy frozen tart cherries to add to your recovery smoothie.