Best Fitness Foods11-09-2011
Want to fuel your workout? Maureen Callahan, R.D. reveals the 17 best fitness foods.
The cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fat in these green health bombs can help keep your body strong and pain free. University of Buffalo researchers found that competitive runners who ate less than 20 percent fat were more likely to suffer injuries than those who consumed at least 31 percent. Peter J. Horvath, Ph.D., a professor at the university, speculates that the problem is linked to extreme low-fat diets, which weaken muscles and joints. "A few slices of avocado a day are a great way to boost fat for women who are fat shy," says Leslie Bonci, R.D., director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Bagels, whole grain
Never mind Dr. Atkins--carbs are the optimal workout food. "Not the simple ones, because they wind you up and drop you down," says Jackie Berning, Ph.D., R.D., a nutrition professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and counselor to sports teams. "You want complex carbohydrates in their natural package, aka whole grains." A whole-grain bagel is an ideal pre-sweat-session pick: You'll digest it slowly because of all the fiber, which will deliver a steady flow of energy over time rather than one big burst.
Thanks to bananas' high potassium content, peeling one is a speedy solution to that stitch in your side. While a lack of sodium is the main culprit behind muscle cramps, studies show potassium plays a supporting role: You need it to replace sweat losses and help with fluid absorption. Bananas are also packed with energizing carbohydrates. One medium-size fruit has 400 milligrams of potassium and as many carbs (29 grams) as two slices of whole-wheat bread.
USDA researchers recently placed fresh berries on their list of the 20 foods richest in antioxidants. Just a handful of blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries is an excellent source of these potent nutrients, which protect muscles from free radical damage that might be caused by exercise. Shop for berries by the shade of their skin: The deeper the color, the healthier the fruit.
Close your eyes and they almost taste like crunchy candy. Carrots pack complex carbs that provide energy to muscles and potassium to control blood pressure and muscle contractions, Bonci says. And a half cup has just 35 calories.
Whole grain cereal
Looking for something to nosh before you hit the gym? Raid your cereal stash. The healthiest brands (see page 39 to find out what should be in your bowl) contain endurance-boosting complex carbs and muscle-building protein. Sixty minutes before a workout, fuel up with a 200-calorie snack: 3/4 cup of whole-grain cereal with 4 ounces of fat-free milk. "When you eat something before exercising, you have more energy, so you can work out harder and perhaps longer. And you'll be less likely to overeat afterward," Bonci says.
Skimp on iron and zinc and your energy will flag. Cooking up some juicy chicken thighs or turkey drumsticks is the best way to get more of both. "Dark-meat poultry is significantly lower in fat than red meat yet has all the iron, zinc, and B vitamins that women need in their diets," says Seattle sports nutritionist Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., author of Power Eating.
There's way more to milk than just calcium. In fact, it's a damn near perfect food, giving you a lot of valuable energy while keeping your calorie count low, Kleiner says. The chocolate kind is loaded with calcium, vitamins, and minerals just like the plain stuff, but new studies confirm that milk with a touch of cocoa is as powerful as commercial recovery drinks at replenishing and repairing muscles.
Low fat cottage cheese
Despite its frumpy image, this diet staple packs 14 grams of protein per half-cup serving, along with 75 milligrams of calcium and 5 grams of carbohydrates. That protein is crucial to healing the microscopic muscle tears that occur during exercise, says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, R.D., health education manager at Cleveland's Fairview Hospital.
This packable fruit delivers a generous pre- or postworkout blast of carbohydrates (25 grams per 1/4 cup). Plus, cranberries have proanthocyanins, compounds that help prevent and fight urinary tract infections. Running to the bathroom every 5 minutes definitely isn't the kind of workout you need.
Don't skip the yolk. One egg a day supplies about 215 milligrams of cholesterol--not enough to push you over the 300-milligram daily cholesterol limit recommended by the American Heart Association. Plus, the yolk is a good source of iron, and it's loaded with lecithin, which is critical for brain health, Kleiner says. What does brain power have to do with exercise? Try doing a sun salutation without it.
"Flaxseed is full of fibers called lignans that promote gut health," Kleiner says. Since flax lignans contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, they keep you regular. "When you're trying to do an endurance sport, it can be disruptive to have digestive problems," she notes. A daily dose of 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed tossed in your cereal nets you fiber without fuss.
Complex carbohydrates, protein, and unsaturated fats--all the right elements to fuel activity--meet in one healthy little 70-calorie, 3-tablespoon package. Plus, hummus is often made with olive oil, which contains oleic acid--a fat that helps cripple the gene responsible for 20 to 30 percent of breast cancers, according to Northwestern University researchers.
"They're portable. They're a fruit you can get year-round. And they're a rich source of vitamin C," Bonci says, "which helps repair muscle tissue." One orange has all the C a woman needs each day--close to 75 milligrams. Vitamin C is also key for making collagen, a tissue that helps keep bones strong.
No wonder Mr. Peanut never stops tap-dancing. Soccer players kicked and sprinted just as well in the final minutes of a game as they did at the start when they added 2 ounces of peanuts a day to their regular diet, Horvath says. The extra fat may help improve endurance by giving muscles energy to burn up front so they can spare muscle glycogen stores later.
Sweat like a pig? Four shakes of salt (about 1,100 milligrams of sodium) and a small baked potato is the perfect recipe for electrolyte replacement. "The electrolytes, sodium and potassium, help maintain fluid balance in and around cells and make sure muscles contract as they need to," Bonci says.
Great for heart health, but here's an added twist: New studies are suggesting that monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fats might help lessen abdominal fat. It's too soon to understand the link, but "this could be particularly good for people working to tone their core," Kleiner says.
By: Tene Sommer
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