There are numerous proven benefits from engaging in regular exercise. For example, exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers, improve cognitive function, improve physical performance, and reduce the risk and severity of chronic diseases. While exercise and physical activity can lead to a plethora of physical and mental benefits, it’s not the only method.
When coupled with proper nutrition behaviors, the physical and mental benefits are even more profound. Alone, good nutrition can certainly lead to many benefits such as decreased risk of chronic diseases, decreased adiposity, reduced blood pressure, and improved gut microbiome. To obtain these benefits, it’s important to follow a balanced diet that includes low-fat dairy, healthy fats, whole grains, starches, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables. Incorporating all of these food sources will provide the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to help achieve optimal health. Eating frequently, or every three to four hours, will help reach individual caloric needs while keeping one’s metabolism high.
In addition to achieving good health, proper nutrition is important to achieve peak performance and maximize workouts/exercise. Timing of nutrients is important to enhance workout capacity, reduce muscle soreness, and build and repair muscle mass. The muscles and liver store carbohydrates as energy, in the form of glycogen. Glycogen is the body’s immediate source of energy and allows your muscles to work more efficiently during activity. In order to maintain high levels of glycogen, it’s important to consume meals that include a carbohydrate as well as ingesting some right before, during and after exercise.
Carbohydrate needs increase with longer duration and/or intensity of an activity. About four hours before activity, a meal should be high in carbohydrate, moderate in protein and fiber, and low in fat. About an hour before activity, it is important to consume 60 grams of carbohydrates. To avoid hunger, this snack can be paired with 10 to 15 grams of protein. Right before, during and after workouts simple carbohydrates should be the focus due to their rapid digestion. For activities lasting longer than 60 minutes, it’s encouraged to consuming 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates. This will reenergize the muscles and provide them energy to continue to work efficient. Within 30 minutes, to promote muscle repair, one should consume at least 20 grams of whey protein and 60 grams of simple carbohydrates.
Cowritten with Brittney Patera, the director of nutrition for Montana State University Athletic Department and the owner of FLEXX Performance Nutrition.