We all know that exercise and physical activity are part of a healthy weight loss/maintenance program, but working enough exercise into a busy schedule can be tricky, especially while also trying to juggle healthy meal planning. Without forethought, it's easy to "bottom out" after heading into a workout on an empty stomach, or to finish dinner and feel too full for an evening jog.
The trick is to time eating and physical activity to reap the most rewards from each. The right timetable is variable, as there are several factors to consider: length of exercise, time of day, kind of exercise and level of intensity.
If you need a little more motivation to get started, here are 10 reasons to get moving and stay moving:
1. People who exercise live longer, on average, than people who don't.
2. Active people have a lower risk of dying of heart disease and stroke and they're less likely to develop high blood pressure.
3. The more active you are, the lower your risk of colon cancer.
4. The less active you are, the higher your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. And if you already have Type 2 diabetes, exercise can lower your blood sugar levels.
5. In people with arthritis, moderate exercise helps reduce joint swelling and pain and improves mobility.
6. Strength-building exercise helps counter bone loss (osteoporosis).
7. Exercise makes you "functionally fit," meaning that it becomes easier for you to carry groceries, do chores and independently perform many other activities of daily life.
8. Because of the calming effects of exercise, active people are less depressed, and depressed people often feel better after they start exercising.
9. Exercise can save you money. If you can prevent serious (and costly) medical conditions such as heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis, you'll have money for your other needs.
10. Exercise can be fun! Many of the activities you considered "play" as a child count as exercise. Dancing fast, walking your dog, bicycling and gardening all strengthen your heart and lungs.
And once you're ready to commit to a lifestyle change, INCLUDING exercise, here are a few guidelines everyone should abide by:
1. Eat breakfast. Your body has already used up the energy from last night's dinner and you'll need fuel to get the most out of your workout. Include a good source of lean protein with your breakfast as well. If you're exercising in the morning, be sure to wake up early enough to fit in a small meal.
2. Don't skip meals. Skipping meals increases your chances to overeat at the next meal or to make less healthy food choices.
3. Hydrate! Drink 2-3 cups of water prior to exercise, and make sure to drink during and after exercise as well.
Here are some guidelines for timing eating and exercise:
Before: Eat a small snack 1-4 hours before working out. The closer it is to your exercise time, the smaller the meal/snack should be. Include carbohydrates (which will be stored in your body as glycogen - that's what your muscles use for energy) and a lean protein, such as egg whites, low-fat cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt or lean meat. Also, be sure to hydrate your body with water before working out. If you are even a bit dehydrated, your body may respond with cramps during exercise or you may feel lightheaded.
During: Make sure to drink plenty of water while you're exercising. One cup for each 15-20 minutes of exercise is ideal. If you are planning to exercise longer than 60-90 minutes, you may benefit from a sports drink to replace some of the electrolytes lost through sweat, but these drinks often contain plenty of calories, so use them sparingly. Bring water/sports drinks with you if you plan to be hiking, biking, or doing anything in the great outdoors, especially where it may be hard to find a drinking fountain. If you plan on being outside for many hours, be sure to bring along some food to snack on, such as fresh fruit and low-fat cheese or a sandwich made on whole grain bread with lean protein such as sliced turkey.
After: Be sure to hydrate after exercising! Drink at least 2-3 cups of water after a workout. If you've been exercising more than 90 minutes, have a single serving of a sports drink to restore electrolytes, along with some water. You'll also need to replace those glycogen stores in your body by eating some carbohydrates along with some protein. Studies have shown that a ratio of 4:1 (carbs to protein) is ideal for a post-exercise snack. Try to eat within two hours after your workout (within 30 minutes is ideal).
Chef Cheryl R.D. is a James Beard award-winning chef and the nutritionist for NBC's The Biggest Loser. For more information and recipes, you can always find nutrition and cooking tips at her website or on Twitter or Facebook.