On this most blessed Halloween-even, I bring to you this month’s “Ask The Dietitian” column. Yes, you are likely going to venture out into the dark tonight to devour candy and booze but, come Sunday afternoon, and reality will hit and remind you to get your nutrition back in check. Look no further than below for tips on how to hit the gym with a well-fueled body, meal preps, and so much more.
Question 1: I usually go to the gym after work, but by then I’m so hangry that I usually can’t make it through a good workout…but I also don’t want to eat right before going to the gym, obviously. How can I avoid this?? When should I be timing my meals?
Timing food prior to workouts is such a tricky balance to find. On one hand, if you don’t eat enough, your blood sugar tanks and your body holds up a big “NOPE” sign. On the other hand, if you eat too much, you might end up hunched over the gym’s toilet. Obviously, neither of these are ideal.
Instead, try eating something light, with carbs and protein, about two hours before your workout, and then just stick with fluids after that. Something light could be half a bagel with some peanut butter or jam, half a turkey sandwich, a fruit smoothie with protein powder, or egg on toast. If you have early morning workouts, don’t skip out on getting a little something into your stomach before you hit the gym. Your workout will be better with some carbs in your system than if you’re running on empty.
Of note, that one to two-hour window prior to your workout is not necessarily the time to load up on those whole grains that are otherwise encouraged. High fiber foods can cause indigestion during workouts, especially during cardio sessions. Also, dairy sometimes can cause GI distress, so look for non-dairy food sources for that snack before your workout.
Finally, test out different strategies to find out what works best for you. Also, it’s okay to feel a little bit hungry while you workout, especially as most people would be very uncomfortable if they worked out on a full stomach. The key is just to make sure your energy doesn’t bottom out in the middle of your workout.
Question 2: I’ve been in recovery for an eating disorder (EDNOS) for almost 6 years, but in the last four I have gained A LOT of weight for various reasons. Now, I’m worried I am again at an unhealthy weight (at the opposite end of the spectrum) and want to be healthy without triggering a relapse. In other words, I am afraid to restrict/count calories, stop eating certain foods, etc. What’s the best way to get started with healthy eating/dieting?
Well, first off I just want to congratulate you on sticking with recovery for the past several years. It’s not at all easy, so I have all the admiration for you!
Next, to be completely honest, I don’t have a solid answer to this. I know that it’s fairly common for people with eating disorders to swing from one extreme to the other until they find their healthy in between, so you’re not alone in this struggle. I don’t know the extent of your situation, but if you’ve seen an eating disorder dietitian in the past and still have some meal plans, maybe look those over as a refresher. But really, the best advice I can give is to get back in contact with an eating disorder dietitian who can give you personalized advice and coach you through the various steps. Becoming “healthier” and/or losing weight for someone with a history of an eating disorder is much more complex than with someone without that history. Having someone in your corner to help you through it will be invaluable.
Question 3: Should I really be taking a multivitamin, probiotic, fish oil, etc? Like… If I eat well, do I really need the supplements? I’m not sure if they’re a waste of money!
This is a great question — there’s no point in spending all of that money on supplements if you don’t even need them! Honestly, I think almost everyone should take a multivitamin, as no one eats perfectly every single day, and it can kind of “fill in the gaps,” so to speak. Make sure that the multivitamin has iron, calcium, and vitamin D in it.
If you don’t consume about three servings of dairy per day, consider taking a calcium supplement that contains vitamin D. Calcium helps create, and maintain, strong, healthy bones, and women are at increased risk for losing bone density quickly. Laying the foundation for healthy bones your entire life will decrease your risk for developing osteoporosis later on in life. Note: taking a smaller dose of the supplement twice a day will be absorbed better than if you take one big dose all at once.
If you eat a fatty fish, like salmon, tuna, or trout, twice per week then you probably don’t need to take fish oil supplements. Fish oil contains a certain kind of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower your triglycerides and decrease inflammation throughout your body. Lower triglycerides and decreased inflammation can help prevent future heart disease problems, such as heart attacks or strokes. So, if you don’t typically eat that much fish, then consider incorporating the supplement in your diet, although getting it from food is always best.
Basically, regarding any supplement, if you eat a fairly healthy, well-balanced diet that contains fresh (or frozen) fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean meats, fish, and low-fat dairy, then you’re probably fine. If you follow a restricted diet, whether from food allergies or preference, then you likely need supplements to fill in the gaps. Again, getting vitamins and minerals from foods is best, but supplements are there if needed.
Question 4: How long is it safe to keep leftovers? I want to start cooking meals for the week on Sundays, but I’m afraid of bacteria!
Cooking meals for the week on Sundays is a great way to eat healthier and save money, and I’m glad you’re thinking ahead on how to avoid nasty bacteria. FIrst off, double check that your fridge’s temperature is less than 40 degrees and that your freezer is 0 degrees or less.
Also, make sure after cooking the food that you store it almost immediately in the fridge in shallow containers that will allow the food to quickly cool. Anything over a week old, especially protein-containing foods, smell and inspect thoroughly before eating or just chuck them. Some foods, like grains, cheeses, and root vegetables last much longer, and will usually start growing obvious mold or fungus when they’re going bad.
If you’re still concerned, just portion out the meals for the week into separate containers and freeze them. Then whenever you need a meal, you can just pop it out, heat it up, and you’re set. Also, check out The Food Keeper database for safe storage details on each food item.
Question 5: I think smoothies are the greatest food ever, but how do you feel about them nutritionally? Any tips on keeping them from being sugar bombs?
You nailed the potential issue with smoothies right on the head – they can be very potent sugar bombs that will leave you hungry an hour or two later. So my first tip is to not buy your smoothie from chains or restaurants. Their aim is to sell smoothies, and not on watching your waistband or blood sugar.
Next, make your own and don’t add in any sugar. Instead, add frozen fruit, such as peaches, berries, or bananas. If you have issues getting enough veggies in your diet, consider throwing in a handful of spinach (which is essentially flavorless), or canned pumpkin to make your own pumpkin pie spice smoothie. To increase protein content, add in a low-sugar protein powder, milk, greek yogurt, and/or nut butter. If you’re really adventurous, add in an uncooked pasteurized egg – you won’t be able to taste it and you’ll get seven grams of protein per egg, along with a helping of vitamins and minerals. Protein will help keep you full longer and slow the release of the sugar into your bloodstream. You can also throw in some flaxseed or chia seeds, and some oats to increase the sustainability of your smoothie.
When you are in control of what’s going in your smoothie, then you can customize it to meet your needs. Are you going to workout after drinking it? Do you need it to last you for four to six hours? You can always tweak the ingredients to fit your needs and flavor preferences. When done right, smoothies are a great way to get in servings of fruits, veggies, and dairy, and get in a quick breakfast.
Do you have a question that I didn’t answer? Tweet me (@Kelsinat0r) with any more of your quick nutrition questions! Or, you can tweet @LitDarling for a chance to have your question featured in next month’s article, or submit your question via this handy-dandy simple form.
If you missed last month’s round-up, make sure to check it out for tidbits on protein, ranch dressing, soy, and more.