Shedding those extra kilos and getting into shape is by far the most popular of all New Year Resolutions. Yet, within a month, most people lose their determination and give up on their pledge to shed excess weight—they realise that it’s not as easy they thought it was. What they don’t realise is that however rigorous their programme might be, focussing solely on exercise or diet will not get them the results they are looking for.

Reduction of body fats and preservation of adult muscles is achieved when both exercise and healthy eating habits are combined.

Irrespective of your genetic make-up and your metabolism, eating right will lead to steady weight loss. When, what and how much you eat will determine your comfort, exercise performance and recovery.

Typically, your food intake should be linked to your workout timings. Early morning workouts stir up metabolism and keep you soaring for a long time. Some people prefer exercising on an empty stomach. It is ideal to burn fat faster as the overnight fasting depletes the body’s glycogen [a form of carbohydrate that our body uses during workouts]. But if you are one of those who feels sluggish and fatigued without any grub, go ahead and consume a light snack—a fruit or cereal will do just fine. But eat at least an hour before you begin exercising.

Space a main meal at least 3 – 4 hours prior to any workout. It is also wise to incorporate a pre-workout meal if the gap between your meal and your workout is several hours.

Pre-workout meals

Many fitness trainers favour a pre-workout snack. Eating at least an hour prior to exercise gives the body adequate time for digestion and provides enough energy for exercising. Remember, only a properly fuelled and hydrated body can challenge the muscles during a strenuous workout. Besides it prevents distractions due to hunger pangs or energy dips.

Opt for beans, flax seeds, veggies and fruits that have complex carbohydrates with low glycaemic index [GI]. These release glucose slowly in the gut and are the best foods to enhance the outcome of exercise. Avoid foods with high GI like white bread, doughnuts, corn flakes and fruit juice, which lead to an insulin spike, leaving you feeling hungry later. Also, avoid eating foods high in protein, fat and fibre as they need longer time for digestion and tend to stay in the stomach longer, inducing abdominal discomfort during exercise.

Be watchful of the portion size to avoid stomach cramps. Eating too much and too close to a workout can lead to nausea and stomach uneasiness.

Foods high in carbohydrate, moderate in protein and low in fat are easy to digest and prepare the body for exercise. Here’s a mini list of pre-workout foods you can try:

  • Boiled sweet potato
  • Bowl of fresh fruit—apples, grapes, orange, watermelon, peaches
  • Yoghurt
  • Fruit smoothies [unsweetened]
  • Milk shakes [low fat milk]
  • Breakfast cereal [muesli or wheat flakes] with milk
  • Porridge – dalia or oats [steel cut]
  • Brown bread or multigrain bread with low-fat cheese
  • Granola bar

Hydrating your body

A strenuous workout will also mean loss of body fluids through perspiration. Start with having at least two glasses of water half hour before workout. Consume another 1 – 2 glasses in-between, 15 – 20 minutes during workout to prevent dehydration. Have another couple of glasses immediately after exercise. You may choose diluted fruit juice over water or have a sports drink supplement after a high intensity workout or when you train longer than an hour.

Eating during workouts

Typically, the idea of eating while training seems absurd. But it isn’t really. Carbohydrate is the most important source of fuel for muscles during workout. However, the amount of glycogen stored in our liver and muscles is limited and hence needs to be augmented with sufficient food intake to avoid poor performance. This is especially so while training for long [over an hour] on an empty stomach. Nibble on a banana or an energy bar during the workout.

Post-workout meals

The body requires replenishment of nutrients and carbohydrates after the workout. It is essential to have adequate meals to aid the body’s recovery process, and the ideal time is within the first 15 – 30 minutes after exercise. Having carbohydrates will restore glycogen to the exhausted muscles and liver. A combination of carbohydrates and proteins in a ratio of 3:1 offers maximum nourishment to the body. The following list combines foods that promote growth and repair:

  • Fruit yoghurt
  • Crackers and low fat peanut butter
  • Egg roll in chapati
  • Chicken or turkey sandwich using brown bread
  • Wheat khakra and low fat cheese
  • Fig and walnut milkshake [alternate option of dates and nuts].

In order to promote negative calorie balance in weight loss, the overall intake of food consumed should be lesser than the energy spent.

Workouts for diabetics

Diabetics are advised moderate exercise to control their blood sugars levels. If you’re a diabetic, exercise with caution, increase workout regimes gradually and avoid intense activities that could drop blood sugar levels. Maximise benefits with half hour sessions 3 – 4 times a week, with alternate aerobic and strength training sessions. Follow a strict regime for your meals, medications and exercise.

For those on medication, eating before and after exercise is mandatory. Always start exercise after a light snack to avoid complications of hypoglycaemia, a condition where the blood glucose levels become abnormally low.

Complex carbohydrate based foods are best choices prior to exercise. Always keep sugar candies, glucose tablets, bananas, dates or fruit juice handy. Self-monitoring of blood glucose before, during or after may be advised if you feel tired after workout. Don’t exercise if the blood sugar is too high. Diabetic medications often have to be re-looked and generally lowered if exercising close to meal time. It is recommended that you carry an Identity Card stating you are a diabetic with instructions to address low blood sugar levels.

Diabetics who are likely to exercise for an hour are advised to consume 15g carbohydrate. The same can be found in the following foods:

  • 1 small piece of fruit—apple, figs, guava, muskmelon, orange, papaya, watermelon.
  • 1 slice of whole wheat bread
  • 1 medium size idli
  • ½ cup oats porridge
  • ¾ cup of low fat curd
  • 1 glass skimmed milk

Edward Stanley, the Earl of Derby once mentioned, “Those who think they have no time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness”. Taking a cue from his statement, weight watchers need to experiment and fine-tune both timing and quantity of food best suited to their exercise regime. One also needs to be watchful of the body’s response to these changes. Maintaining a food journal where one can delete, edit and finally incorporate one’s personal strategy will be a good start.

looking-for-weight-loss-2-280x235Key tips to remember

  • A pre-workout carbohydrate snack boosts performance and endurance
  • Eating too much and too close to a workout can lead to nausea and uneasiness
  • Eating before and after exercise is mandatory if one is on diabetes medication
  • Fine-tune the timing and quantity of food best suited to your workout regime
  • If diabetic, carry an ID Card with instructions to address low blood sugar levels

This was first published in the September 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Geetha G H
Geetha G H is a consultant dietician, certified diabetes educator, sports nutritionist, and a nutrition speaker for corporates. Her decade of diverse experience entail lectureship, clinical research, therapeutic nutrition, food safety, corporate nutrition and seminars. She is a university first rank holder with several gold medals to her credit at both under graduate and post graduate levels.

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