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Monday, May 11, 2009

When (not if!) and what to eat before exercise

I've seen it in almost everyone I work with at some point or another. They have no energy; they can't lift as much as they normally do; they can't keep moving; they feel like crap for no good reason. Depending on the time of day, I ask the appropriate question: "did you eat breakfast / lunch / dinner today?" They look thoughtful and say "no... is that why I feel like this?"

The opposite problem happens too. Someone comes in for a workout right after a big meal and feels nauseated from warmup to cooldown.

There is a right way to fuel your body for exercise, so that you're feeling energized throughout, don't run out of steam and don't feel nauseated and overfull. Lots of people who are trying to lose weight figure they will exercise without eating beforehand, thinking that this will force their bodies to burn fat. In actuality, the body will react by slowing the metabolism, burning fewer calories overall both during and after exercise. It also ensures that the exerciser will be unable to work out with as much intensity as their normal potential would allow; making exercise less effective.

This does not mean it's okay to overdo it on junk food before hitting the treadmill! Putting in more calories than you will expend in exercise will result in gaining weight, not losing it. And while sugary foods might give you a rush of energy to begin with, the quick blood sugar crash makes for the same problem you would have had if you hadn't eaten at all half an hour into the workout.

The best way to prepare the body for exercise is to eat a healthy meal around 2-3 hours beforehand, or if it has been longer since the last meal, a smaller snack about half an hour to an hour beforehand. Whatever you eat should have a balance of simple and complex carbohydrates and protein, which will provide lasting energy throughout your workout. Some of my favorite pre-workout snacks are below:

*1/2 peanut butter & honey sandwich on whole wheat bread
*"cottage doubles" cottage cheese & fruit
*1/2 whole wheat bagel w/ 1 tbsp cream cheese
*1/4 cup of trail mix with nuts & dried fruit
*1 apple sliced with peanut butter

Be creative, or just stick with things you like. Just don't try to workout with no fuel!

Also make sure to drink 16-24 oz of water before exercise, and have more available during and after exercise. This will keep your body properly hydrated, energized and able to keep going. Give it a try and see how much better you feel!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Reward yourself without sabotaging yourself: weight loss goals

Most people, when starting a new nutrition or fitness program, reward themselves along the way to keep themselves motivated. This is a great concept and in some ways essential. Unfortunately, a lot of people go about "rewarding" themselves in very self-sabotaging ways, creating vicious cycles that counteract their attempts at improving their health and well-being, creating frustration and eventually causing a return to old, bad habits.

Here are a few self-sabotaging "rewards" that don't work, and some better alternatives:

-over-the-top treats
Hitting the gym and then deciding to splurge on a hot fudge sundae (or chili fries with the guys, or margaritas with the girls, or whatever) is a classic example of self-sabotaging rewards. If you take a look at how many calories your exercise efforts are burning vs. how many are in that splurge food, most of the time you'll be shocked and appalled. Food treats are not altogether bad and you *should* allow for some decadent foods occasionally or even on a daily basis; but NOT in huge amounts and NOT as a "reward" for following your fitness plan. If you're craving something, try a small portion, like a mini candy bar or a few bites of a shared dessert. Don't go crazy on a regular basis and expect to achieve good results.

-teeny-weeny clothes
Seen as an incentive to diet and exercise, too-small clothes tend to cause more anxiety and backsliding than motivation. Better to purchase clothes that fit as you lose weight - this is a very positive reinforcement of your efforts that can make you feel great, instead of a constant guilt-trip that may make you feel bad about yourself and thus trip up your healthy plans.

-things you should be doing for yourself anyway
The occasional day off, self-care you never seem to get around to, time to relax: these should not be contingent upon whether you're losing weight or not. In fact, neglecting these things can really sabotage your diet and exercise plans as stress mounts and overtakes your ability to cope with life. Take care of yourself as a baseline practice, not as a reward for something you've done.

-stuff you can't afford
There's not much worse than being saddled with large amounts of debt, whether it's from one big splurge or a bunch of small things adding up. Make your rewards within, rather than above your means in order to maintain a happy, healthy you.

Some examples of effective self-rewards:
(remember, you can always purchase things used to avoid spending too much, if that's a concern)
-a new book, cd, dvd, video game or whatever entertainment item floats your particular boat
-a trip to someplace you'd like to go: museums, concerts, amusement parks, operas, parks - whatever interests you
-non-food-centered outings or parties with friends and loved ones: go bowling or rollerskating or surfing or swimming or something else fun that you don't normally do, and enjoy the activity and company
-attractive, properly sized clothing that makes you feel fabulous at the size you are.
-time at the spa, hair salon, manicure place or massage place - anything that makes you feel good and refreshed in your own skin and isn't part of your normal routine

The important thing is that your rewards please you and help keep you on track without causing guilt, anxiety or sabotaging your efforts. So make it about you and not anyone else. Good luck, and enjoy!