A Whole Foods Approach To Sports Nutrition: What Should I Eat Before a Workout?

Do your New Year’s Resolutions include kicking up your workout routine a notch? If they do, that is great! But equally as important as the workout is what you are eating. Proper nutrition is essential to getting the results you want in the gym or out on the playing field. With personal trainers selling supplements, CrossFitters pushing Paleo, and a new diet popping up every month, its hard to decipher what is actually healthy and what is just hype. Here are four expert tips to help you get the most out of a pre-workout meal.

  1. Don’t shun carbohydrates. I know we are constantly being told carbs make us fat. But it’s just not true. Eating more calories than we burn makes us fat. Carbs provide our body with a quick source of energy which is what we need while working out. Carbohydrates break down into glucose, which enters our muscle cells and gives us fuel to workout at maximum capacity. Good sources of carbs to eat before a workout are fruit, whole wheat bread, oatmeal, potatoes (white or sweet), and yogurt.
  2. Keep it real. Focus on whole, minimally processed foods as much as possible. For example, eat an apple rather than an apple flavored Nutri-Grain bar. Although I think bars serve their purpose, they shouldn’t be your number one go to. If you are “keeping it real” that also means tossing protein powders, “pre-workout shakes” and anything that doesn’t actually resemble food. If you can buy it at GNC, but not the farmers market, that is a good indicator that it is not a real food. Aside from shakes and powders having no nutritional advantage over eating a well balanced meal, there are risks associated with supplements such as kidney and liver failure. Although rare, it does happen and it is not worth the risk.
  3. Hydrate hydrate hydrate! It’s best to be well hydrated before beginning a workout. Try to drink 16 ounces of fluids a few hours prior to exercising and then 1 cup of water in the half hour before. If you are exercising for one hour or less plain water provides adequate hydration. If sweating heavily or exercising for prolonged periods of time a sports drink with carbohydrates and electrolytes is a better choice. Hydration needs are different for every individual and vary based on the type of workout you are doing. One of the best indicators of hydration is urine color; as my sports nutrition professor always said, your pee should be “light lemonade.” If it’s darker, you should start increasing your fluid intake before and during exercise.
  4. Timing matters. What and how much you should eat before working out varies based on how much time you have. If you are eating dinner at 5 pm and working out at 7 pm, it is likely that you don’t need any additional food. If you are working out straight after work at 5 pm and your last meal was at 12 noon, it is a good idea to have a pre-workout snack. Personally, if I’m working out after work I’m usually ravenous. So I eat an apple or granola bar on the way to the gym. I’m generally still hungry after that apple, but once I start working out I forget about my hunger and enjoy the sweat. This snack should mainly focus on carbs, but can have a bit of protein and healthy fats thrown in as well. If your workout is primarily strength based you will want to include more protein to aid with muscle recovery. If you do more cardio (like an hour long run) your snack should be mainly easy to digest carbs. Here are some good examples.

Pre-workout snack for cardio (<1 hour before workout): 1 banana or apple, 1 Tbsp nut butter, 1 cup of water

Pre-workout snack for strength training (<1 hour before workout): 1 cup Greek Yogurt, handful of berries or sliced fruit, 10 almonds

Pre-workout meal for cardio (2-3 hours before working out): 4 ounces baked chicken or fish, 1 cup brown rice, green salad with dressing, small dinner roll, 16 ounces water

Pre-workout meal for strength (2-3 hours before working out): 6 ounces baked chicken or fish, 1/2 cup brown rice, 1 cup roasted veggies in olive oil, 8 ounces water or milk

I hope this guide helps with your sports nutrition needs. Stay tuned for the next blog to learn what to eat after your workout.



The Best Diet and Fitness Trends of 2014

Wow. I can’t believe we are on our last day of 2014. Both personally and professionally it has been a great year for me. I got to witness the birth of my first nephew in February, traveled the world over the summer (or at least South America), I’ve already gotten in two snowboarding trips this winter, and I won my first recipe contest for this soup! Not too shabby.

My nephew Noah who is almost one year old now!
My nephew Noah who is almost one year old now!
At the beach with my niece Avery
At the beach with my niece Avery

Twenty-fourteen was also a good year for the health industry. It’s finally known that Dr. Oz is a quack and we need to stop taking his medical advice (over 50% of his recommendations have no truth to them according to scientific studies), my wonderful blog is now floating out in cyberspace, and a few of those silly fad diets (Master Cleanse, Sensa) are finally on their way out. The following is a list of some of the best diet trends of 2014.  You should give these trends a  try in the new year if you are looking to fulfill some of those “lose weight, get healthy for real this time” resolutions.

1. Mediterranean Diet.  The Mediterranean diet is a plant-based diet centered around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. Fish and seafood consumption are encouraged twice per week and red meat is limited.  Drinking wine in moderation is encouraged. That means one (4 ounce) glass per day for women and two glasses for men. This eating pattern has consistently been linked with lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. A new study from Harvard even suggests that a Mediterranean Diet has the power to lengthen  telomeres which is a biomarker of healthy aging. In a nutshell, following the Mediterranean diet can help you live longer and healthier. Want to learn more? Check out this book The Complete Mediterranean Diet.


2. Vegan/Vegetarian. There are a lot of reasons to go veg. You can do it for health, you can do it for the animals, for the environment, or some combination of all three. Vegan and vegetarian diets have been studied for years and are routinely linked to having a lower body weight and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Generally vegans fare even better than vegetarians. If eschewing meat all together is not your cup of tea, try Meatless Monday or The Flexitarian Diet.  If you go vegetarian, there is one thing you are going to hear a lot. I bet my vegetarian friends know which question that is. “How do you get enough protein?” It’s simple: beans, nuts, lentils, and soy. Dairy and eggs if you’re not vegan. A poorly planned vegetarian diet may be lacking in protein, just the same as a poorly planned omnivorous diet would be lacking in protein. Green Chile Corn Casserole

3. Write it Down. Keeping a food journal is a pain in the butt. But you gotta do it for effective weight loss! Whether you go old school and keep a paper journal or use one of the many fitness apps out there that allow you to track your calories, journaling is a proven tool to help you be more mindful of your eating habits. I recommend not only tracking what you eat, but also how hungry and full you are. Use a scale from 1-10, just like the pain scale they use at the Drs. office. If you’re at a one you are ravenously hungry and could eat a cow. A ten is uncomfortably full, why did I eat so much, let me go get my stretchy pants. Ideally, you want to keep your hunger between a 4-7.

4. Foam Rolling. I foam rolled for the first time this year. It was heaven. Foam rolling is essentially giving yourself a massage to work out the tightness and knots in your muscles. Or in personal trainer jargon self-myofascial release. Foam rolling will probably hurt a little the first time, but if it’s hurting a lot you should stop and ask a professional for help. I don’t know about you, but at my gym they tend to hide the foam rollers and covet them like they are some secret weapon, so I suggest buying your own.  This is the Foam Massage Roller that I use.

foam rolling
Photo credit: breakingmuscle.com. Rolling out your IT band feels great!

5. Weights/Strength Training. Every time I have turned on the news for the past two days there is some fitness expert talking about how strength training is better for you than cardio for weight loss. Muscle burns more than fat is the mantra that is constantly being touted. I agree, muscle is more metabolically active than fat. But a half hour of cardio is going to burn at least double the calories of a half hour of weight lifting. One problem with “muscle burns more than fat” is that it’s assumed you are actually going to gain substantial muscle from lifting weights. Yes, if you are a man, particularly a young man, you will have hypertrophy (muscle growth) from lifting weights consistently. If you are a woman over a certain age, say thirty, you’re not going to gain that much muscle (unless you have an Olympic athlete training schedule). It’s not your fault, its your lack of high levels of testosterone.

I’m not saying weight training isn’t good. Weight training is very good. It’s effective for decreasing osteoporosis and sarcopenia (muscle loss), and now its even better than cardio for losing weight.  Personally, I have been on top of it with cardio this past year (thanks Zumba) but have been a bit lacking in the strength training department. One of my resolutions this year is strength training at least twice per week. Whether its fifteen minutes of weights added to my cardio session or an hour-long Body Pump class, I’m getting it done this next year!

What are your New Years Resolutions? Fitness related or otherwise? Happy New Year to all my readers out there! I have a feeling 2015 is going to be a great year!


Workout Wednesday: How Many Calories Do I Burn?

Sorry folks, no video today! Stayed tuned next week for part two of Workout with Your Baby! Today I’m talking about calorie burn. Not always everyone’s favorite subject, but it is important none-the-less. Recently, I have read several studies demonstrating that exercise alone is not effective for weight loss. Interesting. Why is that? Several reasons, one being that people tend to overestimate the amount of calories they burn during exercise and underestimate the amount of calories in their food. That is why I have created this handy dandy little chart for you.  The calorie burn is estimated for a 150 pound female who is doing the activity for 1 hour.  If you are male or weigh more, the calorie burn will likely be greater for you, if you are smaller, it will be less.

As an added bonus I have compared the calories burned to a few foods we might eat around the holiday times.

Oatmeal Pecan Pie

1 slice pie = 300 calories (apple or pumpkin pie) This healthier pecan pie in the photo also has 300 calories for 1/8th of a pie. Regular pecan pie has roughly 500 calories for 1 slice.


1 medium apple = 80 calories. Try making applesauce if you’d like to mix it up.

1 hour of Activity and Calories Burned

Walking (3 MPH) = 300 calories, 1.0 slices pie, 3.5 apples

Hiking = 385 calories, 1.2 slices pie, 5.0 apples

Running (6 MPH) = 600 calories, 2.0 slices pie, 7.5 apples

Leisure Bike Ride = 200 calories, .66 slices pie, 2.5 apples

Spin Class/Fast Bike Ride = 700 calories, 2.3 slices pie, 8.7 apples

Zumba Class (personal fave) = 450 calories, 1.5 slices pie, 5.6 apples

Yoga Class (not Bikram) = 200 calories, .66 slices pie, 2.5 apples

Weight lifting = 200 calories, .66 slices pie, 2.5 apples

Keep in mind, activities with greater calorie burn are not necessarily better. They simply burn more calories. One hour of weight lifting is not going to give you a high calorie burn but it will help you build more muscle mass if you do it consistently. Higher muscle mass equates to a higher calorie burn while sleeping, eating, walking, etc. That is why it is recommended to do both cardio and strength training when your goal is to lose weight or maintain your loss. That is the personal trainer answer. My answer is do the activity that you enjoy and that makes you feel your best!

What is your favorite form of exercise? Were you shocked by how much or how little any of the activities burn?