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Eat Your Way to a Better Workout

Improve your energy and endurance by making sure you're getting the right mix of carbs, proteins, fats and fluids.

Are you getting the nutrients you need to power through your exercise routine? Or do you sometimes feel like you're running on empty? Just like an automobile, your body will perform more smoothly and efficiently given the right type of fuel and the proper fluid levels.

So, if you find yourself huffing and puffing to make it through the final mile of your run, or if you simply want to feel better when you exercise, take a closer look at what you're offering your body as sustenance. Are you giving yourself the high-octane, performance-enhancing fuel it deserves?

The following quiz can clue you in to whether your diet is making exercise more difficult and, if so, what changes you need to make to power yourself up.

1. To help you maintain an active lifestyle, where should most of your daily calories come from?
a. Carbohydrates
b. Proteins
c. Fats

The correct answer is:
Carbohydrates. Carbs are the body's main source of energy and an important part of a healthful diet. They help keep you energized by maintaining blood sugar levels, and play a key role in helping your body recover after exercise. Try to get 50 to 65 percent of your calories from carbohydrates.

Most people get enough carbs from their regular diet, but they may not be the best kind. For healthy amounts of beneficial carbohydrates, choose fresh fruits, root vegetables (carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, etc.), and whole-grain products, such as brown rice, barley and whole wheat bread.

2. True or false? To stay healthy and physically fit, it's best to eat a strict low-fat diet.
a. True
b. False

The correct answer is:
False. Your body needs fat. And research suggests there's no health or fitness benefit to restricting your fat intake to less than 15 percent of your daily calories.

In addition, fats provide essential fatty acids and vitamins. So, aim to get 25 percent to 35 percent of your calories from healthy fats—preferably the heart-healthy unsaturated fats that come from fish, olive oil, nuts and avocados.

3. It's the end of the workday and half an hour before your 45-minute circuit-training class. Which snack should you grab to help get you through?
a. That's easy—a protein bar
b. The candy bar I keep in the glove compartment for emergencies
c. A handful of trail mix or a granola bar
d. A meatball sub from the corner deli

The correct answer is:
Trail mix or a granola bar. A good source of healthy, energy-boosting carbohydrates, trail mixes and granola bars also are typically easily digested. And they have a little bit of fat and protein for slow-release energy, making them the perfect snack to sustain you through a medium-length, high-intensity workout.

The bottom line
You know that what you eat affects your overall health, and that some foods are better for you than others. It's really no different when you're eating for exercise. In fact, if you focus on a balanced diet and keep your blood sugar levels steady by having healthful meals and nutritious snacks throughout the day, you probably already have a good energy store for your workout.

Your main goal is to get the right amount of energy—quick release, slow release or both—to power you through your routine. It’s also important to get enough water to replace what you lose through sweating. And last but not least, you’ll need to refuel after your workout.

Medically reviewed in December 2019. Updated in August 2020.

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