Nutrition Before, During & After Exercise

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Athletes who train every day and the weekend walker and everyone in between needs hydration and nutrition to stay energized and get the most from their workout. Fueling your body before and during a workout can give you that extra edge. Eating the right things after a workout provides the nutrients and trace elements your body needs to repair and recover. Should you eat some of energy bars, chug a sports drink between exercises or can you get all the nutrition and energy you need from a balanced diet? 
Before exercise, the best foods for strength, endurance and energy will contain carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates fuel your body and protein is necessary to repair and maintain muscle. Carbohydrates and protein are found in lean meats, whole grain breads, pasta, rice, many fruits and vegetables. A good pre-exercise meal will be low in fat, low in fiber but contain a moderate amount of carbohydrates and protein. Too much fiber will fill you up and make you feel a little sluggish. Drink a large glass of water with your pre-workout meal and drink a second glass of water just before you start to exercise. A sports drink that contains electrolytes and trace nutrients is a good idea if you plan to exercise for 1 hour or longer. 

During your workout it’s a good idea to have a light snack between exercises or during a break in the action if you are playing a sport. Eat a few slices of apple, orange or some grapes to replenish your body’s supply of natural sugars and antioxidants. Refuel your muscles with some carbohydrates available in low-fat cheese slices and whole grain crackers. A handful of granola, some dried fruit or a cup of fruit juice are also good choices to re-energize your body. 

After your workout, you need to replenish the nutrients your body needs to repair and recover. Your muscles need protein to repair and grow, as well as complex carbs to refuel your muscles for the next workout. Lean meats, eggs, whole grain pasta and breads, low-fat dairy  foods, beans and rice are good sources of protein. 
Muscles need protein for recovery and growth, and the best time to deliver protein appears to be right after exercise. Providing high-quality protein after exercise gives your muscles the fuel and the building blocks needed for both repair and for growth. A protein shake can also replenish your body’s store of protein. Remember to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise to stay hydrated. 

Worst Foods for Belly Fat

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We all know that excess body fat can be a threat to our health. Excess fat around your waist can be a bigger threat to your health than fat anywhere else on your body. Belly fat has been associated with heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. Some people have a tendency to put on belly fat due to their genes, but poor eating habits and lifestyle choices often lead to extra fat around the midsection. High-fat foods alone are not to blame for belly fat. Foods high in fat are not helpful, but eating foods high in calories and low in nutrition are more of a threat than high-fat foods alone. The best way to prevent or to get rid of excess belly fat is to reduce the amount of food you eat and eat healthier foods. Eat a nutritious diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and incorporate exercise into your daily routine. 
Alcohol is a major contributor to belly fat. Alcohol has almost as many calories per serving than most high-fat foods. Drinking alcohol can also leave you feeling more hungry than normal. Also, your liver is too busy ridding your body of the alcohol to burn fat calories, so you end up storing calories as fat. This is the reason many people develop what is commonly called “beer belly.” Drink moderately and avoid eating when you drink. 
Foods that contain trans fats, especially hydrogenated oils, add fat to your waistline. Trans fats are found in cookies, crackers, fried foods, margarine, shortening and processed foods. Packaged and convenience foods, such as cake, biscuit and pancake mixes are usually high in trans fats. Condensed canned soup and dried noodle soups are also high in trans fats. Frozen foods, including frozen fish sticks, pizza, pot pies and frozen pies and cakes are high in trans fats, too. Watch out for excess trans fats in baked goods. Donuts, cakes, breads and cookies found at your supermarket bakery are usually prepared using shortening or margarine and processed flour, all of which are high in trans fats. Baked foods that are prepared using whole grain flour and butter are lower in trans fat, 
Fast food is one of the worst options for trans fats. Burgers, French fries and sauces on sandwiches offered by fast food restaurants are high in trans fats and calories. Many people also overeat fast food, which leads to even more calories and fat in your diet. The occasional fast food treat is probably okay, but when eaten frequently, fast food adds to belly fat and overall weight gain. Choose low-calorie or reduced fat options when available. 

Soft drinks can really pack on the belly fat because most contain high-calorie sweeteners. Many soft drink manufacturers have replaced refined sugar with high-fructose corn syrup for sweetness. High-fructose corn syrup is high in calories. Limit the amount of soda in your diet or choose sugar-free sodas. Try drinking some green tea instead of soda. Green tea, when combined with exercise and healthy food choices, can help you reduce belly fat and lose weight. 
Keep your waist trim and avoid the health risks of excess belly fat by eating a diet low in trans-fats, high in fiber and rich in nutrients. Choose brown rice over white rice. Select fresh foods instead of frozen treats. Drink less soda and alcohol. Combine healthy foods with exercise and the belly fat should soon start to melt away.

May Is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month

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May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. It’s a great time to start a fitness program or help family members become more active. It’s never too late to start getting fit. Children and teens should get an hour of exercise each day. Adults of all ages need about 1 hour 15 minutes of vigorous exercise or 2 1/2 hours of moderate exercise each week. Once you make exercise part of your daily routine, it’s easy to stay physically fit and active throughout your life. People who exercise regularly are less likely to have high blood pressure, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and have lower cholesterol. National Physical Fitness and Sports Month is a good time to get active and to help family members become more active.  You can find more information about recommended activity levels for people of all ages and physical ability on the US Department of Health and Human Services website, Physical Activity Guidelines.
Help get members of your family off the couch and exercising by taking small steps. Choose an activity that every member of the family can participate in regardless of their fitness level. Begin by taking a family walk around the block after dinner two times each week for a month. Go for a family block walk three times each week the next month. Take the whole family for a bike ride or go roller skating in the park after dinner one night each week. 
Sign up for a family membership at your local YMCA or gym. Take the whole family swimming at the gym or YMCA every weekend. Meet up with family members at the gym twice each week and then enjoy a treat like low-fat frozen yogurt afterwards. Make it a routine and make it fun for everyone. Challenge family members by helping them to set realistic fitness goals and then make it a race to success! For example, challenge your spouse to a race to lose 10 pounds in the next 60 days by eating nutritious foods and exercising regularly. 
Buy fitness-friendly birthday, anniversary and holiday gifts instead of toys, games and trinkets. Bicycles, skates, skateboards and sports balls make great gifts for kids and adults. Don’t forget the helmets and protective pads! Dumbbells, pedometers, new exercise clothes and sneakers are great gifts for adults and kids. Try a new healthy dinner recipe each week. Involve the kids in making the menu choices and helping in the selection and preparation of nutritious ingredients and side dishes.

Can you think of other ways to get your kids and spouse or partner involved in physical activity and healthy food choices? 

Diet Don’ts

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Obesity is a serious problem in the United States. Obesity rates are more than 30% of the population of some states and the problem appears to be growing. The increase in obesity rates has many people re-thinking their diet and fitness habits. Some may even take extreme measures to lose weight or to prevent weight gain. Extreme measures to control or lose weight can lead to serious health problems and are not advised. 
Don’t do extreme dieting. Extreme dieting is a common method employed by many people who want to quickly lose weight. Starvation diets, skipping meals, cutting entire food groups from the menu or relying on diet shakes for nutrition can result in malnutrition and loss of muscle mass. Your metabolism will also slow down, which  defeats your weight loss goal. The average person needs at least 1,200 calories every day to stay healthy.  Eat a variety of foods, including dairy, fruits and vegetables to get the nutrition you need and to avoid hunger. Avoid fad diets that limit the variety of foods you can eat or restrict your menu to only a few foods from one or two food categories. 
Don’t count on diet pills or shakes to help you lose weight. Diet products that promise you will lose tens of pounds in just few weeks are unlikely to live up to this claim and may actually harm your health. Most diet pills are a combination of diuretics and caffeine, which cause you to lose water and can result in dehydration. Overuse of diet pills can result in electrolyte imbalance, too. 
Over-the-counter diet pills may not appear to be dangerous , but they can still cause harm. “Most diet pills are nothing more than a quick fix loaded with caffeine and diuretics that can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance,” says Diekman, director of nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis. Diet supplements and over-the-counter diet pills do not receive the same level of scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration as prescription drugs, so their safety and effectiveness is not assured. 

Don’t do colon cleanses or detox programs. Colon cleanses can cause you to lose some weight initially due to water loss and the complete emptying of the bowel. Water loss from colon cleanses can cause dehydration. Detoxing your body by drinking only juice or water for days can lead to a lack of nutrients, decreased metabolism and may cause other health problems. It’s best to drink lots of water and eat a high-fiber diet every day. 
Don’t purge. Purging, like vomiting or using laxatives are unsafe and can lead to serious, sometimes life-threatening, health problems. When you force yourself to vomit shortly after eating, strong stomach acids can cause erosion in the lining of the mouth and esophagus. Tooth enamel is also damaged by stomach acids. Purging can lead to the severe eating disorder bulimia. 

Lose Weight Without Dieting

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One of the most difficult things about dieting is feeling deprived. Starvation diets don’t work. In fact, they have the opposite effect because deprivation causes the metabolism to slow down so that your body stores more food as fat instead of burning it for energy. Fad diets can be dangerous because you may not get all the nutrients you need from the food you are permitted to eat while on the diet. The best way to lose weight without depriving yourself, or endangering your health, is to eat smaller portions, avoid sugars and fats and exercise. Some minor changes in your lifestyle and in your eating habits can make all the difference in weight loss.
Eat home-cooked meals at least 5 to 6 days each week. Some restaurants provide calorie and fat content information for menu items, but most do not. Use fresh vegetables if possible, but frozen vegetables are just as nutritious. Those with a busy lifestyle can cook on weekends to prepare meals for the upcoming week. Frozen dinners often contain large amounts of sodium, sugars, fats and preservatives. Even frozen diet meals may contain too much salt. Cook your own meals from fresh ingredients to avoid hidden calories in your meals. Slow down and eat more slowly. Savor your food instead of gobbling it down in a hurry. When you eat fast, your brain and stomach do not have time to communicate with each other, which can lead to overeating.
Serve more vegetables with each of your meals. If you normally eat one vegetable side dish at dinner, add a second vegetable. The high fiber content of most vegetables will fill you up faster without adding calories. Avoid adding cream or cheese sauces, which adds fat and calories to your food. Cook with herbs and seasonings instead of sauces. 
Switch your white bread and rolls for high fiber, calorie busting whole grains instead. The next time you reach for a soda, pour yourself a glass of water or tea. Replacing one soda with a glass of water each day can help you avoid about 10 teaspoons of sugar every day. Add lemon, fresh strawberries or lime juice to your water for flavor. 

Eat for Energy

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Would you be surprised if someone told you to eat to lose weight? Your metabolism is the process by which your body converts the food you eat into energy. Your metabolic rate is the rate at which your body turns food into fuel. The metabolic rate is different for each person and generally slows down as you age. This is why some people get what is called “middle age spread” around the abdomen or hips. When the metabolic rate slows, but caloric intake does not decrease, you can gain weight. Depriving yourself of food is not the answer to maintaining a healthy weight. Your body needs food for energy and will slow your metabolic rate in response to a lack of energy. Starvation diets are not only dangerous, but counter-productive since the body responds to deprivation by slowing down metabolism. To maintain a healthy weight or to lose weight, keep your metabolic rate at peak efficiency by eating more often. 
When you eat food, your body responds by releasing hormones and enzymes that convert food to energy that can be used by your cells. If you wait too long between meals, the metabolism slows down. Skipping breakfast or lunch and then eating a large evening meal may cause your body to store more food as fat in order to compensate for the lack of food earlier in the day. Your body stores up fat for energy use. The problem is the body is storing more fat than you are using for energy. In order to avoid this cycle of starvation and weight gain and keep your metabolism functioning at peak efficiency, eat several small, high-fiber meals everyday. 
Eat a healthy, high-fiber breakfast, followed by a mid-morning snack. Fresh fruits, vegetables, yogurt and whole grain crackers are ideal choices. Don’t forget to eat lunch, and then enjoy a late-afternoon snack. Dinner should include foods from all the food groups. At least 1/2 of your plate should be filled with vegetables, fruits and grains. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to help your body digest food and remain hydrated. Green tea may also help to increase your metabolism because it contains an antioxidant called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which may help boost your body’s fuel burning power. 

How to Avoid Mindless Eating

It’s easy to snack without thinking about it. Some of us do it in front of the television, while talking on the telephone or while sitting at our desk at work. That bowl of potato chips or popcorn is just too tasty to ignore. Once you start munching without thinking, it is easy to eat an entire bag of chips or a bowl full of popcorn before you realize what you have done. A few simple changes can help you avoid mindless munching, which can lead to excess calories and weight gain.
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Remove all candy, chips and other fat-laden or sugary snacks from your television room. The best practice is to not eat while watching television. If you must snack while watching your favorite television programs, choose grapes, raisins, nuts, baked whole grain crackers and cheese, fresh vegetables or sliced fruit. Instead of sipping on a soda, have a glass of green tea on ice. Keep a bowl of mixed nuts or your favorite nuts on the table on the television room instead of chips or cookies. 
Clean out your desk at work and give away or toss out all the fattening, sugary and greasy snacks you have hidden in your special snack drawer. Try to avoid snacking while working on your computer. Set a specific time for your snacks and stick to the schedule.  A light, healthy snack in the early morning before lunch and again in the afternoon can help keep your metabolism stimulated and keep you from over-eating at lunch or dinner. Replace unhealthy snacks with small packages of nuts, granola bars, dried fruit or fresh fruit options. Stay away from the soda machine at work. Ask your employer to offer low-calorie, sugar-free alternatives to sweet soda or bring your own drinks. Keep some bottled water in your desk and drink that instead of hitting the soda machine. If your company serves donuts or other sweets at meetings, drink a glass of water and eat a piece of fruit before the meeting, so that you will not feel the urge to pick up a sugary treat to munch on while the manager drones on about sales figures. 

Pay attention to the foods you put in your mouth. Rather than mindlessly grabbing a handful of whatever is in the bowl in front of you, stop and look at the food. If it’s a handful of candy or chips, put it down. Move the bowl out of your reach or get a healthy snack instead. 

Fat-Fighting Foods

Fruits and vegetables are not only an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, but also help fight body fat. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables may also help to reduce your risk of some types of cancers. Substitute fruits and vegetables in place high calorie foods like macaroni and cheese or white flour pastas. Fruits are especially good at helping you to fight fat and lose weight. They are loaded with flavor, fiber and nutrients but low in calories. Fruits can help you feel full, but will not add significantly to your caloric intake. Fruits contain water and fiber that can help you feel more full so that  you eat less. 
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Grapefruit is rich in soluble fiber, which takes longer to digest. This helps you feel fuller for a longer period of time. Grapefruit is low in calories but high in nutrients. Try a glass of grapefruit juice with the pulp before dinner to help you feel fuller before you eat. Watermelon is another fruit that can help you feel fuller. Watermelon contains lots of fiber, plenty of water and is rich in lycopene, an important antioxidant. Pears and apples also contain plenty of natural fiber, nutrients and water. Eat pears and apples with the peels to get extra fiber and more flavor. Hot peppers contain capsaicin, which may help curb your appetite and boost your metabolism. People tend to eat less when their food is spicy. Try some hot peppers in your favorite dish for extra flavor and a dose of fat-fighting capsaicin. Several studies indicate that green tea may help stimulate the body to burn fat, especially belly fat. Several compounds in green tea, notably catechins, may stimulate the metabolism to help your body burn fat. Drink 2 to 3 cups of hot green tea every day, especially before a meal. 
There is no magic bullet when it comes to weight loss. A healthy diet combined with exercise is the best way to avoid weight gain and to lose weight. Reduce the amount of calories you eat and get at least 30 minutes of exercise every other day. Walk every day, if you can, and avoid sugary snacks and sodas between meals to help reduce the amount of calories you consume. 

Energy Boosting Snacks

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Do you feel drained of energy in the afternoon? Fatigue in the afternoon is not uncommon. Some people go for a quick sugar fix to boost their energy. Sugary snacks, like candy bars and soda, will boost your energy in the short term, but you will crash after a short time and may even feel more fatigued than before. Sugary snacks and sodas also add unwanted calories and caffeine. Natural sugars and carbohydrates can give you a boost of energy that lasts without the crash. You will also enjoy the added benefits of nutritional vitamins, minerals and trace elements that your body needs. 
Nuts and seeds are high in fiber and protein that will help you feel full and boost your energy level. Walnuts and almonds are delicious and an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids that help boost your brain. Almonds also contain manganese, vitamin E, magnesium, copper and vitamin B2. Manganese is an important trace element that improves sleep, helps your muscles to relax, boosts your immune system and helps improve your overall mood. The protein in nuts helps to stabilize your blood sugar and is slow to digest. A handful of nuts in the afternoon can boost your energy and help to curb your appetite.
Whole grain snacks such as granola bars or crackers contain many nutrients and complex carbohydrates that can help boost your energy and relieve afternoon fatigue. Whole wheat snacks contain iron, protein, manganese, magnesium, fiber, and vitamins B1, B2 and B3. B-vitamins help fight fatigue, stabilize blood sugar and maintain energy levels. Complex carbohydrates are digested and absorbed slowly, which means your energy boost can last for hours. 

A cup of yogurt can provide a boost of energy and calcium, protein, zinc and phosphorus. Most brands of yogurt also contain vitamins B2, B5 and B12. Yogurt is easy to digest and quickly absorbed by the body. You will get a quick boost of energy, which will last much longer than a sugar boost from a candy bar or soda. Yogurt also contains tyrosine, which is an  amino acid that stimulates the production of neurotransmitters in the brain for improved mood and brain function. Add some fresh fruit to a cup of yogurt for extra natural sugar energy and nutrients. 

Diet Survival Tips for 4th of July Cookouts

Outdoor barbecues are a tradition on Independence Day. Grills will fire up in backyards around the country. Everything from hot dogs, hamburgers, steaks, ribs, smoked sausages, chicken, vegetables and even shrimp and fish are cooked on outdoor grills. Side dishes may include potato salad, cole slaw, pickles and  macaroni salad. Of course, what 4th of July celebration would be complete without apple pie and ice cream? It can be difficult to stay on a diet and avoid fatty foods at a backyard cookout when so many people around you are enjoying the savory open-grilled flavor, and the smell gets your mouth to watering. You can enjoy a delicious backyard barbecue without  regretting it the next day. You can enjoy all the flavor of a 4th of July grilled fare without all the calories and fat.
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Host your own backyard barbecue celebration where you select the cuts and types of meat and side dishes. Skip the processed meats like hot dogs and ground beef. These meats products are often loaded with preservatives, fats and sodium. Turkey hot dogs and ground lean steak are much better choices. Grill kabobs including white meat chicken or shrimp, mixed vegetables, like peppers, pearl onions and cherry tomatoes. Sea bass, cod and tilapia work well on a grill if you use a little foil and a light vegetable or olive oil. Spritz talapia with fresh lime for a delicious meal. Try some cajun blackening spices and blacken your fish on the grill. 
There are loads of calories, fats and sodium in side dishes and condiments. Condiments including barbecue sauce, mayonnaise, ketchup and ranch salad dressing contain lots of calories and sodium. Offer low-sodium or salt-free alternatives. Use more spices when cooking food on the grill so that condiments are not really necessary. Potato and pasta salads that include mayonnaise may contain as many as 400 calories per serving. Offer a tossed pasta salad using whole grain pasta and a light vinaigrette dressing. Include some diced tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers mixed in with the pasta for extra flavor and a boost of healthy vitamins and minerals. 

Beer and soda often flow freely at backyard barbecues. Offer your guests a variety of flavored sparkling water, lite beer and low-sugar sodas in addition to regular soda and beer. Drink sensibly and in moderation. Drink an 8 ounce glass of water between each alcoholic drink to help you avoid over-indulging and dehydration.