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Foods for Cardio Workouts

An all-around healthy diet is best for any exercise routine, but cardiovascular exercises requires a balance of special nutrients. If you do cardiovascular exercises regularly (and we all should) you should also learn how to fuel up so you are getting the most out of your workout.

Cardio Basics

Cardio exercises like swimming, walking, running and cycling require energy from both carbohydrates and fat. Carbohydrates are the body’s #1 go-to source, but healthy sources of fat also give ample doses of energy.

As exercise intensity changes (like due to an increase in speed or running uphill, for example), the body switches back and forth between carbs and fat to provide energy, often giving people their "second wind". Since you can’t completely control how and when the body needs what nutrient, it’s best to have adequate amounts of both as a regular part of the diet.

Your best choices for carbs are whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and dairy. The healthiest types of fats come from foods like canola oil, olive oil, avocado, nuts, peanut butter, eggs and salmon.

All foods are digested and metabolized differently, so you need to think about the best times to eat foods that will support your exercise schedule.

Before A Workout

Pre-workout meals should focus mostly on healthy carbs, but since carbs with high amounts of fiber take longer to digest, you want to be careful not to take in too much directly before exercise. Protein and fat also take longer to digest, so those should also be spaced further away from exercise.

If you have 3 to 4 hours before exercise…… Have a regular meal.

•    A salad with grilled chicken, vinaigrette dressing and whole wheat roll
•    Turkey & cheese or PB&J on whole-grain bread
•    Grilled salmon with brown rice and broccoli
•    Whole grain pasta with feta cheese and grilled veggies

If you have 60 minutes or less before exercise….. Have a low-fat (and relatively low-protein) snack.

•    Nonfat yogurt
•    A low-fat granola bar
•    A piece of fruit
•    A handful of pretzels

Note: always consider your personal tolerance – choose foods you digest comfortably.

After A Workout

The post-workout window is time for refueling energy stores and helping tired and worn out muscles recover. That means more healthy carbs plus a boost of protein. If it’s been more than 4 hours since your last meal, it’s time for another one. If not, try one of these snack options:

•    A glass of chocolate milk
•    Hummus with pita chips
•    (In a time crunch) A protein bar
•    Half of a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread
•    Raw egg milkshake

Don't forget you are also shedding "stored fat" while you exercise too. Not all of it is from food.

Each 3500 calories worth of exercise you do amounts to burning 1 lb of fat. Exercise combined with a healthy diet means you can easily drop that 1 lb of fat (or more) in 1 week. Over a year you can drop 52 lbs or more if you keep up that routine.


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