Food to power your workout

If shedding some pounds of winter insulation is on your agenda, try fueling up for exercise with nutritious choices. They not only make active living a pleasure, they make waist management an easier task.

Enlightened food choices can make a difference in your energy level, as can eating several small meals at regular intervals throughout the day. Snacks promote higher metabolic rates and calorie burning. They also help stave off low blood-sugar readings and fatigue. It just depends on what’s on the menu.

Carbohydrates found in such foods as grains, fruits and vegetables, fuel muscles. But keep in mind that protein-rich foods (meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and legumes) are necessary to build and maintain muscle-and not just Schwarzenegger-sized muscle, but the everyday type, as well.

Although North Americans typically eat too much fat and protein, too little of either can take its toll on health. For instance, low-protein diets can lead to a loss of lean body mass or muscle, resulting in a slower metabolic rate or calorie-burning capacity-not exactly the route to easy waist management.

Don’t carbo load
Diets with a surfeit ocarbohydrates can also have adverse effects on heart health. As we age, excess weight tends to accumulate in the abdomen and can lead to higher blood-sugar readings as well as higher levels of triglycerides-cholesterol’s fatty kissing cousins.

Adding to the risk of heart disease, excess carbohydrate can lower levels of the good type of cholesterol, known as HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, cholesterol. 

Another consideration when selecting carbohydrate-rich foods is the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which can diminish as a result of increasing age and swelling girth, partnered with reduced exercise. Among the potential consequences are elevated insulin and blood sugar readings, which have been shown to have adverse health effects.

Regular exercise, healthy eating and waist management can all have a major effect on promoting insulin sensitivity and a decreased risk of heart disease and certain cancers.

Go for grains
While low-fat diets have become the darlings of the nutrition-conscious, reaping their health benefits depends very much on which carbohydrate-rich foods are ingested. Fueling up on fat-free cookies may not make the grade, but the North American lean food style isn’t based as much on grains, fruits and vegetables as it is on fat-reduced and fat-free alternatives.

And since shoppers snap up new products as fast as they appear, food manufacturers continue to develop them. The trouble is, these fat-reduced and fat-free foods don’t hold a candle to fruits, vegetables and whole grains when it comes to fibre and nutrition ratings.

The varieties of whole-grain products readily available continue to grow. Among the choices are wheat products, such as bulgur and couscous, along with rye, barley, oats, quinoa and spelt, to name just a few.

Scientific studies show that whole (as against refined) grains provide a wealth of nutritional advantages. A recent study of over 34,000 postmenopausal women in Iowa found that whole grains provided a significant protective effect against the development of heart disease.

The researchers suggested that it wasn’t just one component of these foods that offered the protection, but a number of them working together.

Selection tips
Grains such as oats, rye and barley contain predominately soluble fibre, which has been shown to help regulate blood-sugar levels and reduce blood cholesterol readings.

Insoluble fibres, found in larger amounts in whole wheat products, promote bowel regularity and are linked to a decreased incidence of such bowel conditions as diverticulitis and colon cancer. These grains are also topnotch sources of magnesium, a mineral that appears to benefit insulin sensitivity.

Selecting whole grains, though, can be confusing. Don’t let colour fool you. Some breads are darker simply because of colouring agents, such as molasses or caramel. Read the ingredients list on food labels to separate the whole-grain products from impostors. And keep in mind that ingredients, such as the type of flour used, affect the nutrient count. Since ingredients are listed in descending order of quantity, look for breads that put the whole-grain content at the top of the list.

Shopping at the greengrocer’s also provides assorted phytochemicals-disease-fighting substances from plant foods. Among them are compounds such as antioxidants, which have been shown to promote the repair and recovery of muscles following exercise. Munching on fruits and vegetables, besides being filling, also helps to replace fluids and electrolytes, such as potassium, that are lost during exercise.

A warning about fruit and vegetable juices:

  • Too much of a good thing can leave you short on fibre. That’s because nutrition recommendations for fibre are double what most people consume, so rehydrate on water after exercise.

You’re better off eating the fruit or vegetable than drinking its juice. Boosting water consumption is also a good way to avoid abdominal distress as you move toward a fibre and carbohydrate-rich diet.

When selecting fruits, vegetables and grains, keep in mind that variety is more than the spice of life. A wide assortment will not only please your palate but also provide the countless benefits scattered across Mother Nature’s bounty. Think of it as jet fuel.

Apricot quinoa salad
Quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wah’) is an ancient grain that’s making a comeback. Not only is it packed with nutrients, such as the heart-healthy mineral magnesium, it’s a speedy alternative to longer cooking grains. Quinoa can be found in some supermarkets and specialty and health food stores.

1 cup (250 ml) quinoa
2 cups (500 ml) orange juice
1/2 cup  (125 ml) slivered dried apricots
1 red pepper, diced
1/4 cup (50 ml) diced red onion
1/3 cup (75 ml) chopped fresh coriander
2 tablespoons (25 ml) extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon (15 ml) toasted slivered almonds

Using a sieve, rinse quinoa thoroughly with water and allow to drain. Combine quinoa and orange juice in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed; let cool.

In a large bowl, combine cooled quinoa with dried apricots, red pepper, red onion, coriander and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Can be served immediately or refrigerated and served cold. Garnish with slivered almonds before serving. Makes 4-6 servings.

Nutritional Information (per six servings):
calories:  238
protein:  5 grams
fat:  7 grams
carbohydrate:  39 grams
dietary fibre:  3 grams