The rising awareness of the benefits of exercise has increased the number of people engaging in various forms of physical activity, from professional sports to recreational exercise routines. However, one can sometimes overlook the power of proper nutrition and how it interplays with exercise. A false belief is that if someone keeps an active daily routine, such as integrating exercise into a busy schedule, they can do the magic in maintaining a healthy life. While it is true that regular exercise is a primary consideration when one wants to be healthy, the fuel that drives the body, which is food, is also essential.
Nutrition plays a central role in supporting and optimizing the performance and health of active people. Learning proper nutrition for busy people and outlining key dietary considerations to improve performance and overall health is essential.
The Link Between Nutrition and Exercise
Nutrition and physical activity have a complex relationship. An active lifestyle increases the body’s need for energy stores, nutrient supply, and recovery mechanisms. Good nutrition promotes physical activity, providing the energy needed for optimal performance. In addition, protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals are essential in muscle repair, immune function, and overall health.
Tips for Macronutrients in Diet
The primary source of energy for intense activity is carbohydrates. Recommended carbohydrates for athletes range from 6 -10 g/kg (2.7 to 4.5 g/lb) of body weight per day. A diet rich in complex carbohydrates, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, helps maintain blood sugar levels during exercise and replaces muscle glycogen. The amount needed depends on one’s total daily energy expenditure, type of sport, gender, and environmental conditions.
Foods high in unrefined carbohydrates, such as wholegrain bread and cereals, should form the basis of an active person’s diet. A more refined carbohydrate food (such as white bread and jam) helps increase total carbohydrate intake, especially for busy people.
Protein consumption is necessary for muscle repair and growth. Active people should consume sufficient high-quality protein sources, such as lean meat, eggs, poultry, fish, dairy products, legumes, and plant-based protein alternatives. Protein recommendations for strength and endurance athletes range from 1.2- 1.7 g/kg of body weight daily. This amount can often be met without protein or amino acid supplements. Adequate energy intake to maintain body weight is necessary for optimal protein utilization and performance.
Fats found in seeds, nuts, avocados and fatty fish are essential for overall health and energy as they are considered healthy. They provide a concentrated source of energy and support vital body functions. Fat intake should be between 20%-35% of total calories. Consuming 20% of energy from fat is not beneficial for performance. Fats are a source of energy, fat-soluble vitamins, and essential fatty acids that are important in an athlete’s diet. However, high-fat diets are not recommended for athletes.
4. Vitamins and Minerals
Enough vitamin and mineral intake are both essential for various physiological processes, including energy production, immune function, and bone health.
There are no guidelines for dietary supplements or supplements. To stay in the loop, eat a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet that includes calcium, iron, potassium and fiber-rich foods. You also need essential vitamins in your diet, such as A, C and E.
Avoid indulging in junk food, which is a source of empty calories. Active people should favor a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and dairy products to ensure optimal micronutrient intake.
Active People’s Diet: Pre, During and Post
An active person or athlete’s diet should be similar to that suggested recommendation for the general public, with energy intake broken down into 45-65% carbohydrates, 15 to 25% protein 20 to 35% fat. Meanwhile, active people who exercise vigorously for more than 60-90 minutes per day may need to increase their energy consumption, especially from carbohydrate sources.
Pre-Work Out Nutrition
Pre-event meals are an important part of active pre-workout preparation. Before exercise, a meal or snack should provide enough fluids to maintain hydration and be relatively low in fiber and fat to facilitate an empty stomach and minimize digestive upset. It should also be relatively high in carbohydrates to maximize blood sugar maintenance, moderate in protein, contains familiar foods, and is well tolerated by athletes. A small snack one to two hours before exercise can also improve performance.
Examples of appropriate before-exercise meals and snacks include cereal and low-fat milk, toast, muffins, fruit salad and yogurt, pasta with dressings, tomatoes, a low-fat breakfast or muesli bar, or low-fat rice. Liquid meal supplements may also be appropriate, especially for athletes experiencing pre-event stress.
During Work Out Nutrition
During exercise, the primary purpose of nutrient intake is to replace lost fluids and provide carbohydrates (about 30-60 g per hour) to maintain blood sugar levels. Current recommendations suggest that 30-60g of carbohydrates is sufficient and can come in lollipops, sports gels, sports drinks, low-fat sports bars or sandwiches with white bread.
Further, consuming fluids regularly during prolonged exercise is essential to avoid dehydration. Sports drinks, diluted fruit juices, and water are good choices.
Post-Work Out Nutrition
A post-workout diet aims to provide sufficient fluids, energy, electrolytes, and carbohydrates to replace muscle glycogen and ensure rapid recovery. A carbohydrate intake of 1.0 to 1.5 g/kg (0.5 to 0.7 g/lb) of body weight during the first 30 minutes and repeated every 2 hours for 4 to 6 hours should be sufficient to replace glycogen stores.
Protein consumed post-workout provides amino acids for building and repair. For a more strenuous routine such as taking a second workout or event less than 8 hours later, athletes should choose sources of high GI carbohydrates (e.g., white bread, white rice, white potatoes) within the first half hour after training. This should continue until the regular meal pattern resumes.
Good options to start fueling include sports drinks, juices, cereals and low-fat milk, flavored low-fat milk, sandwiches, pasta, muffins, fruit and yogurt.
Hydration for Active People
Good water retention is crucial for peak performance. Active people become dehydrated through sweating, and dehydration can lead to decreased exercise capacity and impaired cognitive function. Regular water intake and electrolyte-rich beverages for intense activities help maintain proper hydration.
The average person should consume 2 liters or 64 ounces of water daily, and active people should drink more. Staying hydrated is especially important in hot and humid weather when sweating increases. Water is the most appropriate, but sports drinks may be necessary, especially during endurance events or hot climates.
Sports drinks contain sodium, which helps with absorption. A sodium content of 30 mmol/L (millimole per liter) seems appropriate for sports nutrition. After training, athletes should drink enough fluids to replace sweat lost during exercise, about 16-24 oz (450-675 ml) of fluid per pound (0.5 kg) of muscle weight.
Dehydration (water deficit more significant than 2% to 3% of body mass) reduces physical activity; Therefore, drinking enough water before, during and after a workout is crucial for optimal health and performance.
Overview Plate Percentage for Active People
- Vegetables and Fruits- ½ of your plate
- Whole Grains– ¼ of your plate
- Protein- ¼ of your plate
- Healthy Plant Oils- in moderation
- Fluid Intake- limit dairy products and milk to one to two servings per day, juice to a small glass per day
Everyone must remember that the energy needed to maintain a high level of physical activity begins by providing the body with enough supply to go by every day. Nutrition is the cornerstone for supporting energy levels, optimizing performance, and ensuring overall health for individuals engaged in physical activities. By understanding and implementing vital nutritional considerations such as energy balance, macronutrient intake, hydration, and recommended intakes, active individuals can unlock their full potential and achieve their fitness goals while promoting long-term well-being.