March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Birds chirping, trees blooming and feet on the pavement all signal the arrival of spring. However, hitting the great outdoors for a 5K or fun run involves more than just lacing up your sneakers and programming the perfect playlist. After a long winter slumber, these five simple steps will get you on your feet again — the safe and healthy way.
Starving yourself should never be part of an exercise regimen, but eating right should. Fuel up with whole-grain breads, pastas and rice two hours before your workout. "Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, are digested slower than simple carbohydrates, resulting in more sustained energy throughout the day," says Heather Mangieri, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Foods to avoid include anything high in added sugars such as jams and jellies, cookies, cakes, pies and doughnuts, says Mangieri.
"The majority of our carbohydrates should come from complex carbohydrates, while foods with added sugars should be limited," says Mangieri. "Foods high in added sugars may provide a quick fuel source, but they don't offer much in the way of other nutrients. These foods can displace high-nutrient foods that keep us healthy, strong and feeling energized." Nutritious options include energy and granola bars, low-fat or fat-free yogurt and fruit smoothies, peanut butter on a bagel thin, and chocolate milk. Foods that may help reduce inflammation such as salmon, tuna and nuts also are good choices.
"First and foremost, it's important to start all activity well-hydrated," says Mangieri. "A loss of just 2 percent body weight in fluids has been shown to have adverse effects on performance." Mangieri says there is no easier way to feel energized, improve your performance and protect your health than staying hydrated throughout the day. "Every cell in our body requires water," she says. "It's important to drink fluids at regular intervals throughout the day to maintain a healthy hydration status. When trying to determine if you should drink water or a sports drink, consider intensity and duration. If the activity lasts longer than 60 minutes, a sports drink may be beneficial to provide some addition fuel and replace the electrolytes lost in sweat."
"Don't skip the stretching! The warm-up and cool-down are very important components of any workout and are important to recover properly and prevent injury," says Mangieri.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, warming up with light aerobic activity prior to stretching helps reduce the possibility of straining a muscle while stretching. Both static and dynamic stretches are effective. Static stretches should be held for 10 to 30 seconds and repeated two to four times.