How to eat healthy when working out

Whether you exercise a little or a lot, hard or moderate, your body needs the right nutrition. What is healthy nutrition when you´re working out or for your lifestyle in general, is a complex question. Yet it does not need to be major abracadabra for you to make healthy choices everyday. You can do very much right by following some simple advice.

Christina Mihaela Carare Atletica Idrettens treningssenter PT-20

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What is a healthy diet?

I thought that a healthy diet is a combination of a certain percentage of carbohydrates, mixed with an exact number of grams of protein, one right amount of healthy fats, combined with a certain amount of liquid – and yes, some candy, for balance. The answer I was sure was something almost scientifically complicated …

But I was wrong.

A healthy diet is when you eat a sufficient range of nutrients.

Eat a variety of foods. It can be put this easily.

More precise dietary advice comes from the Directorate of Health, and is a version that is easier to remember in everyday life:

  • Food and drink is important to have energy in everyday life
  • Eat 3-4 main meals a day and additionally between meals so that a meal pattern and glucose levels are kept steady
  • Eat 5-a-day of fruits, berries and vegetables
  • Choose whole grain products each day
  • Choose boiled or baked potatoes rather than chips and fries
  • Eat fish for dinner 2-3 days a week
  • Choose low-fat dairy products as part of the daily diet
  • Choose lean meats and low-fat meat products rather than processed and red meat
  • Select edible oils, liquid margarine and soft margarine, rather than hard margarine and butter
  • Choose foods with little salt and limit the use of salt in cooking and on food
  • Drink water when thirsty

Question: Should one never choose fat dairy products rather lean ones? Like, ever?  Or red meat rather than lean meat? And never eat chips and fries?

The answer is these (type of) questions is that is boils down to the ratio of energy in (what you eat) and energy out (what you burn through physical exercise). If you exercise enough and sufficiently hard that you’re able to obtain energy from fat dairy products, without gaining weight, then ok. But beware, because if you only choose one type of drink, or one type of meat, or one type of dairy products, and so forth it will be at the expense of another kind of energy or nutrient which you will be missing out on

Therefore I think that we can return to what is stated above as a healthy diet: Choose a variety a food, fruits, vegetables and hydration.

Christina Mihaela Carare Atletica Idrettens treningssenter PT-15

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Workout and nutrition

We are all able to make healthy and sensible choices everyday When it comes to training – and if you train towards a specific target, be it a sports performance, weight loss, weight gain, or you have a specific desire to get the most out of your workout – there is no way around it: You have everything to gain by learning and sticking with a few pointers to get your diet just right for you and your goals.

I would go so far as to say that it is especially important to be aware of your diet when training. And by that I mean that you must make sure to eat enough food and drink enough!

One should, for example drink 2 liters of water a day, 3 liters if you exercise.

Did you know? We do get water from some of the food we eat. But did you know that we lose up to halv a liter of water during a workout – and that we lose water through sweat even when we are not exercising? The more you sweat, the more you must take care to drink, especially every fifteen minutes during a workout.

Christina Mihaela Carare Atletica Idrettens treningssenter PT-14

Unfortunately, we cannot get out of doing some math when it comes to diet and exercise. Because it is especially important to make sure you eat a certain amount of both of carbohydrates and proteins. Here are some general and important tips:

Before workout

Eat a main meal 2-4 hours before working out or a small meal 1 hour before training

During workout

Are you exercising more than 1/2 hour, be sure to drink 1.5-3 dl every 15-20 minutes
Are you exercising more than 1 hour, you should choose a drink with carbohydrates
Are you exercising more than 1-1 and half hour, you need to replace 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour exercising. Avoid food that is high in fat and insoluble fiber, as this will slow carbohydrate absorption and can cause stomach problems. Choose high GI.
– Example 1: 5-10 dl sports drink
– Example 2: A white slice of bread and a banana
– Example 3: Protein rich yogurt with oatmeal
For training activities where you are performing below 70% of what you manage, your digestion will operate normally and you can eat small amounts of fat and protein

After workout

Within 30 minutes, eat 1-1.5 g of carbohydrate per kg. bodyweight, or 30-50 grams of carbohydrates
– Example 1 for a person of 75 kg .: Two slices of bread homemade half wholemeal bread with lean meats, one glass of low-fat chocolate milk and a banana (80 gram carbohydrates, 21 gram protein, 11 gram fat)
– Example 2 for a person of 75 kg .: Smoothie – 1 dl Biola, 1 dl yogurt, 1 banana, 100 g strawberries, 25g oats (67.6 gram carbohydrates and 15.7 g protein)
– Example 3 for a person of 75 kg. after a lighter workout: 2 slices of bread with topping of choice
For hard endurance workouts and strength training workouts: 7-10 gram protein (in total, not per kg. body weight). For lighter workouts this can be postponed within 2 hours of the session. Choose high GI.
– Example: A chicken filet contains as much as 29 grams protein
NB! There is no proven major effect on eating more than 2 grams of protein per kg. body weight. In other words, you don´t need to stuff yourself on proteins.

Within 2 hours:
A larger meal rich in carbohydrates and proteins
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Christina Mihaela Carare Atletica Idrettens treningssenter PT-54_red

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How maintain a healthy diet

  • Eat a variety of food, fruits, vegetables so you don´t get tired of what you´re eating
  • Think in general terms! (Think of what is generally healthy and sensible dietary advice, and not on a very detailed level
  • Remember that healthy eating gives you energy
  • Set targets and one step at a time. If you want to eat healthier, start for example with using less salt in your food
  • Use “stop cards”. This is a small piece of paper, or it may be something you’ve typed on your mobile, which conveys your goals. If you aim to run a marthon, and you’ve spent a little too much time than you know you should have done in the sofa, look at your stop card/reminder of your goal – and this will help you make choices in your everyday life that will help you toward your goal.
  • It’s a learning process. Hurry slowly. Just stick with basic information about a nutritional diet to start with and make sensible dietary choices.
  • All in all, be a little more conscious about what you eat – and what you don´t eat.

Christina Mihaela Carare Atletica Idrettens treningssenter PT-32

Photographer: Håvard Stiansen

This post is written in collaboration with my previous workout sponsor Atletica Trening, Sør Amfi, Arendal. Speaker was Marthe Aanesland who used to be an iceskating athlete, now works as a certified nutritionist.