How Does Nutrition Affect Fitness?

Making the right food choices improves the quality of your workout.
Making the right food choices improves the quality of your workout. (Image: warrengoldswain/iStock/Getty Images)

Whether your fitness goals are to improve strength, run faster or lose weight, you need to pay attention to your diet. What you eat not only affects the numbers on the scale, but also how your body responds to your workout. For better fitness, eat a diet that includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods and creates a healthy balance of carbs, protein and fat.

Carbs for Energy

While low-carb diets are popular for weight loss, they are not the way to go when trying to improve fitness. Carbs provide your muscles with the energy they need to run, stair climb and lift weights. Nutrient-rich, high-carb foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and low-fat milk products. Depending on your fitness goals, you should get 2.7 grams to 4.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight per day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds you need 405 grams to 675 grams of carbs a day.

Protein for Muscle Repair and Growth

When it comes to protein, more is not always better for the fitness enthusiast. Your body needs protein to repair and grow the muscles you just worked out. Getting more protein than your body needs does not mean bigger muscle gains and may lower your energy levels. Protein needs depend on the amount and type of exercise you do, ranging from 0.5 gram to 0.8 gram per day, or 75 grams to 120 grams for a 150-pound person. Poultry, seafood, lean red meat, low-fat dairy, eggs and soy foods are all high-quality sources of protein.

Fat for Health and Energy

When it comes to fitness, your body needs fat, just not too much. Fat provides energy for your workout and is also a source of fat-soluble vitamins, as well as essential fatty-acids. To maximize fitness and performance, 20 to 35 percent of your calories should come from fat. You can meet your daily fat needs and improve the nutritional quality of your diet by including healthy sources such as fatty fish like salmon, olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds and tofu.

Meal Planning Tips

To keep energy levels up, eat regularly throughout the day, and include a source of protein and a fruit or vegetable at each meal and snack to maximize nutritional intake. Before you exercise, eat a low-fat, high-carb snack such as a low-fat yogurt or a banana to fuel your muscles. To replenish and promote muscle repair, eat a carb and protein snack after your workout such as a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread or low-fat chocolate milk.

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