By: Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC/L
Everyone needs carbohydrates, the body’s preferred energy source. If you get regular cardiovascular exercise or train for an endurance sport, you need more daily carbs to fuel your workouts and replenish your energy stores. Remember: all carbs are not created equal. Grains, fruit, vegetables (nutrient-rich choices) as well as candy and sweets (empty calories) are all sources of carbohydrate. Some foods, like dairy and legumes, combine carbohydrate and protein, which helps restore muscles. The best carbs to choose are ones that contribute plenty of other nutrients such as protein, vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants.
Whole grain oats are delicious and easy to digest before or after a workout. As an added bonus, the soluble fiber in oatmeal may help lower cholesterol. Opt for plain oats instead of the sugary flavored varieties and create your own delicious concoction by adding nutritious (and tasty) ingredients. Sprinkle in your favorite nuts and dried fruit to add natural sweetness as well as fiber and iron. Save time by cooking the oats ahead and warming them up in the microwave.
Yogurt and fruit make a winning carbohydrate combination. Yogurt adds protein and some calcium to this drink while fruit contributes natural sweetness and vitamin C for tired, sore muscles. Drink this shake before a cardio session to fuel your workout, or within the ideal recovery window―between 30 and 60 minutes after exercise―when your body is best able to repair itself and replenish the energy you've spent.
Carbohydrate plus protein is a winning combination that helps repair muscles and refuel your tank. Remember that pasta doesn’t have to come from wheat. Rice noodles are a gluten-free alternative with a tender texture and mild flavor that works well with all types of sauces. Pork is higher in B vitamins than other meats, providing a metabolism boost and extra energy-producing power. Toss in your favorite fresh vegetables for texture, color, extra vitamins, and fiber.
Muffins can be a nutritional boon or a bust, depending on what's in them. Those gigantic bakeshop muffins can contain over 500 calories and 20 grams fat. Smarter choice: Home-baked muffins bursting with antioxidant-rich dried fruits and fiber from whole wheat flour and wheat germ. Wheat germ is also high in the mineral zinc, which contributes to healthy skin and a strong immune system. Add a boost of antioxidants by adding the freshest berries of the season.
Mixed-grain salads deliver a satisfying combination of flavors and textures as well as folate and vitamin E for a strong and healthy heart―very important for those cardio workouts! Adding beans to grains creates the key combination of protein and carbs that helps muscles repair and refuel themselves. Enjoy this salad for lunch, or pair it with lean protein like chicken or fish for a powerhouse dinner.
Sweet potatoes are a true super-food. In addition to being a great source of energy producing carbohydrate, they're packed with vitamins and minerals. One cup of sweet potato contains 20 percent of your daily potassium needs, plus energy-boosting vitamin B6 and more than 700 percent of your daily vitamin A needs (mostly in the form of the antioxidant beta-carotene). This salad also combines iron-rich spinach with vitamin C from oranges, which helps increase iron absorption.