Fueling an Active Life Starts at the Start
By Patricia Chuey, Senior Nutrition Consultant, SportMedBC
If you’re like many busy Canadians, you wake up running – unfortunately, figuratively. The race starts to get everyone in the house up and out the door. After everyone and everything is in place, you grab a coffee, maybe a muffin too, and you’re off. Before you know it, it’s almost noon and you haven’t eaten that much. Not only is the fire of your metabolism which fuels your activity barely stoked, you’ve just created the ultimate conditions for evening grazing in which you end up doing most of your eating – in the period between dinner and bedtime. And this may not be when you’re exercising and needing the fuel.
But you don’t feel hungry in the morning or maybe not even until later in the day? That might simply be how you have trained your body to respond. Or, you have so many other things to think about and do that you don’t really notice that you’re hungry.
The time you wake up and start being active for the day, the morning for many, is the time to start fueling efficiently. It makes no sense at all to load up on fuel once you finally sit down and relax around 8 or 9 pm. Resolve this situation by eating breakfast within two hours of waking up. Make it substantial with the inclusion of quality protein like eggs, lean breakfast sausage, nut butter, fish (as they do in super-healthy countries like Japan) or lean meat from dinner along with high fibre cereal or toast (gluten-free or not) and high fibre fruit. If you aren’t hungry for that big of an amount, still make it well-balanced. For example, one cup of a fruit-yogurt-protein smoothie, a protein-carb energy bar or one slice of toast with peanut butter and a small banana. If you exercise first thing in the morning upon waking, drink water, eat about 4 ounces of yogurt or half a fruit if you can, and eat the balance afterwards – like an egg on a toasted English muffin or bowl of oatmeal with nuts. Go ahead and enjoy up to 4 cups of coffee a day. But still drink water and do not let the coffee squash appetite for your next feeding which should come in the form of a snack or meal roughly 3 to 4 hours after breakfast.
Snacks that include both protein and carbohydrates are ideal. Yogurt, yogurt with fruit, whole grain crackers with cheese, vegetables with hummus, energy bars containing protein and carbohydrates, fruit with nuts or half a sandwich are good examples. When lunch and dinner roll around, make half the plate vegetables accompanied with a quarter of the plate as lean protein and the remaining quarter as whole grains (those with the most fibre). If you eat dinner by 6 pm and go to bed around 11 pm, it’s perfectly okay to have an evening snack say around 8 or 9 pm. A dessert-sized bowl of cereal, popcorn or other quality starchy carbs works well as they induce serotonin, the relaxation hormone. If dinner is at 8pm and you’re in bed by 10pm, an evening snack isn’t necessarily advised – although if you exercise first thing in the morning and can’t eat at that time, a quality bedtime snack isn’t a bad thing.