Getting a great workout goes beyond the number of reps you do or the miles you log on the treadmill.
"The food you put into your body before and after you exercise can do a lot to either help or hurt your fitness," says registered dietitian Kristine Clark, director of sports nutrition at Pennsylvania State University.
Torch more fat with breakfast. When it comes to shedding pounds, it may be smarter to push your morning meal to after your workout, according to a new study in The Journal of Physiology.
During the six-week study, participants who ate a high-calorie, high-fat breakfast before hitting the gym packed on an average of 3 pounds. The after-workout eaters? They gained almost no weight — although they ate the same breakfast. Exercise elevates levels of the fat-burning hormone adrenaline, says lead researcher Karen Van Proeyen. But when you work out after eating, the insulin your body releases to help you digest the food blunts the spike in adrenaline. Result: You burn less fat.
Can't push through with a growling belly? Try splitting your breakfast.
Pump up your muscles with protein. Consuming about 20 grams of protein post-workout may increase muscle building regardless of age, suggests a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Two eggs and a glass of milk (20 grams protein) or a salmon salad sandwich (22 grams; recipe below) hits this protein sweet spot.
Quell post-workout pain with cherries. Think sore muscles post-workout are a given? Maybe not. British researchers recently found that people who drank 1 ounce of concentrated cherry juice twice daily for 10 days bounced back faster from their workout than those who skipped the juice.
The reason: The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in tart cherries — and other fruit juices like grape, pomegranate, acai, blueberry and cranberry — act as natural NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), reducing exercise-induced muscle damage.
Protein-rich salmon salad sandwich
Prep: 15 minutes
Makes: 4 sandwiches
Salmon salad served on tangy pumpernickel bread makes for an easy dinner; a double batch will give you lunch the next day.
2 cans (6-7 ounces each) boneless, skinless wild Alaskan salmon, drained
1/4 cup minced red onion
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper