Understanding how your body works and what foods it needs before, during and after exercise can not only improve your physical health and help you tone up, brain foods can also help improve memory, brain function and mood, so eating the right foods is a win-win situation.
The primary source for energy is sugar (glycogen) stored as fat deposits in the body, which are then turned into glucose to fuel exercise. The liver and muscles also store glycogen – and this acts as a secondary source of energy if there is not enough fat stored in the body. Small amounts of glycogen are also stored in the brain and other organs such as the kidneys or to supply energy to a foetus in the womb.
Exercise and the sugar rush
Sugary foods are often the first resort of the hungry, but eating sugar for energy at the gym may mean you start off your gym routine full of life, but you may flag as the sugar high runs out. This is because the insulin in the bloodstream produced by sugar is absorbed by cells, which allow energy to be released quickly.
Excess sugar is stored as fat in both men and women – and excess fat which is not eventually converted into energy can lead to an increase in the hormone oestrogen, known as a female hormone. This is sometimes why men who are overweight appear to develop breasts and may have rounded hips. Oestrogen can also fuel male and female cancers like breast cancer and prostate cancer.
The best way of getting fit and fuelling a workout at the gym is to reduce sugar consumption and combine carbs with protein (4:1 ratio) before and after your workout for slow-release energy. Also, eat four to six small meals throughout the day rather than three heavy meals.
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Eating a low-sugar snack before exercising (eg wholewheat pasta, chicken sandwich on wholemeal bread) means the body has to use the fat already stored for energy; and you will lose body fat and gain muscle.
Here are some of the best foods for boosting the health of the brain and the body:
1) Protein: Proteins are the building blocks of the body and to build lean muscle you should stick to high-protein foods like chicken, lean steak, tuna, eggs, hard cheese or low-fat soft cheese and milk.
2) Fibre: Fibre provides bulk and can helps you feel fuller for longer. Fibre can also mean foods are lower in calories, so eat wholegrains, brown rice, legumes (peas, beans and other “pod” vegetables), apples, bananas and sugar-free muesli, or oats for a slow-release energy boost to help stabilize your weight.
3) Fruit: Some fruits can be high in sugars, but eating a mix of brightly coloured fruits like melon, mangoes, satsumas, peppers and cherries or blueberries can give a quick energy boost and supply Vitamin C and fibre.
- Avocados are rich in vitamin E, protein and fibre and contain monounsaturated fats, which protect against heart attacks.
- Blueberries are superfoods as they protect arteries and help boost blood flow to the brain.
- Grapes contain resveratrol which also protects the health of arteries and can protect against the effects of ageing – researchers found grapes exposed to UV light fought back by releasing an antioxidants 50 times more powerful than vitamin E.
- Tomato skins release the antioxidant lycopene when cooked and this protects against cancer-causing free radicals from pollutants in the atmosphere and in barbecued or fried meat. Eat tomato paste, tomato soups, tomato sauce and pasta sauces to protect against cancer and boost the immune system. A small, thin crust cheese and tomato pizza eaten twice a week has been found to protect cardio health, but make your own with a thin wholemeal flour base and a little cheese before you head to the gym.
4) Oily fish: researchers found children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder who ate two to three portions of oily fish a week became calmer and more focused on their schoolwork, making oily fish like salmon, herring and tuna the ultimate brain food because of its Omega 3 content. Eating oily fish also protects the joints and can help to boost the health of skin and hair.
5) Vegetables: Broccoli is a superfood and protects arteries as well as providing fibre and vitamins. Beans are high in fibre and are a rich source of protein – add more tomato sauce and some wholegrain toast and you have a perfectly balanced, post-gym meal.
6) Wholegrains: Complex carbohydrates like wholegrains release energy slowly and will sustain you through a workout, so stick to wholewheat pasta, wholemeal/wholegrain bread and oats (unrefined), plus brown rice. High fibre foods like these will also make you feel fuller for longer – around half the calories in your diet should comprise complex carbohydrates.
7) Nuts: Walnuts can protect vascular health – and brazil nuts can also protect again male cancers. Eating a peanut butter sandwich on wholemeal bread is another good way of consuming complex carbohydrates before exercise.
Following the Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil and fresh fruit and vegetables is generally thought the best way to protect the health of your heart and arteries, as well as boosting blood flow to the brain and protecting against the action of free radicals, which can cause changes to the DNA of cells which may result in cancers developing.
The good news is one glass of red wine daily can protect vascular health as the antioxidant resveratrol is contained in grape skins – treat yourself a well-earned reward after the gym or to keep arteries healthy.
Author Bio: Leo Wyatt is a freelance writer & journalist who graduated from Birmingham University. Leo has worked for several newspapers in the midlands but now spends most of his time writing articles for companies, websites and businesses on a freelance basis, primarily the brain injury experts. Leo also has particular interests in politics, law and health.