Which foods benefit workouts?

Published Oct 4, 2012 at 05:00AM

Q: I hear a lot about the influence diet has on exercise performance, but I’m never sure what foods are best for helping ensure the best results. Any advice?

A: Protein, carbohydrates and fats are all important components of a healthy diet, and each contributes differently to how well our bodies function.

Carbohydrates strongly affect your workout performance, but that can be good or bad, depending. Simple carbs include refined sugars like table sugar and white flour products, as well as naturally occurring sugars found in fruit and milk. Simple carbs cause your blood sugar to spike and then fall quickly, making them a poor choice before a workout. Complex carbs provide a slow, even flow of energy, which is ideal for exercise. Complex carbs include whole grains, dry beans and peas, vegetables and starches such as pasta.

Fats are a secondary source of energy during your workouts. There are different types of fats: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats come from animal sources such as meat, milk and butter, and also from coconut and palm oils. These fats pack together tightly and squeeze into small spaces, such as arteries, causing blockages. Unsaturated fats come from vegetable, nut, seed and fish sources, and they include safflower, olive, peanut and corn oils. They do not pack as easily, making them less likely to clog arteries than saturated fat. Some of the best fats for exercisers are found in nuts, seeds, whole grains, fish and flaxseed oil.

Proteins are essential for the growth and repair of all body tissues. Unlike carbohydrate and fat, protein is not an efficient source of energy. The best sources of complete protein are eggs, meat, milk and fish.

— Marjie Gilliam, Cox Newspapers