People often embark on an exercise program with the goal of losing weight but fail. Research shows that those who fail frequently have one rather surprising factor in common: a lack of time.
Everyone seems to be squeezing every moment from every day. Even when you do make time for exercise, however, you may not enjoy the full benefits if you have not also made time to eat right. To lose weight, a portion of the time you commit to fitness needs to be dedicated to eating well so that you can exercise well.
"It's very common for people to feel tired while exercising to lose weight because they have very busy schedules, and planning meals and snacks falls to the bottom of their list of priorities," says registered dietician Marlia Braun. "Food seems so accessible. If you forget to pack a nutritious lunch, you think you can easily walk out of your office door and either hit the break room or run across the street to the deli."
Braun points out that meals prepared at home tend to have a higher nutritional value, which leads to greater health and energy. And when healthy food is just a refrigerator or a lunch bag away, it is in fact faster than fast food, and saves calories and money, too.
Braun worked closely with me as the health nutritionist at the Sports Performance Center I founded at the University of California, Davis. Today, she continues to counsel athletes who are dealing with lack-of-time/lack-of-energy syndrome.
"To keep healthy food within your grasp, you need to grocery-shop, even if you can't go frequently," Braun says.
Here are some guidelines for providing yourself with truly doable, home-cooked fast food that will make your time at the gym pay off:
- Variety is fundamental to the longevity and sustainability of a diet, as well as to getting adequate nutrients for your hardworking body. Make a colorful grocery bag your goal. Each hue offers different nutrients, Braun explains, and it's important to include an array of colors in your diet each week.
- Change up your whole grains. Try barley and quinoa as well as brown rice and whole wheat. The best say "100 percent whole grain" on the package and list grain as the first ingredient.
- Buy some fresh fruits and vegetables to consume over the next two to three days, such as bananas and asparagus, and others that will stay fresh longer, such as apples and yams.
- To keep your portion size down, select smaller apples, oranges, potatoes, bananas and so on. Industrialized farming techniques and hybrid varieties today produce apples as large as three servings. One serving of fruit is eight ounces, or one cup - about the size of a tennis ball.
- Get over any fears of frozen. Frozen vegetables are healthy and easy to keep around, and they come prewashed, trimmed, and cut up - perfect for quick preparation in stir-fries and soups, and with pasta and grains, or solo, notes Braun.
- Braun also recommends frozen low-calorie, low-sodium meals, such as those by Healthy Choice, Weight Watchers, and Smart Ones. "They are good sources of fiber and protein, don't go over 180 to 300 calories, are well balanced, and they always provide a portion of protein and a grain," she says. One or two a week will better fuel those bike rides than binging on microwave popcorn.
- Canned vegetables are higher in sodium and contain less fiber, nutrients and phytochemicals than fresh vegetables, Braun says, "but they're still better than a candy bar."
- Fruits canned in their own juice (not syrup) and drained are another option.
- Shop the perimeter of the store -- that's where you will find the least processed foods. Avoid the aisles, says Braun; they primarily contain empty calories.
- Don't abstain from foods you love, just reduce your portions and frequency. Last, Braun recommends stockpiling whole-grain pastas and other kinds of grains to cook up on the fly.
"Throw in some frozen vegetables and you've got a meal," she says, "and only one pan to wash." Eric Heiden, M.D., a five-time Olympic gold medalist speed skater, is now an orthopedic surgeon in Utah. He co-authored "Faster, Better, Stronger: Your Fitness Bible" (HarperCollins) with exercise performance physician Max Testa, M.D., and DeAnne Musolf.