Work In Some Protein After Your Workout

Are you ready to take your workouts outdoors? For those of you who are lacing up your running shoes or taking your bikes out for a challenging ride, fueling your body for these activities requires consuming a combination of nutrient-rich foods and fluids. You may have heard that “carbing up” before, during, and after a workout with breads, pasta, and fruits can help maintain blood glucose levels, maximize performance, and improve recovery time. But protein—a key nutrient for growth and development—is also linked to exercise and athletic performance.

Protein is made up of 20 amino acids: your body creates 11 them, and you consume the other 9 “essential” ones through your diet. Muscles are mainly made of protein so when muscles get damaged after a hard workout, consuming foods or beverages with protein can repair them. Protein can also provide a small amount of fuel for exercise if needed; about 10%.

What type of protein is the best for exercise?
Muscles require all the essential amino acids, however consuming branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) can increase muscle growth, and reduce both muscle soreness after a workout and exercise-induced fatigue. Protein-rich foods that are high in BCAAs include meats, eggs, dairy products, and protein powders. Healthline provides a helpful chart that lists the amount of BCAAs in one serving of various protein options. If you consume enough protein in your diet, whey protein and BCAA supplements will not provide any additional benefits. Occasionally, I enjoy the Trader Joe’s chocolate and vanilla flavored whey protein supplements, which are great for adding to smoothies.

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Protein is an important nutrient for building muscles and recovering from workouts. Along with lean meats, you can explore a host of non-meat protein sources to add some variety into your diet. (Photo by Luis Quintero)

How much protein do you need per day?
The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) for an average “non-athlete” person is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or .36 grams per pound. A person weighing 150 pounds, would require a minimum of 54 grams of protein each day. Gender, age, intensity, and amount of physical activity performed affects the amount of protein needed. You can use this Protein Calculator to determine the amount you need.

How much protein should you consume after a workout?
To help recovery, you should consume 20-30 grams of protein, along with carbs, after your workout. If you want a quick and delicious source of protein and carbs, try low-fat chocolate milk. A 16-ounce serving contains about 22 grams of protein—and twice as much carbohydrates as white milk, which helps tired muscles. And it tastes good!

You can also try one of these three post-workout combinations:

  1. A smoothie made with low-fat milk and your favorite fruit (bananas, peaches, berries)
  2. Turkey in a whole-grain wrap with veggies
  3. Greek yogurt with berries

Reward Your Achievements Without Food

We’ve been talking a lot about goals these past few weeks, but that’s because setting and achieving goals is hard! This is especially true if you’re trying to make a lifestyle change. “Getting healthy” means breaking old habits and creating new ones that stick, which is no easy feat.

Dhruti mentioned rewarding yourself, but that can also be tricky. The reward must fit the effort and it shouldn’t undo any of the progress that you’ve achieved. For instance, don’t reward yourself for losing five pounds by celebrating with a cheeseburger, french fries, a soda, and a brownie sundae. Rewarding yourself is no different than planning out how you’ll achieve your goals—you still need to be strategic.

When you’re starting out, it may help to schedule regular, small rewards to keep you motivated. Aim for inexpensive rewards that celebrate your achievement for just sticking with a plan. Say you start with 40-50 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise for your first week, and then slowly increase that by 20 minutes every 1-2 weeks until you’ve reached a goal of 150 minutes per week. Rather than waiting several weeks to reward yourself for achieving that goal, you can motivate yourself to follow your plan by scheduling small rewards every 2-3 weeks. These small rewards can be relatively inexpensive items or activities that you may otherwise think twice about getting or doing, like:

  • A metal water bottle,
  • A new workout shirt,
  • Your own yoga mat (freedom from other people’s sweat and stink!),
  • A cookbook,
  • Taking a nap or going to bed early.
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The moment in every class when I wish I had my own yoga mat. Every time I think about buying one, the thrifty side of me says, “How bad can those gym mats be?!”… which really makes it the perfect reward.

Remember, you have to actually follow your program to get the rewards. While these motivational rewards may help ease you into the rhythm of working towards your goal, once you feel like you’re in that rhythm, shift towards rewarding yourself for achieving bigger goals. These bigger goals, like achieving the 150 minutes of exercise per week, deserve something a little more exciting, like:

  • New shoes or hiking boots,
  • Base layers to keep you comfortable outside,
  • A subscription to a music streaming service,
  • A cooking class,
  • A pass for specialized exercise classes (yoga, boutique spin class, rock climbing).

Just because you may have reached your goal of 150 minutes of moderate exercise in a week, doesn’t mean you’re done. You want to strive for that amount of exercise until it becomes a habit. So you can also use those rewards to celebrate, say, six months of regularly exercising 150 minutes/week.

Once you’ve adopted your goal as a lifestyle (you’ll know when you start thinking about new goals), then you get to have some real fun with bigger rewards, like:

  • Tickets to a comedy show, concert, sporting event, or play,
  • Upgrading your blender or slow cooker—or even, hand tools,
  • A massage,
  • Sessions with a personal trainer,
  • Part of a day to be on your own and do what you enjoy.

These ideas are just some of my favorite things. To make sure you’re effectively motivating and rewarding yourself, choose something that excites you and fits your goals.

Be S.M.A.R.T. About Your Goals

Carrie and Dhruti have recently posted some helpful tips about settings goals and sticking with them. Dhruti talked about starting with realistic and small goals, but it can be hard to know what that means. So, I’ll be providing more detail about how to set effective goals.

To make them achievable, they must be SMART. The process to making SMART goals applies to any goal—whether you have resolved to improve your financial situation, lose weight, get in shape, or start school.

S – Specific
I used to teach first-year college students, some of whom learned the hard way that college is much different than high school. After a month, they were getting failing grades. When asked about their plans, they almost always said they would study harder. As you can see, these plans are not very specific and the students rarely achieved the desired result. An example of a good financial goal is to save $500 a month to purchase a car by the end of July.

M – Measurable
You must be able to measure your goal: number of minutes you exercise each week, the steps completed to apply for school, pant size, ounces of water you drank today, how early you got to bed last night. In the example with the car, there are two ways to measure. First, the overall goal, which is the total price of the car. Second, progress along the way, which is to save monthly until you’ve reached the total.

A – Achievable
Did you establish a goal that you can achieve? If you bring home $1,000 a month and you plan to put $500 toward the car, is that possible? Will other bills or spending habits prevent you from saving that much money? These are all things to consider when determining if your goal is achievable.

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Plan out the steps of your goal by breaking it down into manageable pieces and setting a deadline for them – even if you think it will take you several years. (Photo by Estee Janssens)

R – Realistic
When I was younger, I wanted to be a professional football player. While it’s good to pursue your dreams and aspirations, there comes a time when your dream becomes unrealistic. Striving for unrealistic goals can cost you time and money. Make sure your goal is realistic. It can help to break up the goal into smaller, more manageable steps that build up your ability and confidence.

T – Time Oriented
Goals can be short-term (up to 1 year), intermediate (1-5 years), and long-term (5 or more years). The important component is that it must have an end date.  Goals can be forgotten when there is no time frame or way to measure progress. A good example is saving money for a house. You may need as much as ten thousand dollars. By setting a date and measuring your progress, you will stay motivated to reach the end goal.

Keep your goals fresh and review them on a regular basis. Once a goal is achieved, create a new one. If you are no longer making progress, reassess, and try something else. Don’t let your goals get stale.

Good luck in the New Year and be SMART!

Train Like A Mother

Before I became a mother, I spent seven to nine hours a week cycling as a bike commuter and weekend warrior, and occasionally lifting weights. Then I had my kid and… insert record scratch… I could barely find enough time to sleep. When I finally started exercising again, instead of two- to three-hour bike rides, I was lucky to get two to three hours in the gym all week. Years later, I’m still only able to exercise two to three hours a week, but as with all things motherhood, I learned to exercise more efficiently. In fact, I never would have thought that I could be stronger, fitter, and faster as a mid-life mother of two than when I was a freewheeling 20-year old.

I can attribute this boost in fitness to a few things, but the biggest factor was functional training. Pregnancy wrecked my core—my back and legs felt tired and achy all the time. Functional training helped me to quickly strengthen my core and continue building from there. If you haven’t heard of functional training, Tami Lee, the Assistant Director for Fitness at the University of Maryland’s Department of Recreation & Wellness, describes it as a way to ease the physical demands of daily life by strength training in a functional manner. She says that when you functionally train, you are doing exercises that enhance your efficiency in performing basic, every day movements, like bending and lifting, pushing, pulling, twisting, and standing on a single leg.

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All moms know this feeling. But anyone who has had an injury, illness, health condition, or surgery also knows the difficulty of regaining mobility and strength. Life after a big health/medical event can be very different and much more challenging. Functional training can prepare your body for these new challenges. (Photo by Kat Jayne)

Some of the exercises that helped me the most were the classics: squats (for bending and lifting… my toddler off the ground), rows (for pulling… more like heaving, my child up and into her car seat), lunges (for single leg movements… that occur all day long when rushing back and forth to meet the demands of motherhood). Other exercises were brand new to me. And my body loved them all. My back ached less and less until it stopped all together. The rest of my body also got stronger and felt less achy.

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Whether you’re carrying a grocery basket, multiple grocery bags, or (the dreaded) infant car seat, you need a strong core. A great exercise that I learned from my trainer to strengthen my core for these kinds of tasks is the “Farmer’s Carrya favorite move for Strong Men everywhere.

Functional training isn’t just for new moms. The people in my gym classes are men and women of all ages, including several people in their 60s and 70s. While the physical demands of my life look a lot different than my more senior class mates, functionality matters even more for them. Tami says, “As we age, we lose muscle mass at a much faster rate, so preserving that muscle as long as possible is essential for efficient performance of daily activities.”

We both highly recommend starting with a trainer, which is what I did. As Tami notes, form is critical and a trainer will conduct the necessary assessments to determine the best and safest fitness routine for you. A trainer will also make sure to correct any improper movements that can lead to injury. If you can’t afford one, check your gym for group classes, like boot camp, high-intensity interval training, TRX, or kettlebells. Happy training!

No Gym? No Problem!

Exercise provides so many benefits: weight control, stress management, energy boosts, better sleep, and more. Research is even showing that exercise may protect your brain from cognitive decline, and possibly, dementia. Maybe you already know all this and have been trying to exercise more, but can’t get yourself to a gym because it’s too expensive or too far, or you dislike working out in front of people, or the hours don’t work with your schedule.

But does not having access to a gym mean that working out is impossible? Not at all! Here are a few ways to exercise at home or close to home without breaking the bank:

Get outside!

Going for a walk or a run is a great way to get some exercise. We’ve recently talked about the benefits of working out in nature and even highlighted some of the great—and FREE!—classes that the state parks offer throughout the year. If you live near a park or school, you could check those out as well! Some parks have exercise equipment, and both parks and schools usually have athletic fields/courts, walking tracks, or other fun ways to be active.

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Stairs—like the ones that you can usually find at a local high school—provide a great way to vary up your walking or running routine. A quick online search for “stair exercises” will give you loads of great strength and agility exercises to add in—like these. Getting up your stairs at home will never be the same once you throw in some of those squat jumps and lunges!

What if the outdoors is not an option because of weather or safety concerns? That’s no problem! You can also…

Find online routines

You can find exercise videos on YouTube or on sites that focus on specific types of exercise like yoga, Pilates, Zumba, or interval training. The videos are typically free and can range from a couple of minutes to more than an hour. You can even create your own playlist of videos so that you have exactly the length and type of exercise you would like!

Lots of magazines, exercise sites, and active individuals also post work out routines with pictures and descriptions to guide you through each exercise.

What if you have a hard time carving out time to exercise? You could…

Add some activity to things you already do at home

Typical household chores like cleaning, doing laundry, and cooking are already somewhat active, but you can make them more active by adding some extra movement. For example, while cooking you could put on some music and dance around the kitchen! Not your style? No problem! You could also throw in some lunges or squats while putting away laundry. Anything that adds extra movement is helpful! Even activities like watching TV can be more active. You could walk around during commercial breaks or walk in place as you enjoy your favorite show.

The main goal is to get moving! So even if you can’t make it to the gym, you can still be physically active and improve your health.