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

Elevate Your Spirits With A Hike & Good Company

One of my favorite ways to get out and get moving is to go for a hike! In my blog posts, I usually provide tips on adopting healthy habits and the research that backs it up. Today, I’m taking a different approach. I want to tell you a bit about why I, personally, love to go for short hikes. I hope that some of my enthusiasm will rub off and you might want to give it a try!

If you enjoy the scientific information I usually share, check out my article about the benefits of exercising outside. In that post, I mention how outdoor exercise improves your mood. For me, hiking kills two birds with one stone: I get a workout and feel extra good after I finish. But there are so many more reasons I love to hike!

I can bring my dog along with me and she loves it! I enjoy getting out in the fresh air and seeing the beautiful scenery, like an overlook, waterfall, or other natural wonder. All of which makes it feel less like exercise and more like a trip or exploration. Hiking is also something that my family does together! We meet at a favorite trail and go for 30-60 minutes. We love being able to just walk and talk.

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You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to go hiking. If you appreciate beautiful scenery, nature, and saving money, there’s a great chance you might like hiking!

People tend to think of hiking as being straight up a mountain, and those hikes definitely exist, but it doesn’t have to be like that! There are many hikes that offer rolling hills or even a paved trail. To find a hike that fits your needs, check the websites for nearby state and national parks, as well as local parks and nature centers. Many websites offer information about how hard the hike is, the elevation change, and the distance to some point of interest or lookout. You can also start exploring sections of the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Maine to Georgia and offers some beautiful views.

Although spring is around the corner, we are definitely still feeling the winter chill. But don’t let a little cold weather stop you! Prepare for cold-weather hikes by:

  • Dressing in breathable layers. Wear a thermal base layer, an insulating layer, and coat on top. For your bottom, wear a thermal layer under your pants and wool socks. Add or remove more layers as needed. Wool and synthetic fibers work best, since cotton will stay wet with sweat, making for a colder hike.
  • Bringing gloves and a hat. You can always take them off if you get too warm.
  • Wearing sturdy shoes—waterproof is best! You don’t want to end up with a wet, cold sock!
  • Packing a hiking bag with an extra pair of socks, a first aid kit, water, and a trail map. Don’t overpack, as a heavy backpack is hard to carry for long, but bringing a few essentials is worth the effort.

Start with a few short hikes. You might be surprised by how much you enjoy it!

Birds Of A Feather, Get Healthy Together

Over the past few months, our blog has talked about A LOT of different aspects for health and wellness. With so much information, and so little time (and—let’s be honest—energy), it’s hard to know where to get started… much less take action. So today, I want to tie a few of those elements together in one activity: BIRDING!

No? Not exciting? Hear me out first!

Birding is a great activity if you are just starting to exercise (and aren’t exactly excited by the idea of sweating) or if you’re a parent who struggles to get outside with the kids. Birding naturally gets you moving outside, relieves stress, and provides an opportunity for family playtime. I mean, that’s three birds with one… errrr, never mind.

Janet Bogue, a volunteer for the Audubon Naturalist Society, says the 1-mile Beginner Bird Walk at the Woodend Sanctuary, located in Chevy Chase, is not strenuous. “The walk takes an hour and we stop a lot to look at birds. It’s not an aerobic activity.”

If you’ve been telling yourself that you need to get moving, and still haven’t managed to do anything, then finding a local bird walk may be a great start. While you may not reach the doctor-recommended intensity levels, a guided walk will give you a fun, social, and educational way to get moving. And sometimes, just moving is a good start to creating a more active lifestyle.

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The walk may not get your heart racing, but watching a Pileated Woodpecker hammer at a tree may.

Birding also doesn’t require much, other than a pair of shoes with good traction. You may want hiking boots for muddy conditions, but sneakers often work just fine. Binoculars are also handy, but if you don’t have them, check if the guide will provide extras. ANS always has a few for the Beginner Bird Walks.

If you have kids, find a guided walk at a nearby nature center or just start at the bird feeders. You’ll see lots of birds at the feeders, which keeps it fun for the kids. Let your kids take the lead and watch their self-confidence grow. Janet loves having kids on walks because of their keen eyesight. “I need their eyes! They can spot things immediately! And when they do, they feel like they are really helping.”

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Fall and winter are surprisingly great seasons to start birding. A lot of the flashy birds that spend summers in Maryland begin migrating south, but you may still be able to spot more northerly birds as they fly through on their way to warmer areas. According to Janet, “In the fall, we get more hawks than usual. And since they ride the thermals, you can see them in the middle of the day. And in the winter, the leaves are off the tree, so it’s much easier to find birds.”

Getting started is as easy as visiting your local nature center. A lot of nature centers host guided bird walks or similarly easy nature hikes. You can also check out the local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society. If you’re ready to go now, check out some of Maryland’s top birding spots, grab your binoculars and identification list, and get walking… and stopping… and looking… and walking… and looking.


Editor’s Note: The Audubon Nature Society (ANS) holds free Beginner Bird Walks almost every Saturday of the year at the Woodend Sanctuary, from 8:00-9:00am. On October 20, ANS will hold two Beginner Bird Walks, one in English, and one in Spanish. While ANS’s Beginner Bird Walks are for adults only, they also host Family Nature Walks every first Saturday of the month at 9:00. Check out their Events Page to find the walk for you.

ANS is also a host organization for the University of Maryland Extension’s Master Naturalist volunteer program. If you’re interested in volunteering for an environmental organization, Master Naturalists will provide you with 60 hours of training and, once certified, you can help with a wide variety of support opportunities, including restoration projects, research, and public awareness and education.


Don’t Pack Away The Sunscreen, Yet!

Labor Day is just around the corner, marking the end of summer. But that doesn’t mean the sun does any less damage. Last year, after spending Labor Day outside at a family picnic, I got home and noticed that my face and arms were burned. At first, I was fairly confused because the day hadn’t been that hot. But after consulting Google, I learned that I—like many peoplehad neglected sunscreen because I didn’t think I would get burned on a cooler day. So, learn from my mistake and protect your skin as the weather cools!

According to the CDC, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States and almost 5 million people are treated for skin cancer each year. Despite efforts from the CDC, state health departments, and other agencies, rates of melanoma in the United States have continued to rise. Skin cancer is largely preventable, which means that by following some simple guidelines you can significantly lower your risk of skin cancer!

Sunburns are caused by specific types of rays from the sun (UVB), which are at their peak during the middle of the day and in the summer. UVB rays are responsible for training you to apply sunscreen when the sun is beating down on you, but UVA rays are common all year round! These rays do not cause sunburn—which is why they are used in tanning beds—but scientists have recently learned more about how UVA rays may cause premature skin aging and skin cancers.

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What does all this mean? It means that we should be taking steps to protect ourselves all year round! Here are some simple steps you can take to protect your skin.

  • Wear a “broad spectrum” sunscreen, meaning it protects from UVA and UVB.
  • Apply sunscreen early and often. Did you know that you should put on your sunscreen before heading outside? You can also check the label to see how often you need to reapply. Generally, you should reapply every two hours, and after you have been swimming or sweating a lot.
  • Wear UPF-rated clothing. Not all clothing will protect you from the sun. You want to look for items with a label that identifies the level of Ultraviolet Protection Factor.
  • Remind your kids to find some shade. Kids may not be paying attention to how they are feeling in the sun. Finding shade may protect them from getting burned.

So the next time you are enjoying the great outdoors, take a moment to protect your skin! You can also share a #SunSafeSelfie and join all those who are sharing their sun safe behaviors with the CDC.

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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.

MD State Parks Give Adults A Place To Play

Last week, we talked about the benefits of exercising outside, but if you have no idea where to start, than look no further than your closest state park. Our parks offer tons of ways to get active, from salsa dancing to stand-up paddleboarding. And if you’re lucky enough to live near Martinak, Tuckahoe, Rocky Gap, New Germany, Dan’s Mountain, or Patapsco Valley State Parks, then you get even more options through the Healthy Parks, Healthy People (HPHP) classes.

Maryland’s HPHP program started in the western parks about 3 years ago. Resident Ronni Matthews saw an advertisement of the scheduled events, which included hikes and “Wild Women Wednesdays”, a weekly program that connects women to nature while encouraging them to try new exercises. Since Ronni was already walking for exercise—and her initial response was, “I’m not a wild woman!”—she decided to try the hike. She reports, “It was very strenuous and I was the last one in the line.” But despite the sweaty and exhausting start, Ronni gradually attended more classes, like beach-front yoga and paddleboarding. Now, she tries to attend as many as she can, including Wild Women Wednesdays.

Despite her initial protests, Ronni (third from the left) is now one of the most dedicated “Wild Women”. (Photo by Jenna Linhart)

She says, “It’s the 3 F’s. The teachers are friendly—all fitness levels are welcome. The classes are fun. And the big kicker is, it’s free!”

In fact, you can even save money. A typical park-sponsored kayaking program would include a rental fee for the kayak. But HPHP kayaking classes provide the kayaks for free!

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Paddleboards would also be free during an HPHP-sponsored paddleboarding class. This definitely looks like a fun and friendly activity! (Photo by Jenna Linhart)

HPHP Programs are spreading across the state. According to Jenna Linhart, the HPHP Coordinator for Rocky Gap State Park, “If the classes aren’t already offered at a park, it’s on the staff’s radar.” She says, “Our goal is to build a stronger connection with the environment. People might come to the park for a specific workout, but the benefits they receive will be greater than what they get from the workout itself. Fresh air, birds singing, and a beautiful view can have profound effects on people, and hopefully lead to a stronger connection and appreciation for nature.”

Ronni agrees, “I feel so much better exercising outdoors. And exercising outside helped me develop a stronger environmental ethic. If I’m kayaking and I see a plastic bottle on the water, I want to pick it up.”

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Ronni, on the right, and other class participants kayak and clean up the lake. (Photo by Jenna Linhart)

The HPHP community has also broadened Ronni’s class options. For instance, the High-Intensity Interval Training teacher has invited Ronni to her non-HPHP classes, giving Ronni an indoor option during the winter.

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HPHP classes entice people to try something new, like meditation…
… and Hula Hoop Interval Training.
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And sometimes, it just gives people a more beautiful place to do their usual workout. (Photos by Jenna Linhart)

Each park organizes their own schedule, so if you want to attend an HPHP class, check out the events calendar, search by keyword “Healthy Parks” and category “Parks”. Most classes do not require pre-registration, unless they have limited equipment, like kayaks or paddleboards. The parks rely heavily on local volunteers to lead classes. So if you want to volunteer your expertise and maybe get a free weekend of camping, contact your nearest park.

Workout + Nature = More Fun

We all know that exercise is important for good physical health, but what if it could also be more fun and improve your mood? It can! Research has shown that exercising around nature – like trees, grass, and especially water – may improve your exercise experience. For instance, some who exercised outside reported that they could work out harder without it feeling difficult. Some people noted improvements in mood and stress level that lasted after the outdoor activity ended. Finally, some who exercised outside reported that they enjoyed their exercise more. These combined benefits may help people enjoy being active, rather than feeling like it is a chore!

Exercising outside also allows you to get to know your community and experience some of the natural beauty of where you live. In Maryland, there are 13 national parks, 72 state parks, and numerous local parks that offer activities like hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming, and more. Maryland also offers a coastline, the Chesapeake Bay, and many rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. All of these wonderful natural resources offer so many locations where people can spend time near the water or amongst the trees.

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Trails, like this one at Rocky Gap State Park, can be found at many of our state and local parks. Photo by Brad Kroner.

If you just want a break from paying that gym membership, exercising outside provides an excellent, low-cost way to get moving. While some parks may charge a small entrance fee, many do not charge at all! Some even offer group exercise classes, walking trails, exercise equipment, sports fields, and other areas to meet the needs of a variety of people.

Since we’re currently in the dog days of summer, make sure you prepare for the heat:

  1. Check the weather before you exercise. Be wary of Code Orange and Red Days—probably best to avoid exercising outside on these days, especially mid-day.
  2. Workout when and where it’s naturally cooler. Get out in the mornings (before 10 a.m.) or evenings (after 7 p.m.) to avoid the mid-day heat. Go to locations near water or under tree cover for breezier and shadier options.
  3. Pay attention to how you feel rather than time or distance targets. Your exercise performance may decrease in the heat and humidity, so consider decreasing your effort or time. You will eventually get acclimated. Stop immediately if you feel faint, dizzy, or nauseous. Know when to seek medical help.
  4. Make sure you stay hydrated. Drink water before, during (not so much that it makes the exercise uncomfortable), and after exercising.
  5. Protect your skin with sunscreen, even on cloudy days. Use an oil-free, sweat-proof sunscreen with SPF-15 or higher. Sunglasses and a lightweight, breathable hat with a brim provide even more coverage from the sun.
  6. Wear loose-fitting, wicking fabrics. “Athletic” or “performance” apparel wick sweat from your body, allowing it to evaporate quickly off the clothes. Choosing lighter colors will reflect heat, keeping you even cooler.