10 Ingredients to Amp Up Your Workout

What you eat before, during and after you exercise can have a major impact on the effectiveness of your workout. Find out the key ingredients to add to your fitness routine

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Boost Your Workout

Eating well is the key to reaching your athletic goals, says Kyle Byron a personal trainer and nutritionist in Toronto. “If your goals are modest you can behave modestly but if your goals are excellent you need to eat excellently,” says Byron. Read on for what you should eat and when.

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1. A Chicken Breast

While eating protein might seem like a no-brainer, most people aren’t getting enough in their diet, says Byron. The amino acids in protein help to build connective tissue and muscle so you should aim to have protein within 15 minutes of your workout to reap its full benefits. Byron recommends a lean cut of meat such as grilled chicken or a cup of cottage cheese or Greek yogurt.

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2. A Cup of Coffee

Caffeine can improve your athletic performance because it can help your nervous system to react more quickly, it reduces pain and can help speed up our muscle contractions, says Byron. Drink a cup of coffee an hour to an hour and a half before a workout to utilize its buzzy benefits.  Steer clear of caffeine supplements and stick with a cup of joe as it also contains antioxidants. But be warned, too much can have a negative effect on your performance and make you jittery or nauseated.

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3. A Banana

Many people don’t eat after a workout because they don’t want the extra calories but this is a big mistake, says Byron. Nosh on a piece of fruit within 15 minutes of finishing your sweat session to help maintain your energy levels and boost your immune system, which is compromised right after an intense workout.  Fruit is chock full of vitamins and minerals, it’s convenient and it tastes good, he says. Try pairing a banana with a protein like peanut butter or Greek yogurt. Pineapple is another great fruit to eat post-workout as it is known for its anti-inflammatory benefits.

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4. Ginger & Garlic

Fresh herbs like garlic and ginger are crucial anti-inflammatories to boost your body’s recovery post-workout. Ginger is great for the immune system, which is compromised right after a high-intensity workout, says Byron, and research has shown that it can also reduce muscle pain.  Garlic is also a known immunity-booster and studies show that garlic can reduce strain on the heart during workouts and boost your vo2 max or maximum oxygen consumption during cardio. Grate some fresh ginger into your morning smoothie and nosh on fresh garlic mashed with an avocado for an afternoon snack.

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5. Beets

There’s a lot of buzz about beets when it comes to making the most of your workout. While the research is still in the works, some studies show that nitrate-rich vegetables, like beets, can enhance performance during exercises like running  and also improve blood flow. Drink some beet juice a few hours before a workout-but don’t overdo it as too much of this root vegetable can lead to gastrointestinal distress.

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6. A Smoothie

A smoothie is a great way to fit in many powerhouse ingredients that can improve your workout and recovery, says Byron. Pack your pre- and post-workout smoothie with ingredients like a scoop of protein powder or plain Greek yogurt (to help re-build muscle), half a cup of fresh pineapple (for anti-inflammatory benefits), a quarter cup of dark berries like blueberries, pomegranate seeds or cherries (all rich in antioxidants), a handful of baby spinach (for antioxidants like chlorophyll), banana (for starch and natural sugar) and ¼ cup of beets (for circulation-boosting effects), recommends Byron. (Check out more workout-friendly smoothie recipes here.)

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7. Omega-3s

Don’t fear fat-omega-3 fatty acid is key to reducing muscle soreness and inflammation after a workout. Excellent sources include cold-water fish such as trout or salmon, says Byron. Research has shown that fish oil supplementation can increase your resting metabolic rate and fat oxidation and also lowers triglyceride levels  (associated with cholesterol and in turn heart disease). Add some fish to your menu at least once a week and speak to your doctor before starting an omega-3 supplement.

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8. Oatmeal

This slow-release carbohydrate is a great pre- or post-workout food, says Byron. Oatmeal is easy to prepare, it keeps you feeling full longer and provides a steady hit of energy. Stir in some protein powder or Greek yogurt and sprinkle on some cinnamon, which can help regulate blood sugar levels. Whole grains like oatmeal are proven to help prevent against cardiovascular disease and diabetes. If you’re going to eat it before a workout, make sure you leave at least an hour for digestion.

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9. Probiotics

Adding probiotic-rich foods to your diet could help your overall health and subsequently improve your fitness performance. Fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha contain good bacteria that can help colonize your digestive tract with the right stuff. While the health claims of probiotics are still being researched, adding them to your diet could help boost your immune system function after a workout.

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10. Sweet Potatoes

Don’t kick carbs or it could negatively affect your workout, says Byron. Eating a complex carb one to two hours before a workout can help give you better performance and the fuel your body needs to sustain a more intense gym session. But that doesn’t mean it’s a free for all-stick with sweet potatoes versus a sandwich, he says. These root veggies not only have vitamin A and anti-inflammatory compounds, they also have blood sugar regulating effects.  Roast slices of sweet potato with some heart healthy olive oil and vitamin A-rich rosemary for a savoury treat.

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