Food, Fuel, and Exercise: 10 of the most efficient foods and drinks

Dial in to the 411 on food, fuel, and exercise. Whether your goal is fitness or performance food is there to fuel you. Food can be separated into 3 categories: fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Each category provides a much needed benefit for daily living. Knowing what makes up your food can help you use food to boost your performance and improve your overall health. Here are some foods that when introduced into your diet pre, post, and during workout can help to enhance your personal goals.

1. Water Think you need a sports drink during or after exercise? Not if you’re hoofing it for less than 60 minutes according to the American Dietetic Association’s Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Dietetic Practice Group. Unless you work out an hour or more—or are an extremely heavy sweater—good old H2O is the perfect hydration drink. But if you are a sweater and working out in the heat and or humidity an electrolyte drink is called for. Smart Water is not the same as common bottled water. This water contains electrolytes, so it is an unflavored sports drink in a water bottle. This is one of the best diet conscious electrolyte drinks on the market.

2. Raisins Skip the energy bar and fuel up with a small box of raisins instead. They’re just as portable as an energy bar but deliver so much more, like energy-boosting carbs and potassium, one of the most underrated sports nutrients around. Potassium naturally maintains fluid balance, helping to prevent dehydration as well as muscle cramps. But when you work up a sweat, you lose it. Conveniently, a small box of raisins provides more than 300 milligrams of this mighty mineral, nearly as much as you’d get from a small banana. Don’t confuse a Craisin for a raisin. Though delicious Craisins do not contain much potassium. The banana is a great source of potassium but for portable I’ll take the mighty raisin.

3. Oatmeal When priming your muscles for a workout, carbs are your best friend. They provide glucose, the fuel your muscles run on. But, just as there are grades of gasoline, not all carbohydrates are created equally. Complex carbs from whole grains are slowly digested and deliver a sustained blood sugar release that energizes you throughout your workout. Oatmeal is just such a carb and it is rich in beta-glucan, a fiber that slows digestion and keeps blood sugar on an even keel. For maximum results, choose whole oats. They’re digested more slowly than quick cooking or instant oatmeal.

4. Spark AdvoCare Spark® is a unique multi-nutrient system that was developed as a nutritional source of energy. It's a sugar-free with more than 20 vitamins, minerals and nutrients that work synergistically to provide a healthy, balanced and effective source of energy, primarily caffeine, that won't overburden or over stimulate your body. A 2009 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign study found that men who received a jolt of caffeine an hour before bicycling intensely reported less muscle pain during their workout than a similar group of cyclists who went caffeine free. Worried that caffeine will dehydrate you? Don’t be. The American College of Sports Medicine states that caffeine isn’t an issue when it comes to hydration. Many I know choose coffee or a cola, for me it’s Spark.

5. Salmon If you’re pumping iron, salmon could make you stronger. With 22 grams of high quality protein per three ounces, this smart catch provides the building blocks your body needs to re- synthesize muscle tissue after a tough workout. And that’s not all. Salmon is also nature’s number one source of vitamin D, a nutrient that many of us don’t get enough of. That can make it harder to build muscle according to a 2010 Osteoporosis International study which links low vitamin D levels to decreased muscle strength.

6. Almonds It may sound counterintuitive, but the more intensely you exercise, the more damaging free radicals your body produces. Enter almonds. They’re a top source of antioxidants like flavonoids, phenolic acids, and vitamin E—all of which protect against harmful free radicals. In fact, cyclists who ate 60 almonds a day before meals for four weeks boosted their antioxidant capacity by 43 percent according to a study presented at the 2009 annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine.

7. Turkey Iron is a crucial mineral, without it you might not have the energy to drag yourself to the gym. Or, when you do, you’ll feel it. When working muscles don’t get the oxygen they need, they pump out lactic acid causing you to tire quickly. 3 ounces of cooked turkey provides 2.1 mg about 15% of what a woman needs and 30% of what a man needs daily. Oysters are a better source of iron but they just don’t appeal to me so it’s hard for me to recommend them so I'll stick with turkey.

8. Tomato juice If you play tennis, bike, or run an hour or more, you’re not just losing fluids. You’re also sweating out electrolytes like sodium and potassium. The most natural electrolyte replacement is a glass of tomato juice. One eight-ounce glass delivers six-and-a-half times the sodium and 15 times the potassium you’d get from your standard sports drink. If you are not a fan of tomato juice but you still want a balanced electrolyte drink, AdvoCareRehydrate® is a sports drink that balances potassium and sodium.

9. Low Fat Ricotta with Honey After hitting the weight room, your muscles are hungry for protein to help them repair and rebuild. Whey protein, used to make ricotta cheese, is a top pick. Whey is rich in B-lactoglobulin, a protein that’s especially effective in stimulating muscle resynthesis according to a 2010 Nutrition & Metabolism study. Adding some quickly digested carbs—like a drizzle of honey—to this post exercise snack encourages your muscles soak up that protein even faster. Another good choice is a whey protein smoothie.

10. Ginger A strenuous tennis match or workout leave you aching. Instead heading to the medicine cabinet, make a b-line to the kitchen for some ginger. According to a 2010 Journal of Pain study this potent anti-inflammatory root eases post exercise muscle pain. It’s also been shown to reduce joint stiffness and swelling too.