You've taken the first step to improve your health and lose weight by making exercise a regular part of your life. Now it's time to work on the diet. Making the right food choices can keep you energized without making you go hungry. The best foods to eat to help fuel your workout and promote weight loss are nutrient-rich and low in calories.
Let's Talk Calories
Working out burns fewer calories than you might think. To lose weight you need to eat fewer calories than you burn. How many calories you need to lose depends on your current weight, gender and activity level. Your doctor or dietitian can help you determine your individual needs for weight loss. Most people who exercise regularly can lose weight by limiting their intake to 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day. Don't go too low -- you won't have the energy you need to work out.
Load Up on Healthy Carbs
Carbs provide your body with the energy it needs to get through your workout. When trying to lose weight, you want to include carbs that are rich in nutrients and low in calories, so that means eating mostly fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fruits and vegetables are especially helpful when working out to lose weight because they are considered low-energy-density foods, which means they have few calories compared to their serving size. People who eat more low-energy-density foods have an easier time losing weight and keeping it off because they feel full on fewer calories, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lean Sources of Protein
Protein is important for muscle building, but eating more than you need is not going to make you leaner or help you lose weight. To keep calories under control and meet your protein needs, include lean sources such as poultry, seafood, lean red meat, beans or tofu in your weight-loss diet. Low-fat and nonfat dairy foods are also a good source of protein as well as carbs. A glass of low-fat chocolate milk or a cup of nonfat yogurt makes a good snack choice after you exercise, as it helps refuel and promote muscle recovery.
Small Amounts of Healthy Fat
Fat is a concentrated source of calories, so you need to be careful about the amount you include in your weight-loss diet. But fat is a source of energy, which is helpful when you exercise, and it helps you absorb fat-soluble vitamins. To maximize the benefits, include mostly unsaturated fats such as those found in avocados, nuts, seeds, oils and fatty fish like salmon. Eating more of these types of fat, instead of foods high in saturated fat such as butter and red meat, may help decrease your risk of heart disease.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Tips for Fueling Your Workout
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: Healthy Eating Plan
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: How to Fuel Your Workouts
- McKinley Health Center: Macronutrients: The Importance of Carbohydrates, Protein and Fat
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Low-Energy-Dense Foods and Weight Management: Cutting Calories While Controlling Hunger