Muscle Meals


‘Tis the season for sedentarity. Exercise is harder to come by during the holiday season, and it takes a real firestorm of motivation to get your heart rate up. The good news is, if you’re in a colder climate, outdoor exercise may help you to burn 50 or more calories per hour because you’re working hard to stay warm. This doesn’t mean you should skimp on clothing during that cross-country ski trip, it just means you should GO on a cross-country ski trip! And, chances are, you’ll do your workout in less time as you dream of the hot tea and warm applesauce waiting for you (OK fine, hot chocolate and brownies… just keep ‘m healthy!). And you can always resort to indoor exercise… stair runs, jumping jacks during commercial breaks, or using heavy exercise machinery to mimic outdoor moves.

So now that you’re bundling up or inching away from the Menorah cookies to run a few laps, it seems like a good time to talk about what kind of fuel we need for optimal exercise execution. To help me out, I’ve consulted Sasha Britton, a work-out warrior and performance pro, to give us the nutrient ditty. Give it to us, Sasha!

When we exercise, muscle tissue is constantly breaking down (you know this is happening when you feel the “burn.” that’s the buildup of lactic acid causing muscles to break down.) Protein is necessary for the recovery and rebuilding process. The best protein sources for our bones and kidneys are those from plants… beans, lentils, split peas, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and vegetables (did you know broccoli has as much protein in 1 stalk as a slice of turkey? bring on the greens, fitness friends!). To calculate your exercising protein needs, multiply 0.5 grams for every pound of body weight. A 150-pound ice skater needs about 75 grams of protein per day. That stalk of broccoli has 7 grams of protein. Put it atop a cup of brown rice with a half-cup of lentils and you’ve already eaten 20 grams of protein for the day! Pre- and post-workout drinks that include some protein may also help in muscle repair. Try smoothies made with almond milk and add soy or rice protein powder. Cheers!

Iron is also key for building muscle and maintaining endurance. Great sources include whole grain cereals fortified with iron, legumes (beans, peas and peanuts), dried fruit (especially raisins), and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and all the other stinky veggies). You’ll want to combine these with foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits and berries; this will aid your body in absorbing and utilizing iron.

Next on the list: Calcium & Vitamin D. They’re crucial for a healthy heart, and properly functioning muscles, nerves, and bones. Ever considered working out without these body parts? Not a good idea! Super calcium sources include fortified non-dairy milks and juices as well as dark leafy greens (more stinky cruciferous leafies, please!), almonds, sesame seeds (and their pureed form–tahini–found in most hummus concoctions), and dried figs. Very few foods in nature contain vitamin D, since we are meant to get it from the sun. However, it’s impossible to get adequate vitamin D from the sun from November to February if you live above 42 degrees north latitude (northern CA to Boston), or if you wear SPF 8 or greater. Therefore, fortified foods and supplements are essential for meeting vitamin D needs. During sunny months, 5 to 30 minutes of sun exposure between 10 AM and 3 PM at least twice a week to the face, arms, legs, or back without sunscreen is all you need to meet your needs.

Zinc is another big whig when it comes up feeding your fitness fuel. Zinc is high in protein-rich foods (see above), but it’s especially high in pumpkin seeds. Yet another reason to celebrate the gourd!

Last but not least, Vitamin B-12 is essential for metabolism and making use of the energy stored in food. Vitamin B-12 is only found in reliable amounts in animal products. We used to get plenty of B-12 when we ate our poorly washed, home-grown produce. However, now that we wash, re-wash, and sanitize our foods so heavily, there’s not a whole lot of B-12 left. So, rather than chowing down on dirt, try fortified non-dairy milks, cereals, and vitamin supplements — they’re fantastic sources.

Thank you, Sasha! Now shut down your computers and get out there! Exercise awaits. How do YOU move this time of year?

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