EatingHealthy.org

Healthy Diets for Active People

Volleyball

A healthy diet for an active person – someone who exercises regularly or whose job requires a lot of physical labor – is quite similar to the healthy diet prescribed or recommended for most people.  Those who are active may require more calories to maintain energy and, if they desire, maintain their weight. Additionally, people who are trying to build muscle mass will require more calories to fuel the development of those muscles. 

Active people should include the following practices in their daily diet plans:

  • Eating breakfast.  Breakfast provides the body with energy to start the day.  It also helps to keep you from overeating later in the day. 
  • Eating before physical activities.  Our bodies need fuel to exercise, and a small, high-protein, high-carbohydrate, low-fat snack before exercise will provide us with enough energy to complete our workout.
  • Eating after exercise.  Eating a high-protein snack after our workouts will allow our bodies to recover.  A small snack after exercise or physical activity will also help our muscles to develop. 
  • Eating real food.  Real food, like fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains provide us with the vitamins, minerals, and fiber that our bodies need to stay active.  Try to stay away from processed foods.
  • Drinking water.  The Institute of Medicine recommends that men drink 13 cups of beverages a day and that women drink 9 cups.  Water prepares our bodies to work and ensures that we do not get dehydrated during our physical activities.  It also allows us to work harder. 
  • Eating enough protein.  Protein helps our muscles recover, and it is a necessary component of muscle development.  If you are interested in adding muscle mass, getting enough protein is essential.  Some nutritionists suggest that healthy, active adults should eat as much as half the number of grams of protein as their body weight.  For example, a 160 pound man would then eat 80 grams of protein a day.  This protein can come from both meat and non-meat sources.
  • Eating enough carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates are the first fuel that our body uses.  While low-carb diets have gained popularity over the past decade, active people may suffer the most with this approach.  When our bodies don’t get enough carbohydrates, they look to use muscle mass as energy instead and thus deplete the muscles that we may have worked hard to build.
  • Eating whole grains instead of refined grains.  Eating whole wheat, quinoa-based, or brown rice products instead of refined grain products increases the number of nutrients that we take in.  Whole grains have more fiber and protein than do those that are refined. 
  • Eating the right kinds and amounts of fat.  While we should stay away from trans fats if at all possible and limit our intake of saturated fats, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, like those found in nuts, olives, and avocados are important.  Unsaturated fats help us lose weight, provide satiety, and play a role in maintaining appropriate cholesterol levels.  For active men, saturated fats are necessary in small amounts to help maintain testosterone levels.