Food & Fitness After 50: Does your food support your fitness?

This post is a summary of a nutrition session I conducted for the Bell Family YMCA in Hartwell, GA on November 14 & 28, 2017.

YMCA photo 11-16-17

Are you doing all you can to achieve your fitness goals with the foods you choose? Before you can answer that question, it is important to step back and ask yourself a couple of things.

First, what is your fitness goal? Is your goal to build muscle or to improve endurance or cardiovascular fitness? Is your goal to lose weight? Or, is your goal to be healthy? I think it is important to clarify your goal, so you know if your food supports your fitness goals.

• For example, if your goal is to build muscle, are you doing progressive, resistance exercise and working your muscle until it is fatigued? If lifting 3-pound weights is no longer a challenge, you might be improving muscle endurance, but you won’t get stronger. And, if you are doing progressive resistance exercise training, are you getting about 30 grams of protein within 2 hours of your workout to feed your muscles with amino acids, the building blocks of protein?
• Is your goal good health? If so, do you know your blood pressure, blood lipids, blood sugar, or bone density? It helps to know your baseline to see if exercise and your food choices are working to meet your health goals.

Second, is your goal realistic? A 70-year-old can be more fit than a 40-year-old, but the odds of having 3% body fat and six-pack at 70 isn’t very realistic. Or, for women, do you compare yourself to the cover of women’s magazines and think you won’t ever reach that ideal? Well, you’re right, because the women on the covers of those magazines are usually photo-shopped, sculpted, and perfected in a digitally enhanced way that isn’t real. So, as we reach our 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond, let’s get real with our goals.

So, if you do set realistic goals, let’s visit a couple of exercisers to see how they have developed realistic goals, but are sabotaging their goals with their food choices.

“You can’t out exercise a bad diet.” Michael works out at moderate intensity 3-4 times a week; he likes to shoot baskets in the gym, lift weights, and walk on the treadmill, but he can’t lose weight and is actually gaining weight. Because he works out, he thinks he can eat whatever he wants. He eats out a lot. Let’s look at his 3 favorite meals and illustrate how long he would have to work out to burn the calories in those meals:
o Zaxby’s Chicken Finger Platter with sweet tea has 1822 calories. To burn those calories Michael would have to:
 Shoot baskets for 5 hours
 Lift weights for 6 ½ hours
 Walk at 4 mph on the treadmill for 4 ½ hours
o 10 Chicken Wings have 1590 calories, so he needs to:
 Shoot baskets for 4 hours
 Lift weights for 5 ½ hours
 Walk on treadmill for 3 ½ hours
o Waffle House All Star Breakfast with Bacon and Hash browns weighs in at 1500 calories, so he needs to:
 Shoot baskets for than 3 ½ hours
 Lift weights for a little more than 5 hours
 Walk on the treadmill for a little more than 3 ½ hours

You get the picture; his food choices are sabotaging his exercise calorie burning. So, what can he do? The easy answer is to make better choices at his favorite quick service restaurants. Nutrition information is available online, so do some homework before you choose. For example, at Zaxby’s, the Kickin chicken sandwich has 760 calories; the grilled chicken sandwich meal has 900 calories, and a chicken salad sandwich has 620 calories; all lower calorie options than his usual meal. And, if he can’t give up sweet tea; try mixing half sweet and half unsweetened to cut calories in half.

“Muscle needs protein.” Sandra, age 61, is trying to build and tone muscle. She recently adopted a plant-based diet, but she will eat some animal protein, like yogurt and cheese. She does weight training three times a week, but is not seeing much progress. For breakfast she has coffee, a glass of almond milk, and a biscuit; lunch is a green salad with lots of veggies and unsweetened iced tea, and for dinner she eats spaghetti with marinara sauce, a green salad, and garlic bread. For a night time snack, she has a bowl of air-popped popcorn.

Sandra is not getting enough protein to feed her muscles; she needs protein at every meal and she can do that with a plant-based diet, but she isn’t making the right choices.

• For breakfast, her protein intake is practically zero. Almond or other nut milks, like cashew milk, do not have protein unless the protein is added to it, usually using pea or rice protein. She could switch to soy milk to get high quality protein and add a slice of Swiss or cheddar cheese to the biscuit.
• The green salad at lunch is good, but again, no protein. If she added chickpeas or garbanzo beans, chopped nuts, and sunflower seeds to the salad and added a serving of cottage cheese or 6-ounces of Greek yogurt, she would boost her protein intake.
• For dinner, in keeping with the plant-based theme, Sandra could learn to make a lentil marinara sauce; lentils and beans (black beans, kidney beans, etc.) are higher in protein than other veggies.
• Popcorn is a whole grain and a good snack, but low in protein. To add some protein before bed, she could sprinkle Parmesan cheese on the popcorn or make a fruit smoothie with Greek yogurt or add a scoop of protein powder to a glass of almond milk.

Next time you bemoan the fact that you aren’t meeting your goals, ask yourself if your food choices support your goals. Food and fitness go hand-in-hand! For a good resource on plant-based eating, see registered dietitian nutritionist, “The Plant Powered Dietitian,” Sharon Palmer’s website.

For more tips on eating well, moving well, and being well after 50, check out our new book, Food & Fitness After 50, available on Amazon.