Tag Archives: health and wellness

Why is Food Safety so Important?

As well as being National Healthy Aging Month, September is also Food Safety Education Month, an educational outreach initiative to raise awareness about the steps we can all take to prevent food poisoning.

Keep Your Food Safe
If you’ve ever eaten potato salad that has sat out a little too long at a summer cookout or have unknowingly been served under-cooked meat at a restaurant, then you know first-hand the distress of food poisoning. Unless you’ve personally experienced a food-borne illness, you may not give too much thought to food safety in your everyday life. Food-borne illnesses are completely preventable, and understanding food safety—the proper handling, preparation, and storage of food—is key to prevention.

Food-borne illness is a public health problem. Every year, an estimated one in six Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from eating contaminated food. Anyone can get food poisoning, but some people are at a higher risk of getting seriously ill from food contamination, including young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems.

Keeping your family safe from food-borne illnesses is actually pretty simple. By following four easy steps—clean, separate, cook, and chill—you can help keep your family safe from food poisoning at home. Learn more about all of these steps here.

1. Clean
Germs and bacteria can live in many places around your kitchen including on your hands, in your food, on utensils, and on cutting boards and countertops. That’s why proper cleaning is so important.

  • Wash your hands often and the correct way. It’s best to use plain soap and water: skip the antibacterial soaps, and wash your hands under warm, running water for at least 20 seconds while scrubbing your palms, backs, between the fingers, and under the nails. Rinse your hands well and dry thoroughly with a clean, dry towel.
  • Clean surfaces and utensils after each use. Use hot soapy water to clean all dishes, utensils, and cutting boards, and wipe down countertops especially after cooking or preparing raw meat, seafood, or eggs. Be sure to wash all dish towels in hot water on a regular basis.
  • Wash your fruit and vegetables by rinsing them under plain, warm, running water. Using soap, bleach, or specially made produce washes is not necessary. Dry with a clean paper towel.
  • Do not wash meat, eggs, or poultry.

2. Separate
Preventing cross-contamination of different foods is the key to preventing food-borne illnesses.

  • Use separate dishes and cutting boards for produce, meat, seafood, and eggs. Use separate utensils for raw or cooked foods.
  • Wash all dishes, utensils, and cutting boards in hot soapy water or run them through the dishwasher.
  • Place raw meat, poultry, and seafood in individual, sealed plastic bags, and store them in the refrigerator. If you don’t plan to use them in a few days, place them in the freezer.
  • Store eggs in the carton they came in, and place them on a shelf in the refrigerator and not on the door.

3. Cook
Always cook food to the correct temperature to ensure that you kill any germs that can cause illness.

  • Invest in a good food thermometer, and use it to test the temperature of the cooked food by placing it into the thickest part of the food. Use this chart to determine if your food is cooked to the right temperature.
  • If you’re not serving food right away, keep it hot by storing in a chafing dish, slow cooker, or warming tray.

4. Chill
Refrigerate and freeze food properly to prevent spoilage and food-borne illnesses.

  • Place perishable foods in the refrigerator within two hours of purchasing from the store.
  • Store leftovers in individual containers and refrigerate immediately.
  • Do not thaw or marinate food on the counter, only do so in the refrigerator.
  • Regularly check food in your fridge, freezer, or pantry for expiration dates. Throw out any food that is past its expiration date or otherwise looks or smells spoiled. Use this guide for recommended storage times for different foods.

 

The Importance of Exercise As We Age

September is National Healthy Aging Month, a designation to raise awareness of our changing health needs as we age as well as giving attention to the positive aspects of growing older. This month, we’ll look at the role exercise can play in helping us age healthfully.

Exercise and Aging

Exercise is important at any age but can be especially beneficial for seniors. It can reduce the risks of chronic disease, improve mobility, reduce the risk of injuries and bone loss, boost mood, and help maintain cognitive function.

However, many older adults become more sedentary as they age, especially those age 60 and older. As you become less active, your fitness and strength levels decrease. With these changes, older adults can become less able to do activities they did when they were younger, so they may further reduce their activity and continue the cycle. This can lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, which increases the risks of other diseases and early death.

The good news is that there is never an age when it’s too late to start exercising and reaping the benefits. Middle-aged and older adults can extend their life expectancies by becoming more physically active, no matter what their past activity levels were. Beginning an exercise program later in life can have the same benefits as participating in sports or vigorous exercise decades earlier.

Never too late to start
It may seem daunting to start exercising in middle age or later, but even as little as 20 minutes of walking per day can reduce your risks for early death by 20 percent over time. If you increase those 20 minutes to an hour or more, then you see a 35 percent reduction.

Other low-impact activities (such as yoga or Pilates) can also have benefits that can help with keeping muscles and bones strong and help with mobility as you age. Swimming or water aerobics are also good choices as they are gentle on your joints and can be helpful if you suffer from arthritis or other joint problems. The key is to find an activity you enjoy and are most likely to stick with on a regular basis.

Below are some of the benefits of exercising as you age for your health:

  • Disease prevention. Regular exercise can help reduce or delay the risk of developing diseases like cancer, stroke, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Some research has also suggested that seniors who exercise at least three times per week have a 35 percent lower risk of developing dementia.
  • Improved balance, stability, and mobility. The most common injury for seniors is falls. Regular exercise can improve balance and stability to prevent falls, as well as improving mobility for day-to-day activities.
  • Maintaining muscle mass and preventing bone loss. Muscle mass begins to decline when we hit middle age and continues to decline with each decade of life. Maintaining muscle mass is critical to keeping strong and maintaining mobility, so you can remain independent as you age.
  • Improved quality of life. Exercising regularly improves your mood and can help ease symptoms of depression.

With exercise, remember, consistency is much more important than intensity. Find something you enjoy doing and start slowly, at a pace that is easy to sustain.

The Importance of Routines in Times of Uncertainty

Beginning with the nationwide lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic, more people have found themselves working from home and will likely be doing so for the foreseeable future. And with many schools around the country announcing plans to begin the school year with online learning, more families will find themselves still stuck at home this fall.

All of the disruptions the pandemic has caused have drastically changed many people’s daily routines, which can make it even more difficult to deal with the extreme stress and anxiety this crisis has created. Hours and days start to blend together, and before you know it, all you’ve accomplished is binging a full season of your favorite show on Netflix or scrolling through social media on your phone.

While binge-watching is a great stress reliever, you don’t want to fill all of your days being a couch potato. Maintaining a regular daily routine can help you feel more in control during this time when all other aspects of our world feel so uncertain.

Benefits of structure and routine
Sticking to a daily routine can have great benefits for mental health. Not only can routines help you better manage stress and anxiety, but they can also lower stress levels and have a calming effect, help you maintain good daily habits, encourage you to take care of your health, and help you feel more focused and productive. Having a daily routine allows you to complete necessary tasks, such as work or home duties so that you can then find time for exercise and other leisure activities. A routine can help to make your situation feel more predictable and controllable.

Creating a routine
Your daily routine may look very different right now if you’re working from home or temporarily unemployed, or if you have children at home. Create a routine that adds structure and a sense of predictability to your day. Your routine might vary on different days, but sticking to a basic schedule of when you sleep, wake up, eat, work, exercise, and do other activities will help you manage stress and feel that you have accomplished more day to day.

An easy way to create a schedule is to make a list of all the things you must get done during the day. Write down everything from work to household chores to childcare. Once you have identified all of the basic tasks that you need to get done, you can make an outline of a schedule that would work for you.

In addition to all of the tasks and chores, you must accomplish daily, remember to include time for activities that you enjoy so you have something to look forward to every day. Things such as reading, watching TV, taking a hot bath, calling a friend, or playing with your kids can help you stay positive while you’re completing the essential tasks of your day.

A routine that works for you
It’s important to be flexible and find a routine that works for you and your family. Some people may thrive with a structured routine that is basically the same every day, while others may do better making a daily to-do list and prioritizing that list each day. If you have young or school-age children at home, it’s very important for them to have structure to their day, especially if they are participating in online schooling.

Routines are even more important during times of stress and chaos, such as what the U.S. is experiencing right now. Daily rituals can offer you some control and some certainty in a situation that has neither.

 

 

10 Summer Salads to Keep You Cool and Satisfied

When it’s hot outside, having a heavy, hot meal doesn’t always sound appealing. Salads can be a refreshing, filling, and nutritious choice for lunch or dinner on sweltering summer days. There are so many delicious options for salads that go beyond basic iceberg lettuce!

Below you will find recipes for fresh summer salads that take advantage of seasonal vegetables and fruits and are easy to make. Serve salads as a side to your main dish or add a protein such as grilled chicken, shrimp, tofu, or steak to any salad to make it a main course.

Tomato, Peach, and Basil Salad
Use seasonal peaches and nectarines combined with feta cheese to create a sweet and savory salad.

Charred Shrimp and Avocado Salad
This light salad has a tropical taste with pineapple, shrimp, and avocado mixed with cucumber and watercress.

New Greek Salad
A twist on the traditional summer salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, and feta cheese, combined with Kalamata olives and croutons made from olive bread.

Cobb Salad with Grilled Chicken
Another summer favorite, this Cobb salad includes avocado, tomatoes, feta cheese, and crumbled bacon. Add grilled chicken or rotisserie chicken for an even quicker meal.

Grilled Watermelon Salad with Steak and Tomatoes
Watermelon is a summer staple that when grilled with steak creates a juicy flavor and satisfying meal.

Arugula, Melon, and Prosciutto Salad
A sweet and salty salad with cantaloupe, arugula, and prosciutto served with a red wine vinaigrette.

Grilled Chicken Mango Salad
Grilled chicken is cooked in mango cilantro dressing and combined with avocado, cucumbers, peppers, and romaine lettuce—finished off by more mango cilantro dressing.

Garbanzo Bean Salad with Dill Dressing
Protein from chickpeas and fiber-rich beans and veggies make this salad a filling meal.

Strawberry Summer Salad
A refreshing blend of spinach, strawberries, sliced red onion, chopped nuts, and feta drizzled with strawberry vinaigrette dressing.

Summer Caprese Salad
This summer classic is made with fresh summer tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil seasoned with olive oil.

Taking Vacation Time Is More Important Now Than Ever

Americans work more than any other nation, take fewer vacation days, work longer hours, and retire at a later age. Many people feel that they cannot take time off and get their jobs done, or they have fears about job security. However, studies have shown that taking a vacation has much-needed physical and mental health benefits and that taking time off from work has never been more important than right now during the global coronavirus pandemic that has added even more stress to already over-taxed employees.

Business closures due to the pandemic have resulted in wage cuts and job losses for many workers. Many people are still working from home or furloughed. As a result, taking a week off or even a day off may seem like a huge burden to employees when the pressure to perform already feels greater, and vacation doesn’t seem like a priority. But taking care of your mental health during such stressful and uncertain times matters now more than ever.

Preventing burnout
Vacation time, and even time off on weekends, is crucial for employees to maintain productivity, creativity, and prevent burnout, according to Simmy Grover, an organizational psychology instructor at University College London.

Burnout is inevitable if you never take a break from work, and that means not only taking vacation days but also mentally detaching from work on the weekend and during evenings at home. Taking time off should be viewed as a time to recharge and de-stress in order to be a better employee, make better decisions, and be more productive at work. Time off will allow you to manage your stress and maintain a sense of well-being.

Vacation during the pandemic
Like most everything else, your vacation plans may have been canceled due to the pandemic. Even if you can’t take that European trip or visit Disney World, time away from work is so important right now, even if you just stay at home. Experts say the benefits of being away from work are basically the same whether you leave town or not.

You may not be able to go to many places right now, or you may not feel safe about going anywhere, but research into “staycations” shows that they have the same mental health benefits that destination vacations have.

Safe vacation ideas
If you do crave time away from home, there are some safe ways to take a vacation during the ongoing pandemic. Many people are staying closer to home and avoiding air travel, so consider exploring areas in your state that are within driving distance. A beach, lake, or mountain getaway can provide a much-needed change of scenery, and if you forgo staying at a hotel and opt for a private home rental, you can get away safely and engage in activities that still maintain social distance.

Being outdoors (while still socially distanced from others) is one of the safest places to be right now, so look into ways you can get away and participate in outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, cycling, or even just lying on an uncrowded beach. Camping is another great option that is naturally socially distanced; just be sure to check with campgrounds on what facilities are open and whether they have any restrictions.

Pack your own food, and plan to cook and eat at your rental or get takeout from local restaurants instead of dining out. Minimize your family’s risk of infection by following all of the recommended guidelines including washing your hands frequently, cleaning surfaces often, maintaining social distance from others, and wearing a mask when in public. If you follow all of these recommendations, you and your family can still have a memorable vacation, and you’ll feel refreshed and ready to get back to work when you return.

If getting away is not an option for you, taking a day off or even a week off to just stay at home and recharge will only help your mental health in dealing with work stress and the strain of the pandemic.

 

Lower Back Pain and Exercise

Easing Lower Back Pain Through Exercise

If you suffer from lower back pain, you are not alone. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), nearly 80 percent of Americans will experience some level of lower back pain at some time in their lives. It is the most common reason for doctor visits and for job-related disability. Lower back pain is usually caused by injury, although some back pain can be caused by certain diseases such as arthritis, a ruptured or herniated disc, or more rarely, cancer.

Lower back pain can be either acute, meaning it lasts a few days to weeks, or chronic, lasting longer than three months. It’s important to see a doctor for any new back pain to rule out underlying disease. If your lower back pain is the result of an injury, the best way to keep your symptoms under control is by staying active. Regular exercise can help the muscles in your back relax and can increase blood flow to the area.

When exercising after a mild back injury or with chronic back pain, there are some important things to keep in mind so you don’t make your symptoms worse.

Get out of bed.
When your back hurts, it’s tempting to just lie in bed and watch television. While resting for a day or two is fine, any longer will make your pain worse, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The sooner you get up and moving, the quicker you will feel some relief. Start slowly, with simple activities such as a 10-15 minute walk two times a day.

Stretch the right way.
Performing the right types of stretches and doing them correctly can really help calm lower back spasms. Do the exercises recommended here two times per day to help relieve back pain and strengthen back muscles. Click here to find eight back stretches.

Don’t push through the pain.
If certain exercises are making your back pain worse, stop doing them. Pushing into a painful position can damage tissue further and make back pain worse.

Check your posture.
Regularly slumping or slouching, especially while sitting for long periods of time, such as at an office desk, is a common reason for lower back pain. Focus on sitting and standing up straight, and make sure your desk chair is ergonomically built to support your back while working. Also, wearing high heels can exacerbate the problem as can being overweight or obese.

Avoid high-impact activities.
Running, high-impact aerobics, basketball, and other activities that place a lot of stress on your joints can make back pain worse. Avoid these types of activities until your pain gets better. Instead, focus on lower impact exercises such as walking or riding the stationary bike or elliptical machine. Swimming and aquatic exercise are also especially helpful when dealing with lower back pain.

Be careful with weight lifting.
When you’re experiencing back pain, avoid doing overhead weight moves such as shoulder presses and weighted squats. These types of weight movements can add pressure to your spinal discs and cause back pain to worsen.

Once you make these changes to your exercise routine, your lower back pain should start to improve significantly. If it does not, you should consult your doctor.

 

 

Start Your Day with a Powerful Breakfast

The importance of Breakfast Nutrition

You’ve probably heard the mantra – breakfast is the most important meal of the day! But what exactly does that mean? What are the healthiest foods to eat for breakfast?

Eating a healthy breakfast is the best way to start your day. A good breakfast will help you think and perform better at your job or at school and can help you maintain a healthy weight and promote heart health.

Don’t Skip!
Many people skip breakfast, either because they aren’t hungry in the morning, feel like they’re too pressed for time, or as a way to lose weight. But studies show that breakfast skippers are not only sabotaging weight loss attempts, but they may also be impacting their body’s ability to control blood sugar as well as affecting their quality of sleep.

What’s for breakfast?
Getting into the habit of eating breakfast is important, but equally important is what you eat for breakfast. Grabbing a protein bar or shake is better than nothing, but highly processed foods like these are not the best choices for your first meal of the day. Eating a balanced breakfast that’s packed full of protein and nutrients will give you the most health benefits.

When planning your meals, focus on pairing carbohydrates with proteins for breakfast. Carbohydrates will fuel your brain and supply your body with the energy it needs to begin the day. Protein will help you feel full and satisfied until lunchtime.

A breakfast that’s high in protein has also been shown to support weight loss by increasing muscle mass, helping regulate blood sugar, helping you feel full longer, and curbing the urge to snack at night. Aim for 20-30 grams of protein at breakfast; this can be accomplished with an 8 oz. cup of Greek yogurt or one egg with a couple of turkey sausage links, for example.

Protein-packed breakfast ideas
Skip the donuts and danishes, and try some of these ideas for a healthier breakfast that pairs the right amount of proteins and carbs.

  • Greek yogurt with berries and almonds
  • Steel-cut oatmeal with berries and 6 oz. Greek yogurt
  • Avocado toast with egg
  • Whole wheat toast with 1 tbsp. of nut butter and sliced banana
  • Berry and yogurt smoothie
  • Peanut butter and banana smoothie
  • Whole wheat English muffin with egg and low-fat cheese
  • Sausage and egg casserole with a side of fresh fruit
  • Whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk and topped with berries and almonds
  • Egg scramble with turkey sausage, low-fat cheese, and veggies with a side of berries

 

Your Sunscreen Questions Answered

Summertime has arrived and with more time spent outdoors, you’ll want to make sure to use a good sunscreen to protect your skin. Unlike the 1970s and 1980s when tanning oils and the bronzed look were all the rage, we now know that using sunscreen is essential to preventing not only sunburn but long-term damage from the sun—including skin cancer.

While most people adhere to this advice and aren’t breaking out the baby oil to get a deep, dark tan, they still have misconceptions when it comes to sun protection. What SPF is best? How much sunscreen do I need? How often should I reapply? If I tan well, do I really need sunscreen?

Below are answers to some of the most common questions about sunscreen:

Are higher SPFs better?
Sunscreens are available with SPFs (sun protection factors) ranging from SPF 4 to SPF 100+. Most people mistakenly think that the higher the SPF, the more sun protection the product offers, but that is not necessarily true.

Dermatologists recommend that everyone use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. SPF 30 blocks approximately 97 percent of UVB rays, which are the ones that cause skin cancer. For products with anything higher than a SPF 30, the difference in sun protection is minimal. No sunscreen can can offer 100 percent protection from UVB rays, and products with higher SPFs often contain more chemical ingredients that can irritate the skin. And sunscreens with higher SPFs are often more expensive.

Which sunscreen is best?
There are so many different brands and different types of sunscreens available, it would be hard to choose the best one. A lot depends on your personal preferences—whether you prefer a lotion, spray, or cream, or whether you want a chemical versus a physical sunscreen, and your preference for a specific fragrance or no fragrance at all, etc.

Whatever sunscreen you choose, always make sure it is at least SPF 30 and is labeled “broad spectrum.” Broad spectrum sunscreens protect the skin against both UVA and UVB rays; that is, they protect against both the UVA rays that can cause premature skin aging, wrinkles, and age spots and the UVB rays that cause sunburn, which over time, can lead to skin cancer.

How often do I need to reapply sunscreen?
How many times have you gotten to the beach or the pool and applied your sunscreen, and then spent the day swimming and playing in the sun—forgetting to reapply and ending up with red, sore sunburned skin later that evening? One of the biggest mistakes that many people make is not reapplying their sunscreen either at all or often enough.

All sunscreens need to be reapplied at least every two hours while outdoors. If you will be spending a lot of time in the water or if you are sweating a lot, such as when exercising outdoors, then you should reapply more often. Even if a product is labeled “water-resistant,” it still needs to be reapplied at least every two hours—no sunscreen is completely water-proof.

How much sunscreen do I need?
If you use too little sunscreen, you may end up with a painful sunburn. Dermatologists recommend using enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass (about two tablespoons) to cover all exposed areas of the body and face. If you prefer to use a spray, always make sure to rub in the sunscreen after spraying it on your skin to get even coverage.

It’s cloudy, do I really need to wear sunscreen?
Yes, you do! Don’t skimp on the sunscreen on overcast days. The sun’s UV rays can easily pass through clouds, and you can still get a sunburn.

My skin tans well, do I still have to use sunscreen?
All dermatologists will tell you that there is no such thing as a healthy or safe tan. A tan is a sign that skin damage has already occurred, and it does not offer any protection against future sun exposure. A so-called “base tan” only provides the equivalent of about a SPF 4, so a tan will not protect against sunburn or skin cancer.

Whether a tan is from an indoor tanning bed or from the sun, tanning causes skin damage over time. This damage may not only lead to premature skin aging and more wrinkles, it can also lead to skin cancer.

Exercising Safely with Asthma

May is Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. Since spring is the prime season for allergy and asthma sufferers, it is the best time to educate others about these conditions.

In the US, 25 million children and adults have asthma, and approximately 21 million people suffer from seasonal allergies. Additionally, about 31 million people have some type of food allergy. While both allergies and asthma are common conditions, there are several special measures people with these conditions should take as many factors can trigger symptoms that range from bothersome to life-threatening.

When it comes to exercise, people with asthma must take special precautions, as exercise in and of itself can trigger asthma attacks. People with asthma may experience trouble breathing, wheezing, coughing, or tightness in the chest during or following any physical activity. But exercise is actually beneficial for asthma sufferers, and most people with asthma can exercise safely with proper precautions and the right treatments.

Taking precautions
For those with asthma, many factors in the environment can trigger symptoms, so it is important for sufferers to learn their individual triggers. For example, exercising in very cold or very hot temperatures, dry air, air pollution, and allergens such as pollen or ragweed can all set off symptoms or a full-blown asthma attack. Most doctors recommend that people with asthma exercise in warmer temperatures because moist, warm air is better for keeping the airways lubricated and relaxed.

However, if exercising outdoors in colder temperatures, wearing a face mask that covers your mouth and nose can help keep symptoms at bay. If allergens like pollen trigger symptoms, check your area’s pollen counts before heading outdoors to exercise, and switch to indoor activity on days when pollen counts are particularly high. For those with asthma, many factors in the environment can trigger symptoms, so it is important for sufferers to learn about their individual triggers.

In general, people with asthma should be careful not to overexert themselves during physical activities. If you experience asthma symptoms, you should stop exercising.

Best types of exercise
Some types of exercise and sports are more likely to cause asthma symptoms than others. Activities that require constant exertion such as soccer, hockey, or basketball are more of a problem than sports like tennis or baseball which require short bursts of physical exertion.

Good choices for exercise or sports for people with asthma include swimming, walking, hiking, yoga, golf, weightlifting, and using indoor equipment such as elliptical machines or stationary bikes. Swimming can be particularly beneficial for asthma sufferers because a swimmer’s position horizontally in the water can help loosen mucus in the lungs, and breathing in warm, moist air is also good for reducing symptoms. Yoga is also a great choice as it focuses on breathing and can help increase lung capacity by strengthening muscles.

Whatever activity you choose, it’s important to build up your endurance over time and do it regularly.  It’s also important to use your inhaler or any other medications your doctor has prescribed to help control your asthma before or during exercise. Always make sure to have your inhaler with you or close by when exercising should you begin experiencing an asthma attack.

Exercise-induced asthma
Another special consideration is a condition known as exercise-induced asthma or exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB). People without diagnosed chronic asthma can experience asthma symptoms that are triggered by exercise. With this condition, airways in the lungs can narrow with strenuous exercise and cause shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, fatigue, and poor athletic performance during or after exercise.

Usually in EIB, symptoms begin soon after beginning exercise and can last 60 minutes or longer if not treated. It’s important to see a doctor if you experience any of these symptoms during or after exercising, as EIB can start at any age. Just as with chronic asthma, many different environmental factors can trigger EIB symptoms including dry air, cold temperatures, allergens, or air pollution. EIB is more common with activities that require long periods of deep breathing such as running or soccer.

EIB can usually be managed effectively, and sufferers can continue participating in sports or exercise by taking medication before exercise to prevent or reduce symptoms. Most people are prescribed an inhaler containing medications that can be used approximately 15 minutes before exercise to control symptoms. These medications can also be used during exercise if symptoms arise.

 

Refueling Your Body Post-Workout

You’ve been pushing yourself in your weekly workouts, trying to reach your personal goals whether it’s to increase fitness or build muscle. Most likely, you’ve been careful about what you eat before you exercise, but what you eat after a vigorous workout is just as important. The right nutrition can replenish energy stores, build and repair muscle that was broken down during a workout, and help keep your metabolism strong.

When refueling after a workout, the sooner the better. Research shows that if you wait to eat for two hours after your workout, it decreases your body’s ability to refill muscle stores by 50 percent compared to eating right away after exercising. It’s best to eat or drink something that combines protein and carbohydrates 30 minutes to one hour after exercising.

Studies have shown that consuming carbohydrates immediately after exercise is an excellent strategy to maximize rates of muscle glycogen synthesis, which means restoring energy to muscle cells. Similarly, eating additional protein within an hour after a workout is also shown to improve muscle glycogen stores. Drinking plenty of water, or sometimes a sports recovery drink after very strenuous workouts, is also necessary for rehydration.

Post-workout meals don’t have to be complicated nor do they require special supplements or expensive shakes. It just takes a little planning and preparation so you have a meal ready to go after your workout. For example, if you work out at a gym, you may want to pack a pre-made meal to take along with you, such as a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.

These examples of post-workout foods combine the necessary carbohydrates and protein and are quick and easy to make:

  • Grilled chicken (4 oz.) and brown rice (½ cup)
  • Egg scramble made with eggs and vegetables such as sweet potatoes or avocado
  • Peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich made on whole grain bread with all-fruit preserves
  • Whole grain wrap with lean meat, beans, avocado, or cheese
  • Whole wheat toast with 3 oz. of tuna and 2 oz. of hummus and spinach
  • Protein shake made with half a banana, one scoop of protein powder, and almond milk
  • Chocolate milk (1 cup)