This simplified guide to fitness answers all your questions (and includes yummy pre- and post-workout recipes)
When it comes to beginning an exercise regimen, "You have to start where you are right now-not where your neighbor is or where you want to be-and then you can build," says Janet Hamilton, Atlanta-based exercise physiologist and founder of runningstrong.com. Overdoing it at the beginning can cause too much soreness or injury, and will discourage you. But done the right way, exercise delivers these key benefits:
- Bone and heart health. In addition to keeping your heart healthy, walking and other load-bearing exercises preserve bone. "The greater the load on the bone, the greater the stimulation for bone growth," says Hamilton. In addition to walking, running, and jumping movements, other options include ballroom dancing, salsa, Zumba, and step aerobics.
- Balance. All types of exercise improve balance and reduce risk of falls. Pilates and yoga are particularly good for balance, flexibility, and strength.
- Muscle. It shrinks with age, but the process is reversible with weight or resistance training that challenges all the major muscle groups, three times per week.
"I've seen people improve their fitness well into their eighth decade of life," says Hamilton. "It's never too late to start." Use this quick handbook, organized into three sections, to develop the healthiest exercise routine.
Part 1: How to Begin Exercising
To start, Hamilton recommends walking at a comfortable pace. Over time, add short spurts of walking faster or on an incline. Once you're comfortably walking 10 miles per week, consider adding short spurts of running.
At home, she says, these are the best resistance exercises:
- Squats: Stand in front of a chair and squat until your rear end barely touches the seat; then stand up.
- Push-Ups: Start by doing them against a wall, then against a sturdy chair back or desk, and graduallyprogress to floor push-ups.
Part 2: Add Supplements for Energy, Performance, & Weight Loss
When it comes to workout supplements, what you take may not be as important as when you take it. Here are our top supplement picks for exercisers, along with a simple timing guide of when to take them.
Pre-workout nutrition should focus on sustaining energy, increasing performance, and supporting the body's ability to build muscle and
burn fat. Supplements (taken about 30 minutes before you work out) may include:
- Creatine monohydrate increases your supply of ATP, a compound that supplies energy to the body. Several studies have found that creatine increases strength and muscle gain when used in conjunction with an exercise regimen. It's especially important before performing intense bursts of activity, such as sprinting or heavy lifting.
- Caffeine has been shown to improve endurance and performance during workouts, reduce muscle pain, and help mobilize fat stores. A recent study also found that caffeine prompted otherwise sedentary people to exercise for longer periods of time. For supplements, use dehydrated caffeine and/or herbal sources such as green tea and guarana extracts.
- Taurine is an amino acid that's known for its ability to promote muscle gain and reduce muscle damage and soreness.
- Cordyceps, a medicinal mushroom, can effectively boost endurance, in part by increasing blood flow. Research suggests that supplementing with cordyceps may not only allow you to work out longer, but also boost your overall vigor.
- Garcinia cambogia: The major compound of this fat buster is hydroxycitric acid (HCA), which researchers have lauded for its ability to prevent carbs from turning into fat. Small human studies on Garcinia have found it to be effective for weight loss. It's also known to reduce sugar cravings, boost energy, and help the body use stored fat as fuel.
- Ribose: A naturally occurring carbohydrate component of DNA and RNA, ribose is an energy turbocharger, explains Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. "A recently published study shows that the nutrient ribose resulted in an average 61% increase in energy in those suffering from even the most severe forms of the human energy crisis, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia," he says.
- Spirulina, Chlorella, Barley Grass, Wheat Grass, and other Green Foods: Got that sluggish, can't-get-out-of-bed-and-to-the-gym feeling? Try a powdered green foods formula. These "superfoods" are rich in chlorophyll and a variety of nutrients such as B vitamins, calcium, zinc, and magnesium. Green food supplements are an effective way to deliver oxygen into your bloodstream. A 2010 study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that men who took 6 grams of spirulina per day for four weeks were able to run longer in a treadmill test before fatiguing than those on a placebo. They also burned more fat during exercise.
Hydration is critical, especially during hot weather or extended exercise. Water is best, but well-formulated workout drinks provide energy and replenish electrolytes. Some options:
beverages rehydrate the body and replenish choride, sodium, and potassium lost during sweating. Additionally, most offer a source of quick carbs to
provide energy and offset fatigue.
- Energy drinks are ideal for extended periods of exercise such as distance running or biking to improve endurance, provide energy, and assist the body in burning fat stores. Look for those that contain B vitamins, green tea, guarana, ginseng, or ginkgo.
- L-carnosine helps reduce lactic acid buildup in the muscles, enhances muscle contraction, and promotes muscle recovery. If you're doing a long workout-say a triathlon, bike race, or long climb-consider L-carnosine to reduce lactic acid buildup in the muscles.
Post-workout nutrition is all about recovery and repair; the fact is, muscle strength and building happen after, not during, workouts. During intense exercise, protein is broken down and glycogen stores are depleted. Here's what to reach for at the end
of your workout:
- Protein: Immediately after working out, liquid meals such as smoothies are best, to rehydrate the body, quickly replenish glycogen, and decrease protein breakdown. Extra protein is necessary after a strenuous workout to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and inhibit protein breakdown. Try whey protein-it offers a quickly absorbed, easy-to-digest source of amino acids for fast muscle recovery.
- BCAAs are absorbed even more quickly than whey protein, since they bypass the liver and go directlyto muscles; after workouts, BCAAs inhibit protein breakdown and speed recovery.
- Glutamine increases the body's production of growth hormone, which helps build lean muscles. Glutamine also reduces muscle soreness, speeds recovery, inhibits muscle breakdown, and supports the immune system.
- Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) taken after workouts increases lean muscle mass, especially when combined with whey protein; CLA can also be taken before working out, for the same effects.
Part 3: Supercharge with the Right Foods
Fuel your body for fitness and replenish protein after a workout with the following tasty recipes (here and on the following page).
Supplements for exercisers
Amazing GrassGREEN Superfood Energy, in new Watermelon flavor, boosts stamina with green foods, yerba maté, and a host of nutrients. Add to bottled water or a smoothie.
Bio NutritionSafflower Oil contains 1,000 mg of oil per serving; take one softgel up to three times daily (best taken after a workout).
Safflower oil is a rich source of conjugated linoleic acid.
Mushroom WisdomSuper Cordyceps is a concentrated version of this medicinal mushroom and is made using a high-quality hot water extract. The tablets are vegetarian-friendly.
Naturade100% Whey, shown here in Vanilla flavor, has 16 g of protein in an 8-oz serving-and just 80 calories. There's no sugar or artificial sweeteners added to this clean formula.
NuunHydration Electrolyte Enhanced Drink Tabs, in Lemon+Lime flavor, turn into a refreshing sports drink, sans sugar, when added to your water bottle or a bottled water.