Starting an exercise program to help lose excess weight without adequate nourishment is self-defeating, according to Barbara Gilmartin, an RD and a Livermore, Calif., consulting dietitian with the Dairy Council of California.
"If exercise is begun on a fast, be it two hours or 24, blood sugar drops quickly and muscles can become fatigued and exhausted. This can cause you to terminate the workout prematurely," Gilmartin said. "It is best to eat a meal high in complex carbohydrates and low in fat about two hours before you plan to exercise to give your body an easily digested source of energy."
Nutrition is important all the time, she said, but if you are trying to lose weight in conjunction with an exercise program, nutrition becomes top priority.
"Anyone who wants to be truly physically fit should consume a balanced diet which keeps an eye on fat intake and includes lots of complex carbohydrates such as raw or lightly cooked fruits and vegetables and whole grain breads and cereals," she said.
"To lose weight and maintain an active physical sense of well-being, the average woman should consume no fewer than 1,200 calories daily made up of a variety of low-fat and high-fiber foods from the four food groups: milk, including low-fat milk, cheese and yogurt; meat, including fat-trimmed beef, poultry, fish or legumes; vegetables and fruit, raw or slightly cooked; and breads and cereals made with whole grains," Gilmartin said.
"Just as it is recommended that you build up to an exercise program to gain strength, the same moderate approach should be taken in changing your diet," she said.
The 1,200-calorie level keeps up the metabolic rate, or the rate at which calories are burned, at an optimum level. Any fewer calories causes the body to burn calories less efficiently, therefore making it more difficult to lose weight.
For men who want to lose weight, Gilmartin recommends following the same advice but keeping calorie levels at about 1,400 daily.
"If you are 40 or over and starting any exercise program which raises your heart rate, such as jogging, biking or swimming, have a treadmill test conducted by your physician to make sure your heart is in shape to begin such a program," she said.