You already know that a regular exercise routine—ideally, at least 30 minutes of vigorous activity daily—is among the smartest steps you can take to protect your health.

What you may not know: Consuming the right foods and fluids is one of the best ways to improve your exercise performance.

If your body is not property fueled—regardless of the type, frequency or intensity of physical activity—your energy levels are more likely to wane, your muscles will be more susceptible to fatigue and soreness, and you'll find it harder to maintain your desired weight. My secrets…

  • Remember to drink enough fluids before exercise. Research shows that about half of people who work out in the morning are dehydrated when they begin to exercise.

Why is fluid consumption so important? When you're dehydrated, your heart must pump harder to get blood to your muscles. Being dehydrated also impairs your ability to perspire and cool yourself.

Advice: Drink one cup of water or a sports drink, such as Gatorade, before your workout and another during your workout. If your workout is vigorous or lasts more than 60 minutes, you may need to consume more fluids.

Also remember to drink fluids throughout the day. You don't have to limit yourself to water. Milk, tea, coffee, fruit juice and carbonated beverages also count toward your daily fluid intake.

Caution: Your risk for dehydration is increased if you take a diuretic drug, have diabetes or are an older adult-the body's thirst center functions less efficiently with age.

  • Don't exercise on an empty stomach. When you don't eat for several hours—including the time when you're sleeping-your blood sugar levels decline. This can leave you with less energy for physical activity and at risk for injury.

The quickest solution is to consume carbohydrates, which are your body's primary energy source. Carbohydrates are found mainly in starchy foods, such as grains, breads and vegetables, as well as in fruit, milk and yogurt.

Advice: If you're exercising before breakfast, first have half a banana or a slice of toast. If you're exercising just before lunch, eat a healthful midmorning snack—and a mid- to late afternoon snack if your workout is before dinner. It's okay to eat the snack right before your workout.

  • Eat a balanced breakfast. Eating a good breakfast helps get your metabolism going and may help you consume fewer calories during the rest of the day.

Advice: Choose whole-grain foods (such as Oatmeal or whole-grain cereal or toast) to fuel your muscles a serving of dairy (yogurt, low-fat milk or cheese) or another protein (such as eggs or Canadian bacon) to promote muscle repair... and fruit (such as a mango, berries or melon) for vitamins and disease-fighting phytonutrients.

  • Fill in your nutritional "gaps" with lunch. Like breakfast, your midday meal should include healthful carbohydrates and protein.

Advice: At lunch, get some of the nutrients you may not have included in your breakfast. For example, if you ate fruit in the morning, eat vegetables at lunch. If your breakfast included a dairy product as your protein source, eat lean meat or fish at lunch.

Example of a healthful lunch: A salad with grilled chicken, legumes, peppers, broccoli and an olive oil-based dressing.

  • Eat an evening meal. If you exercise late in the afternoon or after work, don't skip your evening meal. You may wake up the next morning with a deficit" that can lead you to overeat.

Advice: Strive for a balance of unprocessed carbohydrates (such as brown rice or vegetables), lean protein (such as fish or poultry) and a little healthful fat (such as nuts or olive oil).

Example: A shrimp and vegetable stir-fry served over one-quarter cup of brown rice.

"Alarming" Exercise Routine

Adults received handheld personal digital assistants (PDAs) that beeped morning and evening to prompt them to answer questions about where, how and how much they were exercising. They engaged in physical activity for five hours per week, on average-compared with just two hours per week for study participants given only informational handouts.

Motivating: Program your PDA, cell phone or computer calendar to cue you to exercise.

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