By: Sammy Szura
Hello! My name is Sammy Szura and I graduated college with a degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. I am currently enrolled in the required ten-month long dietetic internship to become a Registered Dietitian (RD). Once I complete the internship in June, I am qualified to sit for the National RD Exam to finally become an RD! Today we are going to talk about how the foods we choose to eat can affect providing the best exercise for our dogs.
When you take your dog outside for his/her daily exercise, do they seem to have more energy than you? Do they lead the way while you lag behind struggling to finish that hike, run or walk? Do you stop to catch your breath while your dog seems to have endless energy? Why does this happen? The truth is, our physical performance of daily activities can be affected by the foods we eat. Let’s take a look at what this really means and why it is important.
There are two kinds of foods: nutrient-deficient foods and nutrient-dense foods. Nutrient-deficient foods are those that contain loads of sugar, saturated fat (a.k.a the fat we want to limit), empty calories, and sodium. “Empty calories” refer to calories that come from foods that do not contain a majority of nutrients. Nutrient-dense foods are full of various essential vitamins and minerals our bodies need to grow and function properly. Examples of nutrient-dense foods are: whole grains, such as brown rice, whole-wheat pastas and breads, quinoa, oats and barley; whole fruits; dark leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, arugula, Swiss chard; varied colored vegetables, such as red, orange/yellow, green, purple/blue and white; lean protein sources, such as beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, chicken breast without skin, lean ground beef and turkey, and fish; and low-fat dairy products. We want to consume more nutrient-dense foods than nutrient-deficient foods to keep our bodies fueled for a full day’s work!
When we consume foods high in sugar with no additional nutrients, such as soda, energy drinks, candy, or sugary cereals, we might think we are benefiting our bodies by giving it that boost of energy. We get a natural sugar high that makes us feel like we can conquer anything. However, after a short period of time, we are back to square one feeling very tired again. The sugar high is real but not beneficial for the long run. If you come home from work and still have to take your dog out for exercise, you might think of grabbing that diet soda or dose of Five-Hour Energy. Think again! Try leaving a bowl of fruit on the counter in plain site so you see it when you get home. If you see the fruit first, you might be more willing to consume it rather than processed sugary foods and drinks. Fruits contain natural sugar, fiber and other beneficial vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C to help fight colds, vitamin A to promote good vision, and potassium to help control blood pressure. That’s why we prefer them as a quick boost of energy rather than processed, artificial sugary foods and drinks. So, if you need a boost of energy after work for your hour walk with your dog, grab an apple, banana or orange!
Hiking with your dog is a great way to incorporate more physical activity into your and your dog’s lifestyle. The different terrain of the woods challenges both of your bodies and leaves you feeling tired yet satisfied. Before the hike, focus on fueling your tank (a.k.a. your body) with nutritious foods rather than foods deficient in nutrients. Great pre-hike snacks include granola bars, trail mix, protein bars, peanut butter sandwich, or any healthy lunch option containing carbohydrates, lean proteins and healthy fats (such as nuts, avocado, olive oil, or a variety of seeds such as sunflower, chia, pumpkin, hemp or flax). However, packaged snack bars and trail mixes can contain A TON of added sugar. Look for granola bars or trail mix with less than 6 grams of sugar PER SERVING on the Nutrition Facts Label. Make sure the granola bar contains whole grains to increase your fiber intake to keep you full longer on the hike. Trail mix can contain a lot more sodium (salt) than we want. The American Heart Association recommends the average, healthy American to consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Try to stick to less than 300 milligrams of sodium per ONE SERVING of your trail mix. Peanut butter like Jiff or Skippy contain added sugar, as well. Look on the Ingredients List for just one or two simple ingredients: peanut butter and/or a touch of salt.
Knowing how to navigate the back of packaged foods is your key to success when it comes to consuming more nutrient dense foods. Start with the serving size. For example, if the serving size is 1 granola bar but you eat 2 granola bars, double the amount of each nutrient (especially sugar) stated to calculate how much of each you actually ate. Don’t worry about calories from fat as it is actually being omitted in the new food label! Percent daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Some individuals may need more or less calories depending on a multitude of lifestyle and genetic factors. Always talk to your Doctor and see a Registered Dietitian before making any big lifestyle changes pertaining to your health.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
American Heart Association