Physical activity improves muscle strength, body composition, cardiovascular fitness, fatigue, anxiety, depression, self-esteem, happiness and overall quality of life. And in at least 20 prospective studies, cancer survivors who include regular exercise have a lower risk of cancer recurrence and improved survival compared with those who are inactive. Exercise, along with a healthy diet and body weight can prevent about one-third of the most common cancers. The American Cancer Society in the Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Survivors recommends 150 minutes weekly of moderate exercise (an average of 20-25 minutes daily) and strength training exercises twice weekly.1
Just as important, select the right type and amount of fuel for your workout. Exercise burns fewer calories than you might think. For example, you burn about 100 calories for every mile you walk or run. Yet the average yogurt parfait or protein bar has 200-250 calories. So it is easy to overdo it when you think you are just preparing for your workout.
The Morning Workout
A low-intensity activity such as a walk, bike ride or yoga requires very little fuel. Instead concentrate on hydration and a small carbohydrate rich snack such as 16 ounces of water and a mini-bagel or a 100-calorie granola bar. This is just the right amount of energy. After your workout, eat a smart breakfast of quality carbohydrates and protein. This might be oatmeal with berries, nuts and fat-free milk or a slice of whole-grain toast with nut butter. Or try a healthy zucchini muffin with a small scoop of cottage cheese.
If you exercise before dinner, plan to eat lunch 3 to 4 hours before your workout. Consider a grilled chicken sandwich with a small side salad, or a bowl of lentil soup and a piece of fruit. A healthy lunch will provide enough calories to sustain a late afternoon workout. You can give yourself a little energy boost 15 to 30 minutes just before your workout by eating a banana, a handful of grapes or a small non-fat yogurt.
Water is the best choice for hydrating. A sports drink is helpful for exercise that is more than an hour in length or when your work-out is in a hot, humid climate.
After a workout, rehydrate with water. There is no need for a post-workout snack if you plan to eat a meal within a couple of hours. If your meal is delayed, then recover with a stick of string cheese with a few whole-grain crackers, an apple with a handful of nuts or carrots and hummus.
Rewarding your workout with food and high-calorie fluids will undo your activity efforts. Instead, treat yourself to a new pair of sneakers for a job well done. Most of all choose to get moving.
Charis W. Spielman, MPH, RD, CSO, CNSC
Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition
Certified Nutrition Support Clinician