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Fit for Life: Nutrition is key to successful workouts

Nutrition is key to successful workouts

December 11, 2007 
By Aaron Brouwer

aaronbrouwerProper nutrition is just as important as picking the right exercises in order to get the full potential out of your workouts. Don’t waste your time at the gym if you are not going to eat right. It makes no sense to train hard and commit to working out regularly only to not care about what you eat. Food is the fuel your body needs to operate. Think of a car: you can have a finely tuned engine that runs great and an incredible paint job but if you put in the wrong fuel it will either run terribly or not at all. Our bodies are the same – if you are serious about working out you need to get serious about eating right too. 

Here are some basic points that will help to improve your nutrition.

Protein intake

Protein is a key ingredient for any diet; it is the building block for muscles. The average person should digest 0.5 grams of protein for every pound of body weight. Firefighters and athletes should digest at least one gram of protein for every pound of body weight. Some good natural sources of protein are milk, chicken breasts, pork, fish, yogurt and eggs.


Eat the right carbohydrates
Simple carbs (sugars), like chocolate bars or doughnuts, will give you an immediate rise in energy. However, just as fast as you get that spike in energy will you experience a drop in energy. Simple carbs are a quick fix. Eat more complex carbs (whole grains, oatmeal, pasta, potatoes, beans, fruits and vegetables). Complex carbs are digested slowly and therefore provide energy over a long period of time. They provide a steady source of energy to your body. 

Don’t rely solely on supplements
Supplements are exactly that, they should be used to enhance your diet of natural foods. There is no supplement that can be substituted for natural foods. If you are not getting enough protein in your natural foods then consider adding whey protein shakes to your diet. 

Eat some fat
Like carbs, there are good fats and bad fats. If your goal is to gain muscle mass you need to add some fat to your diet. Foods like egg yolks, virgin olive oil, canola oil, avocados, mixed nuts, salmon, tuna, walnuts, flaxseed oil, natural peanut butter and fish oils are great sources of good fats. 

Water, water, water
Our muscles are made up of more than 70 per cent water. Water is the most important ingredient for any diet. The average person should drink eight cups of water a day; a firefighter should drink at least 10 cups a day. During the summer months it is important to increase water consumption.

More smaller meals
Instead of eating three large meals a day try eating five to six smaller meals. By eating every two to three hours you are providing your body with a steady supply of energy and nutrients. Try to eat meals of a similar size. Eating a large meal at lunch will result in you eating less at your next meal and this can lead to you gaining the wrong kind of weight. By eating a consistent amount each time your body will get that steady supply of healthy nutrients.

Timing is everything
Eating at the right times will provide your body with the nutrients when your body most needs it. There is a 60-minute window after your workout when your body will move the carbs and proteins into muscle tissues instead of storing them as fat.  By knowing this you know to eat some fast-digesting carbs after your workout. Some good fast-digesting carbs are white bread, plain bagels, baked potatoes or sports drinks.

Eat before sleep
Another thing to consider for people who are trying to gain muscle mass is to eat something before bed. While you sleep, your body is fasting from food for an average of eight hours. When there is no food, the body will go to your muscle fibres to fuel your brain; this is not a good thing for people trying to gain muscle mass. By eating slow-digesting foods such as a protein shake, cottage cheese, mixed nuts or a peanut butter sandwich, you will provide your body with a steady supply of fuel so it doesn’t need to take fuel away from your muscles.

You don’t need a complicated diet. The key is being consistent with what you eat to provide your body with that steady stream of healthy nutrients. Don’t try to switch over immediately; slowly start to integrate a healthy eating pattern into your daily activities. Eating the same thing over and over again can be boring and become hard to do, so spoil yourself with a treat once every week or two.

Remember the old saying, You are what you eat.  If you want to be healthy and strong you need to eat healthy. By eating the right foods at the right time you will get the full benefit out of your workouts.

Aaron Brouwer has 17 years of combined experience in structural and wildland fires. A graduate of Trinity Western University with a Bachelor’s of Human Kinetics, he is an instructor with Canwest Fire. E-mail him at

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