The "Get More Energy!" Diet: Meal Plans for On-the-Go Women
Lifestyle stressors: You're always running, which leaves no time for regular meals. There's volunteer work at your daughter's school two mornings a week. You do bookkeeping part-time for a local business. Three afternoons are spent driving your kids to basketball practice and piano lessons. And you never miss your Tuesday and Thursday spinning class. An ever-present cup of coffee and plastic bag filled with dry cereal help you stay awake while you dash around town.
Nutrition pitfalls: Working a patchwork quilt of irregular hours -- be they nights, rotating shifts, or part-time while cramming in everything else -- can wreak havoc on good nutrition. You tend to eat haphazardly, snatching food where you find it. Often it's fatty fast foods, which can pile on pounds and drain energy (they take longer to digest, which diverts blood to the stomach from the brain, muscles, and vital organs, slowing energy-giving oxygen delivery to them). Constant dashboard dining also makes it easy to overeat, since it takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain you're full.
Your high-energy performance plan:
- Store healthy snacks in your car. Use ice packs and a mini-cooler to stash packets of nutritious low-cal foods, such as sticks of string cheese, grilled chicken strips, fresh fruit, yogurt, or nonfat milk. "If you've got healthy food available, you're less likely to hit the drive-through," says Susan Bowerman, assistant director of UCLA's Center for Human Nutrition.
- Eat several mini-meals throughout the day to maintain stamina. Small meals are easier to digest than big ones (digesting large meals can make you sleepy). Try to stick to regular mealtimes. Breakfast is key; after your sleep-induced fast, your brain needs fuel to function. And have lunch at noon rather than 2 or 3, when you're ravenous. "Eat every four hours to keep your blood sugar from getting too low, making you feel sluggish," says Jo Ann Hattner, RD, coauthor of Help! My Underwear Is Shrinking!
- If you must skip lunch -- because you're on deadline or your kid's game goes into overtime -- don't run on empty. "Carry around a nutrition bar that you can eat when you're really hungry and that will hold you until your next planned mealtime," suggests Randi Konikoff Beranbaum, a registered dietitian in Providence, Rhode Island. But read labels to make sure you're not just eating a glorified candy bar: Pick meal-replacement bars with at least 15 grams of protein plus fiber, folic acid, and calcium.
- Mix protein with complex carbs. Spread a tablespoon of peanut butter, instead of jelly, on whole-grain toast. Have chicken and brown rice, high-fiber cereal with low-fat milk, apple slices and cottage cheese, or an omelet filled with vegetables. "The fiber in complex carbohydrates slows down absorption of sugars so you don't get quick spikes and plummets in energy," says Penny Edwards, a certified nutrition specialist in Oakland, California.
- Drink more H2O. Sipping small doses of caffeine throughout the day can stave off an afternoon crash, but late-day coffee could hurt your ability to sleep when you want to. What's more, coffee can be dehydrating, which can cause drowsiness (and if it's a fatty whole-milk latte, add pounds). Tote around a bottle of water instead.