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Power Foods for Your Busy Life
Feat: An overseas flight
You've downloaded a bunch of movies and games onto your iPad. Unfortunately, there's no app for jet lag.
Fuel: A smoothie, a bowl of soup — or nothing at all
Why it works: "The dry, recycled air and the altitude are dehydrating, which can make you feel tired," says Elizabeth Boham, MD, RD, a nutritionist in Lenox, Massachusetts. "Fitting in as many liquids as possible can help counteract that." Try to time your last preflight meal according to when you land: Scientists at Harvard Medical School found that you may be able to avoid jet lag by fasting for at least 16 hours before eating breakfast in your new time zone. "Your body's circadian rhythm is dictated by when you sleep and eat, so if you reset both, you'll be less likely to feel groggy when you get to your destination," Dr. Boham explains.
Feat: A big presentation
You need to stay focused and be able to think on your feet if your boss throws you a curveball or PowerPoint freezes.
Fuel: Half a turkey sandwich, coffee and a stick of gum
Why it works: A small coffee will help you focus without delivering a huge jolt to your system. "Caffeine peaks within 30 to 60 minutes after consumption, so time your beverage accordingly," says Leslie Bonci, RD, the director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a FITNESS advisory board member. "And the turkey provides protein, giving you some slow-burning energy without having too much food in your stomach. Any protein will do as long as it's lean — fatty foods take longer to digest, and sometimes food doesn't sit well when you're nervous." End your meal with a stick of gum: Researchers at Cardiff University found that chewing the fruit or mint kind can help improve alertness, enhance your mood, and speed up reaction time.
Feat: Slipping into a two-piece
When you're about to brave a bikini, you don't want to look bloated.
Fuel: A spinach salad or a banana
Why it works: Consuming 200 milligrams or more of potassium helps flush bloat-causing fluids from your system, explains Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, the author of Doctor's Detox Diet. A large banana contains nearly 500 milligrams of the mineral, and a cup of fresh spinach packs more than 800. On beach day, just steer clear of sources like cruciferous veggies (think broccoli and cauliflower), beans and dried fruit, "which contain excessive amounts of fiber that can lead to gas," Dr. Gerbstadt says.
Feat: A night out sans hangover
Keep the gimlets with your girlfriends; lose the morning-after repercussions.
Fuel: A tuna sandwich or a sushi roll
Why it works: "Just having some food in your system helps slow your body's absorption of alcohol and gives your natural stomach acids something to digest instead of irritating the empty stomach lining, so that nausea is less likely," Dr. Gerbstadt says. What's more, selenium, which is found mainly in fish, may lessen hangover symptoms like vomiting and headache. But the mineral doesn't do much to prevent drinking's other unsavory side effects, including drowsiness and fatigue. Those are caused in part by dehydration, so offset each cocktail you order with a glass of water or club soda.
Feat: Getting him hot but not bothered
You would like this date to end with a passionate, goose-bump-inducing kiss, not a kiss-off.
Fuel: Milk or peppermint tea
Why it works: If you ate a big plate of pesto pasta right before Mr. Big texted to ask whether you had plans, down some dairy. According to Ohio State University researchers, milk reduces the presence of allyl methyl sulfide — a compound in garlic that makes your breath smell bad — by half. "Just be sure to brush your teeth and the back of your tongue afterward," advises physician Sheri Emma, MD, who works with Patti Stanger of Bravo TV's The Millionaire Matchmaker. "Milk contains natural sugars that get digested by the bacteria in your gut and produce sulfur, which can also lead to smelly breath." Are butterflies getting the best of you? Peppermint not only masks odor, but has also been shown to aid digestion and soothe an upset stomach, Dr. Gerbstadt says.
Feat: A 5K or 10K
All that training won't mean much if you get a nasty case of stomach cramps or hit the wall halfway through the course.
Why it works: To continually power your working muscles, you need about 50 grams of carbohydrates two to three hours before start time, Bonci says. "Oatmeal is easy to digest because of its soluble fiber content, and you can prepare it the night before, which saves you time the morning of the race." Balance out those carbs by making it with milk or soy milk, which contain about eight grams of slower-digesting protein per cup. If oatmeal isn't your jam, try toast with a thin spread of almond or peanut butter. "The most important thing is that the food is something you've trained with," Bonci says.
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Feat: A day trip or a shopping spree
You've strapped on your Fitbit. Now eat for the stamina you'll need to stay on your feet for hours.
Fuel: An omelet with a side of fruit and avocado
Why it works: Eating carbs alone can zap energy, Dr. Boham warns. "Your blood sugar will shoot up, then plummet," she says. But a breakfast that's packed with protein and provides some carbohydrates and healthy fats slows digestion, delivering steady energy for hours. Dr. Boham suggests getting your carbs from vegetables (saute them in a little olive oil first, then add them to your omelet a minute before it's done) and fruit (try half a cup of fresh berries) and your fats from a third of an avocado. According to research from Loma Linda University, avocado bumps up your levels of leptin, a hormone that regulates feelings of fullness.
Feat: An early morning sweat session
It's hard enough getting out of bed and into your gym gear before work. So breakfast needs to be easy and effective.
Fuel: Watered-down juice and Greek yogurt
Why it works: Unless you sleep-ate cookies in the middle of the night, you've probably been in a fasting state for 10 to 12 hours. To replenish your stores of fluids and carbs before you start sweating, pour eight ounces of 100 percent fruit juice into a large glass, then top it off with a little water for extra, calorie-free hydration. "Ideally, you want to drink this at least a half hour before you plan to work out, but if you don't have that much time, gulp it down — the increased volume helps it move through your system faster," says Bonci. If you can wait an hour to work out, have a small carton of low-fat Greek yogurt beforehand too. "It's a good source of protein, which gives you sustained energy and keeps muscle mass from getting depleted during exercise," Bonci says. Low-fat cottage cheese and scrambled eggs are also good choices.