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Food for exercise

03 Aug 2017

Food for exercise - What to eat before, during and after exercise

As any elite athlete will testify, your training is only as good as the food that you use to fuel it.

  • How would the marathon runner fare if they neglected to load up their carbohydrate stores before a 26.2 mile race? (very simplified - Carbohydrate = sugar = energy).
  • Would a bodybuilder achieve the gains they desire on a diet without protein? (Protein is key for building muscle - repair and regeneration).
  • And can we expect to train at our best if we swap good nutrition for high processed junk food?

junk food vs exercise

Nutrition for sport and exercise is a vast subject and I feel a large part also depends on your reason for exercise.  For example an elite athlete will need to consume more carbohydrate than us average gym goers because their body is working efficiently and they are using that much energy.   The body can not store carboydrate but it can convert it and store it as fat.  So if you're consuming a lot of carbohydrates while training you need to make sure that your body is using it immediately and not storing.   As exercise is a form of stress on the body you can then end up in the situation with the body storing that excess carboydrate (turned into fat) around the middle of the body.  The body thinks it is protecting itself.  This can be off putting for those attempting to exercise to remove the excess body fat and tone up!

Before exercise

If your nutrition is poor before your workout then you are guaranteed to feel lethargic and tired and will be unable to get the most out of your training session. Whether your session is in the pool, in the gym, at a yoga class or on the trails, you will always need correct fuel.

Ideally you should eat two hours before exercise to allow for digestion. Eat a meal containing some good quality protein (for example lean meat or fish), together with some carbohydrate that has a low to medium glycaemic load.

Technical explanation bit!

Glycaemic Load or GL is a measure of both the quality (the GI value) and quantity (grams per serve) of a carbohydrate in a meal. A food's glycemic load is determined by multiplying its glycemic index by the amount of carbohydrate the food contains in each serve and dividing by 100.the speed that they enter the bloodstream. Thus quality and quanity.  Glycemic Index is the speed with which the food enterst the bloodstream.  The higher the index value, the faster the food enters the bloodstream for example; glucose has a GI of 100. The lower the value, the slower the food enters the bloodstream and a more sustained energy release is achieved for example; porridge oats have a GI of 49, and so will enter the bloodstream more slowly than glucose.

GI vs GL

Check out the Mirror Friendly blog  for more excellent explanation.

During exercise

Your energy requirements during exercise are dependent upon the duration of your workout.  Solid food is unlikely to be very attractive and digestion will be slower than fluid and sweat losses can be in excess of one litre per hour in hot conditions, so hydration is likely to be your primary concern.

What to eat after exercise

If you are that elite athelet as soon as your workout finishes you need to move fast to optimise your refuelling and recovery. Acting fast will accelerate your recovery and enable your body to rebuild, restock and be ready for your next exercise session. By refuelling correctly after exercise you will experience less overall fatigue for the remainder of the day. 

That said for us mere mortals there is no need to add in extra food just because we've moved a little...again this tends to defeat our orginal intentions for moving!   My advice to clients is always to think about protein first when selecting post exercise food choices as invariably the carbohydrate element takes care of itself.

A quick word on protein - How much protein?

We reommend 1g per Kg body weight + 50% if exercising.

So a 10 stone person = 63.5kgs so that would be 63.5g of protein. 

Half of 63.5 is 31.75 so a total of 95.25g of protein required per day (if exercising).

Also remember that 100g of chicken does not = 100g of protein, and protein is in everything that has DNA - so plants, pulses, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish, meat, poultry etc etc

Putting it all together

To simplify your pre- and post-workout fuelling, here are some ideas to help you:

Before exercise - e.g. breakfast 2 hours before training

  • Beans on wholemeal toast
  • Protein smoothie - oats, nut butter, dairy free milk, berries, poss some nuts/seeds.
  • Scrambled egg with spinach whole grain bread/toast (or gluten free alternative if required)

During exercise

  • Water
  • If you are an endurance athlete you may find the glucose energy drinks are required here.  Specialist ones are avaiable that give slow realeasing energy.

Post exercise - this could be lunch or dinner depending on time of day for us 'normal' people and would therefore be about 2 hours after training.

  • Tandori salmon with sweet potato and a side of avocado salsa
  • Mixed bean chilli with brown rice and watercress side salad
  • Feel good bean salad (get the SuperWellness recipe here)

SuperWellness Feel Good Salad

Post excerise - for the elites amongst us might be more like;

  • First 15 minutes: glucose drink.
  • Within two hours: high-GI food (for example a baked potato).
  • After two hours: low-GL carbohydrate meal + protein (see e.g's above)

Next month look out for a brilliant article from Sportsister, (with a few modifications from me!) all about recovery foods.  I talk about recovery a lot with my clients.  In our hectic worlds we tend to forget that the down time is actually more important than the go/on time.  Our bodies must have the time to repair, regenerate and recover.  When we are so busy the few hours sleep we get is often not enough and this can be where (over long term) chronic conditions may start to manifest.

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