What to eat when you're getting ready for a fitness challenge
By Paris Owen, Nutrition Student
With summer quickly approaching, conditions have never been better for popping on your joggers and heading outside! But before you race out the door- you should know what foods help to fuel and replenish your body so you get the most out of your workouts.
Imagine you are a car. To perform at your best, you want to be filled with the best type of fuel (premium of course). When this runs out, you slow down and eventually come to a stop. This happens to our bodies when all of our ‘fuel’ has been exhausted, meaning we can’t work as hard, fast or as long as we could be. Although it might seem strange to eat before or after exercising (because that’s what we want to burn off-right!?) it can actually help us push ourselves a lot harder, meaning our exercise goals can be achieved much sooner!
PROTEIN AND CARBOHYDRATES: THE KEY TO FUELLING AND RECOVERING
Protein and carbohydrates are the 2 key nutrients that provide energy for exercise. Protein is like the building blocks for your muscles. During exercise, your muscles are broken down and therefore protein is taken after your workouts to repair them. Good sources of protein include meat, fish, poultry, dairy, tofu and legumes. Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of fuel and therefore low amounts in your diet can make you tired and decrease your performance. Carbohydrates can be taken both before exercise to provide you with energy and after to replenish fuel stores and to help the muscles absorb more protein. Good sources of carbohydrates include breads and cereals, fruit and dairy.
WHAT ABOUT FATS?
Unfortunately, our bodies don’t like using fat as a fuel source when we are consuming a higher carbohydrate diet. Although fats may seem like an ideal fuel source as they contain the most energy per gram, they take time to break down and cannot provide a rapidly available fuel source. High fat meals hang around in the gut for a long time, which can make you feel sluggish. After exercise, this also slows down muscle recovery from protein. Fats are however an important part of the diet and are essential for cell structure, hormone function and transportation of fat soluble vitamins. Good fats, found in foods like nuts, avocado, olive oil and fish should therefore be incorporated outside training times as part of a healthy, well balanced diet.
WHAT TO EAT BEFORE EXERCISING
Your exercise goal will determine exactly what you want to be eating before, however these guidelines won’t change much between each individual.
o Carbohydrates- Only needed before if you are exercising multiple times a day, the intensity is very high, or you haven’t eaten any carbohydrates for a number of hours (ie. none for dinner and exercising first thing in the morning).
o Under these circumstances, a source of slow-releasing carbohydrate should be consumed 30 mins-1 hour before.
Slow-releasing carbohydrate snacks include:
o Piece of fruit, such as banana or apple
o Dried fruit (small handful) such as apricots, sultanas or apple
o Small tub (200g) of natural yoghurt
o Air-popped popcorn (no added butter or salt)
o Corn on the cob
WHAT TO EAT AFTER EXERCISING
Eating after exercising can be tricky. If you’re like me, it’s usually the last thing you’re thinking about. It is however really important so that your muscles can recover properly and you aren’t left starving a few hours later!
o Carbohydrates- About 1-1.2g/kg body weight should be consumed together with protein ASAP.
o Protein- For optimal recovery, 20-25g should be eaten less than 30 minutes after your workout. Amounts more than 25g have shown to have no further improvements.
o Protein and carbohydrates- Eating a protein and carbohydrate rich meal or snack 2hrs after training is equally as important as the meal directly after. This is because refueling and repair does not happen through one meal alone. If it was a long, high-intensity exercise session or fitness challenge, regular meals and snacks should then be eaten every few hours throughout the day as it can take over 20 hours to replenish depleted carbohydrate stores!
Protein and carbohydrate-rich meals and snacks include:
o Kefir banana smoothie (banana, kefir milk, natural yoghurt, frozen berries, honey)
o Tin of baked beans topped with melted cheese
o Baked Carisma potato stuffed with kidney beans or chickpeas topped with cottage cheese
o Scrambled eggs on toast w/ grilled tomato and baby spinach
o Chia seed pudding topped with banana and cinnamon
o Brown rice or quinoa with tin of tuna, beans and salad
o Chicken breast sandwich on wholemeal/wholegrain bread
If you don’t think you can stomach food after your workout, not to worry - that’s what supplements are for! Try supplements such as:
o Protein shakes - The best types of protein are whey (WPI if lactose intolerant) or soy, as they contain all essential amino acids. Choose to have milk (or milk substitute) over water, as they provide more beneficial protein and carbohydrates.
o Protein bar - Be cautious with these products! Many contain lots of artificial ingredients to keep the calories down. Look at the label, does it contain close to 20g protein? If not, it’s probably not worth buying.
o Coconut water - Great at rehydrating as it contains essential electrolytes that are lost through sweat!
During exercise, we sweat about 1-2L/hr up to 2-3L/hr in very hot conditions. Just a 2% drop in water stores can have a significantly negative impact on performance. It is therefore important to consistently top-up water stores, before, during and after exercising.
o Before exercising, drink 10mL/kg body weight of water close to going to bed or 2 hours before activity.
o During, drink 200-250mL every 15 minutes.
o Afterwards, 150% of the fluid lost should be replaced (ie. if 2kg body weight lost as sweat, you need 3L of fluid).
Visit Elaine’s post on Tough Mudder prep this week for some expert advice on pre and post workout regimes for optimal performance and recovery!
Hi fellow food lovers! My name is Paris Owen and I am currently undertaking a Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics at University of Wollongong. I am also a university-qualified Nutritionist, graduating last year with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition. I work with Body Bloom, a women’s fitness training group, providing specialised sports nutrition advice and meal plans. Bondi Farmers Markets is where you will find me on Saturdays making nutritious goodies with an incredible team at the Inside Out Nutritious Goods stall.
I like to take an evidence-based approach for nutritional recommendations to ensure the best health outcomes for each unique individual. I also like to approach health in a holistic way incorporating physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. In the future, I will become an Accredited Practicing Dietitian, working in the public health system and eventually, in private practice. I am particularly interested in food allergies and intolerances and sports nutrition, however there are so many other areas I am yet to discover!
Walker, S 2014, ‘Sports Nutrition’, lecture notes, DIET951, University of Wollongong, viewed 2 September 2014.