There’s a lot of talk in the media about nutrition specifically for exercise. But what does it mean? In order to achieve your fitness and exercise goals, you need to be eating enough of the right food to fuel your activities. Much like how a car will slow and eventually stop without good quality petrol, our bodies are much the same – without enough good quality food, our fuel, our bodies will slow and under-perform.
Timings of food
What you eat and when can play a big part in your sporting performance. Although it differs from person to person, here are a few things to think about when choosing to eat around your exercise:
- There’s nothing worse than hunger holding you back when you are trying to exercise! Not only can it hinder your performance, but it can also be distracting.
- If it’s a main meal you’re eating, aim to have it 2-4 hours before you exercise so it has the chance to settle beforehand.
- If you don’t need a big meal, a carbohydrate-based snack one hour before you train is ideal, for example a banana, a slice of malt loaf or a cereal bar.
- Try to avoid spicy, high fat, high fibre foods, as these could cause digestive issues while you train. A light, simple snack will hopefully keep any unwanted toilet trips at bay. However, everyone is different so find what works best for you.
- Prioritise rehydration. Muscle repair and growth requires your muscles to be well hydrated, so being dehydrated following exercise is likely to delay your recovery, as well as causing you to feel fatigued.
- Refuel your body. Your muscles use their glycogen stores as fuel while you are exercising, and the proteins are often broken down. This means that it is important to replenish these glycogen and protein levels to help repair and grow your muscles.
- Consuming carbohydrates will help replenish your glycogen stores. Pasta, potatoes and rice are examples of cheap and easy carbohydrates that can easily be included into your diet.
- Consuming high-quality protein provides your body with the amino acids it needs to repair and rebuild your muscles. Foods like meat, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, tuna and milk are all rich in protein.
Ultimately finding out what works for you is most important when it comes to fuelling your body before and after exercise. Some people may be able to exercise on an empty stomach and see little effect in their performance, whereas others may feel fatigued much faster without a pre-workout meal. Although timings of food may vary from person to person when it comes to performance, the common theme is that adequate macro and micronutrients are consumed on the whole in order to aid recovery.
There is a lot of talk around protein supplements, but are they really necessary? It is advised that individuals who regularly exercise should consume around 1.2-1.6g of protein a day for every kilogram of weight, in order to optimise health and to protect against lean muscle mass loss. For some, this is achievable just through eating a range of foods that are high in protein. However, protein supplements are a quick, easy and often cheap way to get the required amount of protein into your body. Whey protein is one of the most researched supplements on the market and is safe for both elite and amateur athletes to consume.
Although you often see people drinking a protein shake in the gym, it isn’t essential to consume protein instantly after exercises as once thought (unless you are training to extreme levels multiple times a day). As long as you meet the required amount throughout the day, the time of day you consume it will not affect your recovery.
With the number of people opting for a plant-based diet in the UK increasing to an estimated 3.5 million in 2018, veganism is undoubtedly one of the fastest growing food trends. However, one of the most common questions surrounding the topic is whether or not vegans get enough protein.
Leucine is one of the nine essential amino acids that aids muscle repair and regrowth, however it is not naturally produced in the body – we have to consume them in the food we eat. Animal proteins (particularly whey protein) contain these high branched-chain amino acids. Therefore, omitting animal products from your diet is likely to reduce this protein consumption, however there is a huge array of plant-based foods that are still good sources of protein. Lentils, chickpeas and other beans, tofu, seitan and even green peas all contain good amounts of protein. Vegan protein shakes made from soya or pea protein are also an option to supplement intake.
As mentioned above, it is really important to make sure you are eating enough food, and the right types of food in order to prevent injuries and aid recovery after exercising. Not eating enough food can decrease concentration and lead to injury. If you do find yourself with an ache, pain or niggle, it is important to rest and seek advice.
Getting the right nutrition for your exercise is important. Getting adequate protein will help aid recovery, but things like a sports massage, foam rolling and stretching will also ease muscle soreness and aid recovery.