Fun-runner, weekend warrior, fitness freak or a competitive athlete, it can be tough work juggling your day job and fitting in exercise, plus family and social commitments. Sometimes there simply doesn’t seem to be enough energy in your body (or hours in the day) to do all the things you need to do. Sigh.
If you exercise regularly I’m betting you know the feeling of running on empty and not knowing how to give your body the energy it’s so desperately craving.
There is no doubt that you perform better when you make the effort to choose healthy food for fuelling up before, during and after your workout. The reality is, most of us are not professional athletes and need to structure our exercise routine around our working day and ensure both our bodies and brains are functioning on full energy.
Fuelling Up Before Your Workout
Your exercise sessions might be before, during or after work. It doesn’t really matter which it is because eating a meal or snack before exercise will give you the opportunity to top up your carbohydrate (glycogen) stores in the muscles and liver and therefore the energy to workout harder and longer. Ideally a meal should be consumed 3-4 hours before exercise and a snack 1-2 hours before exercise. This gives your body time to digest and absorb the food before your training session starts. You don’t want your digestive system busy during your training session when your body needs to be focusing on delivering energy to your muscles.
The pre-exercise meal or snack should provide carbohydrate, which is the key fuel source for muscles during exercise. Beginning a training session with no fuel and low carbohydrate stores will inevitable lead to fatigue and reduced endurance, intensity and stamina.
Foods eaten before exercise should contain carbohydrate, be low in fat and contain moderate amounts of fibre to make digestion easier and avoid stomach upset. Fluid is also an important factor in preparing for a training session. If you don’t eat a pre-exercise snack, you are basically asking your body to perform without petrol and quite frankly, no one wants to see that mess.
For those who find it hard to eat before exercise, start with something small until your stomach gets used to it.
Some ideas for pre-training meals and snacks include:
Pre-Training Meals (3-4 hours before your workout)
- Fruit toast with ricotta and banana
- Baked potato with corn and cheese
- Baked beans or spaghetti on toast
- Breakfast cereal with milk
- Sandwich with meat and salad filling
- Fruit salad or berries with yoghurt
- Pasta or rice with a low fat sauce
- Pita bread wrap with tuna and salad
Pre-Training Snacks (1-2 hours before your workout)
- Fresh fruit
- Canned fruit
- Tub of yoghurt
- Cereal/muesli bar
- Flavoured milk
- Fruit bun or scone
- Breakfast drink
What About After Your Workout?
A common complaint of many is fatigue and inability to recover when exercising regularly. Quite often this is a result of poor recovery practices and insufficient carbohydrate. It is super important to replenish carbohydrate stores immediately after a training session.
Timing is everything and ideally this snack should be within 15-30 minutes of finishing the session. It is very easy to waste time after training, talking to friends, gathering belongings or just generally faffing about. Keep an eye on your watch or set the timer to remind you. Aim for 50g carbohydrate within the 15-30 minute window and then follow-up with something more substantial.
After hard exercise the recovery of glycogen is a relatively slow process and normally takes 24 hours. If adequate dietary carbohydrate is not consumed following exercise, recovery can take up to 7-10 days. Who has time for this?
Many people exercise every day and if the diet does not contain adequate carbohydrate, muscle glycogen will not recover between training sessions.
Protein is also very useful and essential for recovery – sports nutrition experts recommend 10-20g of protein alongside the 50g carbohydrate.
Try some of these snacks after your workout to assist your recovery:
- 1 high fibre muesli bar plus 1 piece of fresh fruit
- ½ cup of creamed rice and ½ cup tinned fruit
- 1 cup low fat milk plus 1 banana
- 4 heaped tablespoons skim milk powder mixed with 250ml low fat milk
- Protein Bar
- 1 slice of wholegrain toast with 1 egg or 95g tuna in brine/spring water
- 1 x wholemeal English muffin with peanut butter and sliced banana
When you’re pushing your body whilst exercising and then your brain at work, the smallest things can have a massive impact: eating too much or too little, not getting enough of the right nutrients, not allowing your body enough time to recover. Go to it and start fuelling up with the right food at the right time.
Want more? Head over to Sports Dietitians Australia for some fabulous free fact sheets on many sports.