Eating for exercise
We’re all guilty of watching our good intentions fade away as we find any excuse not to do that exercise regimen we promised ourselves we would do. We know we feel a whole lot better when we are active, so perhaps this attitude is partly because many of us have no idea how to fuel our bodies for the forthcoming exercise. Whatever the motivation (or lack of), eating for exercise is fundamental to its success.
A balanced eating with fewer saturated fats and more fruit and veg will see us all a little lighter on the scales but making the right choices will also make that run in the park easier to cope with. To increase your energy intake and fuel your training sessions, eat more carbohydrate-rich foods, which are stored as glycogen in the body and are our main source of fuel. These stores are small, so a regular intake of carbohydrate is necessary to keep them topped up. Low glycogen stores may result in poor performance and increase the risk of injury. Good carbohydrates include whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans while bad carbs are often foods that have been refined and processed. Include sources of essential fats from foods such as oily fish, nuts and seeds.
You will also need enough protein-rich foods to help repair and build your muscles. For high intensity workouts it is important to get the protein in your diet right. Once glycogen stores are depleted, the body turns to protein to bump up energy levels so eat plenty of meat, fish, chicken and eggs to insure you have solid supplies. Vegetarians can help back-up their energy levels with dishes containing lots of pulses, nuts and seeds.
Exercising on a full stomach is not ideal, as food that remains in your stomach may cause stomach upset, nausea, and cramping. To make sure you have enough energy, yet reduce stomach discomfort, you should allow a meal to fully digest before you begin and this generally takes 1 to 4 hours, depending upon what and how much you’ve eaten. Everyone is a bit different so you should experiment prior to workouts to determine what works best for you. It is best to seek nutritional advice from your personal trainer on your individual requirements.
Five or six smaller meals a day are recommended for active individuals and this helps to keep your blood sugar levels on an even keel. Low-GI foods and recipes are also great as they slowly release energy into the body. How much you should eat depends on lots of factors from age, weight and daily activity right through to genetic make-up. Here again seek advice from your personal trainer. If exercising once or more every day, you will use more energy than if you did little or none. If you are a healthy weight and don’t want to lose body fat, you will need to eat more food each day to maintain your weight.
Food and drink also plays a part in recovering effectively from training. Good recovery is crucial to prevent a midweek slump in energy levels, and to aid muscle growth and repair. If you are training more than once a day and you have fewer than eight hours between sessions, aim to have a carbohydrate- and protein-rich food or drink within 30 to 60 minutes of finishing your first session. If you are training less than this, or with more time to recover, just eat as soon as you can afterwards.
It’s important to start any exercise session well hydrated so aim to do this by drinking water regularly during the course of the day, if the water content in your body falls too low it can have a major effect on your exercise performance. The amount you need to drink during exercise depends on the amount you sweat. This varies from person to person and also depends on the intensity and length of time exercising, as well as environmental factors.