Exercise and nutrition go hand in hand. Eating well and moving often are the not-so-secret strategies for long term health and wellbeing. But did you know nutrition can have a big impact on your fitness and training goals?
Eating well before, and after a workout can help you perform at your best and improve your recovery. Your nutrition could with some work if:
- If you have trouble giving it your best during a workout,
- You’re not reaching your fitness or strength goals,
- You regularly feel sluggish during a workout or later in the day, or
- You’re left hungry after workouts and struggle to feel satisfied afterwards.
What you choose to eat depends on the type of exercise you are doing, so it can (and should) vary day-to-day. Luckily, you don’t need to do anything special if you’re doing some light or moderate intensity exercise, like a brisk walk, Pilates, yoga or a round of golf . Eat according to your appetite and make sure you’re getting enough of the core food groups each day to be meeting your nutrient needs. This is a good starting point for everyone, as undereating and not eating balanced meals throughout the day is a common cause of under-fuelling.
If you’re trying to improve your running, lifting or you’re smashing intense workouts a few times a week, focusing on your before and after workout fuel can help your energy, recovery and over-all wellbeing.
You don’t need to eat extra meals or snacks (or superfoods) when working out, just arrange them more strategically around your workouts for maximum impact.
Evidence shows that you will perform much better during an intense workout (you’ll have more power, strength and endurance) if you start well fuelled. That means you’ve have a meal 2-4 hours before or a decent snack 1-2 hours before. This meal or snack needs to have a decent amount of carbohydrate to fill your energy stores for use during the workout.
Examples of pre-workout meals/snacks:
- Wholegrain breakfast cereal with milk
- Toast with nut butter
- Yoghurt bowl with muesli and fruit
- Banana and a milky coffee
- Milo or flavoured milk
- Fruit (fresh or canned)
If training with food doesn’t feel good for you, it’s worth trying some options with less fibre and fat (as these can cause some gastro-intestinal upset during intense exercise for some people). A fruit smoothie or simple crackers will do.
When you’re done, you need to replenish the fuel you used with some more carbohydrate. This is especially important if you were doing high intensity exercise like sprints or if you “maxed out” during the workout. This can help minimise that afternoon fatigue slump and get you ready for another intense session, sooner.
In addition to carbs, you need to help repair your muscles with some protein. Eating within a certain period of finishing exercise is hotly debated. Research tells us that the most important strategy is that you are eating enough energy and protein throughout the day to maximise how well you feel before, during and after exercise. So for most people, waiting for the next meal or snack is fine, just make sure it contains some protein and some carbs (and fruit/or veggies too!).
Examples of post-workout meals/snacks:
- Eggs on grainy toast
- Canned tuna, rice and veggie bowl
- Beef and veggie stir-fry with noodles
- Wholemeal english muffin with nut butter
- Boiled eggs, hommus and rice cakes
Finally, you need to make sure you go into a session, and end a session well hydrated. Drinking to your thirst and keeping an eye on the colour of your urine are good indicators of being well hydrated. Urine should be pale yellow, some colour is OK. Not enough water and you will have trouble giving your best during the session, and run the risk of dehydration afterwards. Plain water is perfect for most people exercising 30-90 minutes, as electrolytes (minerals like sodium, potassium, and magnesium) can be replaced easily with the foods in your next snack or meal.
Sarah Moore is a mum, and university qualified Registered Nutritionist with a decade of experience working with families to improve their health and well-being. Sarah has a simplistic and practical approach to family nutrition and can help the overwhelm of eating and living well with private consultations, email Q&A and practical digital products. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram for more healthy tips and tricks.