Nutrition for Exercise
A well-planned diet will supply fuel and nutrients that you need to help support your training programme, promote efficient recovery and help achieve your best performance. You must also eat to stay in good health and reduce the risk of illness or overtraining. When you exercise, your body will need more energy (calories) because it’s working harder. If you don’t have enough energy then you increase your risk of tiredness, illness and injury and lose muscle mass. Carbohydrates, protein and fats all provide fuel for exercise. But what do you need to eat before, during and after exercise?
How much you eat before exercise and when you eat it will affect your performance. Ideally you need to eat between 2 and 4 hours before exercise to give enough time for you to feel comfortable. This will increase liver and muscle glycogen, which will provide you with energy for your session. Your meal or snack should be low in fat and fibre, high in carbohydrate and moderate in protein. This will help to provide energy for your muscles and improve your performance. Some examples of meals to eat before exercise include a jacket potato with beans or tuna, porridge with milk, chicken with rice and salad. You may want to have a small snack around 1 hour before exercise. This could include a cereal bar or a yoghurt.
When you’re exercising your main goal should be to maintain blood glucose levels, so if you’re exercising for longer than an hour you should consume 30 to 60g carbohydrates every hour. A sports drink, such as Lucozade Sport, is helpful as it provides fluid and fuel. This is especially important if you’re taking part in exercise first thing in the morning. Sports gels, bananas or energy bars are helpful, but they don’t provide fluid so you will need to consume water to make sure you don’t become dehydrated.
Eating after exercise will help with your recovery. The main aim is to provide enough fluids, salt, energy and carbohydrates. Eating protein will provide amino acids to build and repair muscle tissue. Try to eat around 1 to 1.5g carbohydrate per kg of body weight during the first 30 minutes and then every 2 hours for 4 to 6 hours. For example, if you weigh 60 kg you should eat 60 to 90g carbohydrate. Snacks include a meal replacement shake, 2 bananas, fruit and nuts or a sports bar.
Hypotonic drinks have low carbohydrates (less than 4g per 100ml) and replace the fluids you lose during exercise.
Isotonic drinks contain 4 to 8g of carbohydrate per 100ml and as well as helping to replace fluid, they also help top up your body’s carbohydrate stores.
Hypertonic fluids have a high amount of carbohydrate (over 8g per 100ml). Your body absorbs them more slowly but these sports drinks will really help to refuel your energy stores.
Is it ok for me to eat breakfast before my exercise session in the morning?
What you eat the night before your exercise session will determine how much fuel you have for the morning. If you eat a large meal in the evening then you should be fine. But, if you have a light dinner then you will need to eat a snack before your training. Snacks such as a banana, a small bowl of cereal or an energy bar will help, but experiment to see what works for you.