Nutrition and Exercise: How to fuel your training?

Nutrition and Exercise: How to fuel your training?

We often get told that we should eat X before exercise or not eat before a certain time before exercise. It can also vary depending on your level of activity and overall background. Read further here to help you understand what and when to eat when it comes to fueling for your workout that works for your body. 

Eating before your workout

Eating before your workout is important to ensure your body is prepared with sufficient energy and nutrition for the workout ahead. 

The timing of when we should eat before workouts is often a big question. This can vary from person to person. These are some guidelines to consider:

Before an early morning workout, you may be limited on time, so eating about 30 to 60 minutes before your workout, your meal or snack should include:

  • Preferably simple carbohydrates for fast-acting energy  
  • Contain little amounts of fat as this can slow down digestion 
  • Low in dietary fibre to prevent gut issues 

For example a banana, a small glass of fruit juice or a handful of dried fruit. 

If you have more time before your workout then you can aim for eating about 2 to 3 hours before your workout, your meal should include: 

  • A portion of starchy carbohydrates such as bread, rice, potatoes or pasta 
  • A portion of protein to support our muscles 
  • Sources of fat and dietary fibre to create an overall balanced meal. Fats are important to absorb specific fat-soluble vitamins including vitamin A, D, E, and K.  

For example, porridge or high-fibre cereal with milk topped with mixed nuts and dried fruit or a pasta or rice dish with fish and vegetables. 

Dietary fibre comes from plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans and pulses, soya protein, wholegrains. There is growing evidence of the importance of diverse types of dietary fibre within my diet, with the suggestion of aiming for 30 different plant foods per week. If you are starting from a small amount of dietary fibre then begin increasing gradually to ensure your gut adjusts well. 

During your workout 

The majority of us won’t need to take on more nutrition during our workouts. You may have to do this to provide your body with more energy so that performance can be sustained. 

Reasons you may need to fuel during your workout: 

  • Sessions that last longer than 1hour 30 minutes, or if at high intensity this could be at 1hour 
  • You haven’t been able to eat sufficient amounts before your workout 
  • You may be doing multiple workouts or training sessions in a day

Eating after your workout 

Following your workout you want to aim for a balanced dietary approach. There is limited evidence suggesting an intake of protein-rich foods within 30 minutes after a workout. A 2017 study has found that this time can be as wide as several hours after a workout, depending on what was eaten pre-workout. 

Aim to have a meal or snack with carbohydrates, protein and fruits or vegetables (rich in vitamins and minerals). 

Some examples of snacks include:

  • greek yoghurt topped with fruit and nut butter/handful of nuts
  • avocado on wholegrain toast with a sprinkle of seeds
  • a milky or yoghurt smoothie. 

What about hydration and fluids? 

We know it’s important to stay hydrated, especially before starting your workout, and throughout the day. Dehydration can impact overall physical and mental performance. 

How do we know if you are hydrated enough? Often we may have feelings of poor concentration and symptoms include headaches. An easy way is to check the colour of your urine. We should aim for clear or pale-yellow coloured urine. 

Other fluids such as tea, coffee and low-fat milk can also support hydration as per UK guidelines. Remember that caffeinated beverages can have a small dehydrating effect, however the amount of water consumed per cup means that your body does benefit. 

Caffeinated drinks have been a key focus around sports performance. Caffeine tolerance does vary from person to person and some may not be able to tolerate caffeine at all. Caffeine can speed up gut motility which can lead to gut issues such as loose bowel motions.  

A 2021 article has suggested that caffeine before a workout has been found to have performance benefits such as improving alertness and muscle endurance. To experience these benefits it is recommended to have between 3 to 6mg per kilogram of body weight at least 30 minutes before your workout. An average mug of instant coffee contains around 75mg of caffeine. According to the British Dietetic Association, the safe limit of caffeine for adults is 400mg per day.

Key Takeaways 

Overall I aim to encourage a balanced nutritional approach through a holistic and compassionate way. We don’t focus on grams of macronutrients or measuring your food for every mealtime. We focus on an overall understanding how we can nourish our bodies to be prepared for our workouts and recover optimally so we can thrive and not be consumed by following any restrictive diets or tracking numbers.

By Sophia Boothby RD

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