Exercise Nutrition Tips When & What To Eat
For most people, it can be very confusing when it comes to what and when to eat for optimal exercise nutrition. Some people focus on the pre-training meal only, but really, food eaten throughout the week as well hydration are just as important.
When is the best time to eat?
Timing depends on the amount and type of food being eaten. Typically, foods higher in fat, protein and fibre do take longer to digest. So it is best to try time your meal for around 3-4 hours before exercise or you can opt for a snack around 1-2 hours before.
What is best to eat?
It is best to consume meals or snacks that consist of carbohydrates, good fats, protein, vitamins and minerals.
While studies have shown it is best for endurance athletes to carbohydrate load prior to a big endurance event, it is important to consider that many people will experience a hypoglycemic reaction, this is a spike, followed by a rapid drop in blood glucose levels following the intake of a carbohydrate only snack or meal. This can result in symptoms such as: fatigue and feeling light headed. So with this in mind, it is best to look at balancing energy levels in a sustainably released way, by adding some protein this can help to ensure stabilisation.
What if I exercise early in the morning before breakfast?
If training early it’s not always pratical to be able to eat 3-4 hours before exercise. And while studies do show that a fasted work out can be beneficial for the goal of fat loss (exercising when your body has been fasted from eating for several hours), it’s not always beneficial for intense training sessions. When training in the morning, opting for a light snack option about an hour before exercise may be beneficial and limit gastro intestinal upsets.
Physiologicaly between each work-out, the body needs time to repair and adapt to the stress and strain from the exercise.
When the body recovers it goes through these repair processes;
- Refuelling the muscle and liver glycogen (carbohydrate) stores.
- Rehydrating the fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat.
- Reproduction of new muscle protein, red blood cells and other cellular components as part of the repair and adaptation process.
- Supporting the immune system to handle and repair the damage caused by the exercise.
Refuelling the body.
Muscle glycogen is the main fuel used by the body during moderate and high intensity exercise. Studies show that integral dietary refuelling keys for recovery include both glycogen (from carbohydrates) along with essential amino acids (from protein) in the following 2hrs post exercise.
Hydrating the body.
Many people can either start with or end with a dehydrated state. Even slight losses in hydration can affect overall energy and performance.
When looking at hydration after exercise it should be considered to ensure electrolytes replacement, electrolytes are lost in sweat during exercise, particularly sodium. By adding sodium, either in a drink or in food, will help to enhance fluid balance.
Some examples of some natural suitable hydration drinks that can be made at home or bought:
- Good quality filtered water with himalayan salt and lemon.
- Coconut water.
- Natural electrolyte drinks.
When the body under takes high-intensity exercise this causes a breakdown of muscle protein. During the recovery there is a reduction in catabolic (breakdown) processes and a gradual increase in anabolic (building) processes, this continues for at least 24 hours. Research shows that intake after exercise (within the first hour) of essential amino acids from quality protein foods can help to increase in muscle rebuilding.
Eating a complete protein source in meals and snacks post this “window” can still help protein synthesis, though the rate will be less effective. Adding a source of carbohydrate will also help to reduce the degree of muscle protein breakdown.
Supporting The Immune System.
Intensive training can suppress the immune system in the hours following a work-out increasing vulneability to falling sick. Luckily there are lots of nutrients shown to help support the immune system – for example, vitamins C, E and zinc. Vitamin D, also an essential hormone that is now known to be an integral co factor in a healthy immune system, cardiovascular health and even muscle growth and repair.
Adaptogens can also be beneficial in supporting adrenal function counteracting the adverse effects of stress on the body as they enable the body’s cells to access more energy; help cells eliminate toxic by products of the metabolic process and help the body to utilise oxygen more efficiently.
Intestinal microbiome status also play an integral role in overall immunity. Stress, antibiotics and poor diets lead to overall lower microbiome stores. Good gut health and healing, probiotic supplementation along with whole food pre-and probiotic rich foods help to restore a healthy balance and maintain a strong immune system.
In health & positivity – Jan
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National Institute of Health (2016). Intake of Protein Plus Carbohydrate during the First Two Hours after Exhaustive Cycling Improves Performance the following Day. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27078151
National Institute of Health (2016). New strategies in sport nutrition to increase exercise performance. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26855422