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Have you ever pushed through a workout, but felt miserable because you didn’t have any energy, weren’t able to work as hard as usual, get that many reps or lift as heavy as you expected?
If that sounds familiar and there was no other reason behind it, chances are your nutrition wasn’t balanced enough to fuel your body for that session. The abundance of different information available online on the topic is rather overwhelming so let’s get back to basics.
What to Eat Before, During and After Exercise?
Food as Fuel
Imagine your body is a car. A car needs fuel to operate, so does your body. They both need to re-fuel regularly to keep going. So, what is fuel to your body? Anything you put in your mouth, that includes food, fluids, snacks and supplements.
All you need to do is to figure out what works for your body’s individual needs: the right amount (portion size), the right ratio of nutrients (protein, carbs and fats) then add vegetables for vitamins and minerals and fluids for hydration. If you are depleted of any of the nutrients or de-hydrated, you will experience lack of energy, mood swings, disturbed sleep and lowered workout potential.
How specific you should be on your workout nutrition depends on your goals, how fast you’d like to achieve them and how much you are willing to sacrifice. Here are 3 ways you can approach the topic; the ideal strategy is the one you can sustain for the long run.
1. Eat to Live
Most healthy adults that want to stay fit and healthy will only need to eat a well-considered meal about two hours before exercise, another one about 1-2 hours after exercise, to maintain a balanced diet in general and drink plenty of water to keep hydrated.
If that describes you, there’s no need for any specific regime or a strategy for workout nutrition. All you need to do is to focus on eliminating nutrient deficiencies in general, ensuring the portions are the right size and eating for your body, not how someone else says you should eat.
2. Eat to Achieve – Nutrient Timing 101
Some of you may have some serious goals to achieve. If that’s the case here are some guidelines to help you create your plan. Remember, no two bodies are the same, so it’s up to you to figure out what works best for you.
It’s important that you already have sustainable and balanced nutrition habits you practice throughout the day so you can focus on how you time them.
The timing of your meal and snacks in the three hours before a session can make a big difference to your performance and recovery. You’d like to ensure what you eat will boost and maintain your energy levels, hydrate and speed recovery.
What to eat:
Your focus should be on keeping your body hydrated, have small sips of water regularly. If your workout is below 60-90 minutes, you don’t need anything else.
After a session, you would like to eat for recovery, to rehydrate and ensure your meal aids muscle growth and future performance. You don’t need to start eating right after leaving the gym floor, but failing to re-fuel within a 2-hour window after exercise can slow your recovery, especially if you failed to fuel your body properly pre-workout.
What to eat:
You’d like to have a mixed balanced meal of real food that includes protein, carbohydrates, vegetables, healthy fats. Grilled salmon with a green leafy salad and roast potato or rice can work well.
3. Eat to perform – Advanced Nutrient Timing
Most athletes work with sports nutritionists to help them build a diet for their unique needs. If you are not at that level yet but would like to perform better in your sport, you want to make sure that not only the meals around your workouts and games, but everything else in your lifestyle supports peak performance, including sleep routine, timed and sustained meals and supplementation to fill the gaps.
In addition to your diet, if you take part in an endurance event or a game that lasts longer than 90 minutes you will need to think about re-fuelling with protein and carbs.
Liquid supplements like sport drinks and gels have become popular among athletes because they allow them to digest nutrients fast while racing. Ensure you check out a few brands and choose quality. You need to consider refuelling with 50-100 kcal per hour.
My advice: if you feel you need to step up your game to perform better, contact a qualified professional and invest time and money to figure out what works for you the best.
Nutrition, like everything around exercise should be considered as part of a bigger strategy that serves your goals and fits in with your lifestyle. It all comes down to what you’d like to achieve and how much you are willing to sacrifice.
Please note: the approach above provides guidelines to help you understand the importance of nutrition, provide a framework for you to help understand your body. It is intended to healthy people. If you need specific advice or have physiological needs or a condition, seek professional help before making any changes in your diet.
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