Boosting Your Workouts with Nutrition
28 April 2021
If you’re an athlete, you are likely to have a sports nutritionist or dietician as part of your training support team. That’s because how, what and when you eat can have a significant impact on your training success and overall performance in competition.
But what about the everyday person who enjoys regular exercise as part of their healthy lifestyle? Should you be considering what and when you eat to get the best results from your workouts?
Well, if you want to feel energised before, during and after your workouts, reduce your chances of injury, maintain strong, lean muscles and keep your body fat percentage where you like it, choosing an appropriate diet according to your exercise regime and lifestyle can make a great difference regardless of whether you’re a professional or not.
Here are a few basics you may wish to consider:
Unless you are an athlete or sportsperson, it’s highly unlikely you will need to consume extra carbohydrates or sports drinks. In fact, this could sabotage any weight loss goals you have. That said carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source and although they have been demonised somewhat in the media of late, not getting enough could impair your performance and recovery.
Carbohydrates are needed to replace muscle glycogen after workouts which is used as a source of fuel when blood glucose is insufficient. It’s important to eat moderate amounts of whole food sources of carbohydrates spread throughout the day such as whole grains including brown rice and quinoa, vegetables, legumes and fruits. These foods are rich sources of nutrients including B vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C and folate: nutrients vital for energy production, muscle performance and immunity. Fruits and vegetables are also high in antioxidant nutrients which help to neutralise the free radicals created through exercise.
In contrast processed and refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white pasta, cakes and pastries are largely depleted of these nutrients and do not support an active lifestyle. They also tend to be higher in sugar which has the ability to drive inflammation and impair immune responses potentially resulting in longer down time between workouts and an increased susceptibility to illness or infection.
Proteins are known as the building blocks of life and help to grow, maintain and repair tissues of the body including muscle. Including protein foods such as lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, tofu, legumes and lentils in each of your meals spread evenly throughout the day can help to support muscle strength as well as your energy levels.
Dietary fats have also come under fire over the years increasing the popularity of low-fat foods. One of the biggest and most damaging myths out there is that ‘all dietary fats make you fat’. This simply isn’t true and in fact the body needs healthy fats including essential fatty acids from foods such as oily fish, nuts and seeds for cellular health and functioning. Interestingly, healthy fats can also support weight loss and their anti-inflammatory properties may speed up recovery after workouts. In contrast, fats in processed, fried and fast foods do not exhibit the same health promoting benefits and can even inhibit the actions of healthy fats so are best avoided.
Last but by no means least – hydration! Enzymes in the body, including those that generate energy and repair tissues are dependent on water to function. If you’re not adequately hydrated, you’re unlikely to feel as energised and exhilarated during and after your workouts as you could be. Sweating during exercise without replenishing lost fluids may also leave you more susceptible to headaches, joint and muscle pain, cramps and injury. It’s recommended that you consume 1.5-2 litres of fluids daily (maybe slightly more for example: 500ml after excessive sweating) – sorry but this doesn’t include wine ;-)
There’s so much information around eating and exercising out there that it can become overwhelming. Always keep in mind that metabolically, everyone is different so what works for one person will not necessarily work for you. Also, the duration, type and intensity of workouts will very much determine your nutritional needs; if you plan on running a marathon your carbohydrate requirements will be far greater than if you’re off to do a yoga class.
It’s important to listen to your body and keep note of how you feel during and after your workouts to understand what works best for you. If you’re exhausted after your run and find you need a sleep, you may not be fuelling yourself adequately beforehand. Keeping a journal may help you identify patterns on how your body reacts to certain meals and workout combinations - you can then adjust this to support your personal circumstances and goals. Good luck on your fitness journey!
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