When you’re training hard, whether it’s for a race, match or just life in general, you’d be wrong to think that your hours spent training are all that’s important. The amount you train can only get you so far – your food intake fuels your training and so what you eat can determine your progress day by day. Trying to workout without any fuel is like trying to go on a roadtrip without filling up with petrol: you’re not going to get very far!
If you’re working hard on your regime it’s important to compliment it with a good diet. Learn the best foods to eat before and after your workout to get the most out of your training.
Before you workout
When it comes to fuelling for your workouts carbs are your best friend (hooray!). They can provide energy that is easily accessible to your body and means that you won’t burnout half way. Complex carbs will keep you fuelled for long periods of time, whereas simple carbs are immediately available for your body to use, and are helpful for that extra kick of energy. If you’re training hard you’re also likely to sweat a lot, so consider eating something that has a little salt/minerals too (bananas!).
Food is important, but be careful of eating too much, too close to your workout. After we eat (especially carbohydrates and large meals), we release melatonin, the hormone that prepares us for sleep. Try to eat around 2h before attempting an intense workout. The smaller the snack and the less intense the workout the closer together they can be. Boost your energy without causing a food coma by eating something like these (and don’t forget to keep hydrated!):
- Fruit (banana)
- Slice of wholemeal toast and an egg/ ¼ avocado
- Energy ball
- Small smoothie
After you workout
Your body has worked hard for you during your training session, breaking down muscle fibres to rebuild new, stronger ones. You will have depleted your glycogen stores in your muscles too, especially with endurance exercises, so these need to be restored. However, be careful of the ‘I earned this mentality’ – whilst a protein shake or lean protein and toast may help, it doesn’t follow that an entire extra meal and packet of crisps will be better! Try one of these balanced options within 30 minutes of ending your workout to replenish your muscles without ruining your progress:
- Wholemeal toast, peanut butter, ½ banana
- Protein shake with berries
- Low sugar protein bar or ball (preferably homemade)
There are so many contradictory pieces of advice out there when it comes to fuelling your workouts. It doesn’t help that all our bodies are different, as are our training styles, goals and lifestyles. What really matters is finding something that works for you and your routine. You should do what feels good and healthy to you – some people can’t eat at all before a workout, others can’t finish a workout without food. What is most important is that you’re feeding yourself enough of the vital nutrients to achieve the fitness gains you want to see – our bodies are engines designed to run on the fuel of food, and deprivation will lead to minimal improvement, if any.
What I do:
I eat up to 1.5h before a workout, usually something small like a homemade oat biscuit, slice of toast or banana. If I’m really tired and I know I’ll be working out later, I’ll also have a coffee a few hours before, but I save this for emergencies so it continues to have an effect! After I workout I’ll just have a simple protein shake with milk to allow my muscles to recover, but at the next meal (usually dinner) I’ll eat carbohydrates to replenish lost glycogen stores.