Achieve and maintain optimal training results with the right foods, eaten at the right time. Read on for a comprehensive guide to optimal nutrition when exercising.
Start with a good base
Start with a performance enhancing base nutrition providing the right amount of calories to cover your energy needs, and essential nutrients to help you recover, build muscle, strength and endurance. Focus on eating lean proteins, lots of colorful fruit and vegetables, whole grain carbs and drink lots of water. Treat fats, oils, sweets and white flour carbs as rare luxury foods – eating them every once in a while is ok.
Fuel up right before your workout
Before your workout, your body primarily needs carbohydrates serving as fuel for your muscles.
Muscles metabolize carbohydrates to provide energy more rapidly than fat or protein, allowing you to sustain a higher intensity level of exercise.
The basic goals of the pre-workout meal are:
- prevent fatigue and weakness
- optimize performance, strength and endurance
- ward off feelings of hunger while preventing digestive distress
- provide optimal hydration
Eat a small meal with less than 400 calories about 2 hours prior to your training. Be careful to only eat carbohydrate-rich foods that you know you can easily digest, such as ripe bananas, pears and berries, white toast with jam, cornflakes, biscuits, wafers or crackers. Avoid protein-, fat- and fiber-rich foods before your training as they need extra time for digestion and absorption, up to 5-6 hours. If you don’t have time for a small meal, you can have a carbohydrate-rich drink such as fruit juices, smoothies or low-fat shakes. Also, drink plenty of liquids to ensure a good hydration status.
Food choices for your morning training
The night before, eat a high-carbohydrate meal to ensure filled carbohydrate stores. In the early morning, 2 hour before your training, eat a light breakfast or snack: cereal and skim, soy or nut milk, fresh fruit or fruit juice, toast, plain bagel or English muffin, pancakes or waffles, non-fat or low-fat fruit yogurt, or a liquid pre-event meal such as a smoothie or low-fat shake. Drink plenty of water or tea.
Foods to fuel your afternoon training
Eat a high-carbohydrate meal both the night before and for breakfast. Follow with a light lunch no later than 2-3 hours before your training: salads with low-fat dressings, turkey sandwiches with small portions of turkey, fruits, juice, low-fat crackers, high-carbohydrate nutritional bars, pretzels, rice cakes, smoothies or low-fat shakes. Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Foods for your evening workout
Eat a high-carbohydrate breakfast and lunch, followed by a light meal or snack, no later than 2 hours before your scheduled training: pasta with marinara sauce, rice with vegetables, flatbread with vegetable toppings, noodle or rice soups with crackers, baked potato, frozen yogurt with fresh fruit, smoothies or low-fat shakes. Drink enough water.
No one food works for everybody
Food choices vary based on the type, intensity and duration of the exercise, as well as individual body constitution, preferences and health requirements. What’s right for explosive strength might not be optimal for endurance or sports requiring prolonged high-concentration. You may need to experiment to find which foods and what amount of food works best for you. However, it is important that you experiment with new foods during training rather than around competition.