Do you think of yourself as an athlete or would you like to?
Whether you’re a daily runner or simply someone who simply likes five-a-side football at the weekends, the chances are your diet could help you achieve your sporting goals.
Not convinced? Studies have found that targeted nutrition can help people both run faster and cycle faster. And these studies were looking at ‘non-elites’—a.k.a. non-professional athletes! This means that good nutrition can help every one of us during exercise and afterwards.
The specifics vary depending on the sport, the duration and the person, but there are some general principles that can benefit us all. Read on to discover how to fuel for success.
What to eat before a workout
One or two hours before a workout, you should make the most of complex carbohydrates or ‘smart carbs’.
Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred source of fuel, but it can only use so much at once. An easy way to remember this is to think about strawberries and strawberry jam. You can only eat so many fresh strawberries at once, but you can cook more down and store them as jam for later use.
This is effectively what your body does. It breaks carbohydrates down into glucose and uses what it needs at that moment, and it then packages up the rest as glycogen and stores it in your muscles and liver. When you’ve burned through available glucose, glycogen stores can keep you going for up to 90 minutes of intensive exercise.
By eating complex carbohydrates before physical activity, you’re giving your body a helping hand by topping up your glycogen stores. This is especially important you’re taking part in an endurance-based activity, such as a marathon or a long tennis match. Even if you’re planning a shorter session, the slow-release energy from smart carbs can help you power through.
Smart carbs options include oats, sweet potatoes, root vegetables, beans and wholegrains. If you’re at home, why not cook a sweet potato and top with some hummus? If you’re out and about, you can simply keep some Nairn’s Oatcakes in your bag as they come in handy pouch packs. The new Ancient Grain variety are delicious.
Whatever you choose, eat these a couple of hours before you work out—and you’ll have the energy to perform at your best.
What to eat after a workout
Believe it or not, what you eat after exercise also plays a role in your performance going forward because it helps your body to recover.
Straight after exercise, your body is primed to replenish glycogen stores (turning those strawberries into strawberry jam!). Eat both slow-release and quick-release forms of carbohydrates for optimal effect: porridge topped with sweet blueberries, or Nairn’s Gluten Free Flatbreads topped with cream cheese and sliced dried apricots.
Protein is also important to eat post-workout. Whenever you exercise, your muscle fibres are microscopically damaged, so it’s important to eat protein to repair and strengthen them. This is especially relevant if you’ve been doing resistance activity such as lifting weights or bodyweight exercises.
As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to eat around 20g of protein after intense physical activity. The is roughly the amount found in half a chicken breast—but don’t worry, there are lots of options if you don’t fancy eating meat.
You can whip up a protein-rich omelette, throw together a tuna salad or blend some nuts and seeds into a smoothie. Remember, you want to make the most of your glycogen-replenishing window, so feel free to enjoy some wholegrain bread or oatcakes too. For ultimate ease, you could even stir some protein powder into that blueberry porridge.
The takeaway message
As you can see, it’s easy to fuel effective workouts when you know how. Choose smart carbs before you exercise, and load up on protein and selected carbs to help you recover. The combination of clever eating and metabolism-boosting exercise will leave you feeling energised straight after your workout and beyond. You may even start feeling like an athlete after all!