Whether you’re a triathlete, an occasional jogger or a yogi, what you eat before and after can make a difference to your movement. It isn’t necessary to crunch the numbers to calculate exact macronutrient intake but having some gentle guidance can help fuel your movement and aid recovery.
Ensuring you’re listening to your body and responding to hunger cues will make sure you have enough energy to support training and aid recovery. Although, if you participate in intense movement like endurance sports then you may need to listen to ‘practical hunger’, eating despite a lack of hunger cues to improve performance and/or recovery.
1-4 hours before exercise try to consume a meal or snack high in carbohydrates. You may want to consume something slightly lower in fat or fibre as they can cause gastrointestinal issues, but everyone is different – experiment and find out what works for you. A high carbohydrate snack or meal will raise blood sugar, top up muscle and liver glycogen levels and aid performance. Examples of a good pre-workout snack or meal include a cereal bar, a slice of toast, a bowl of cereal, a jacket potato with beans or a banana.
During exercise that lasts less than 45 minutes, it is unlikely that you will need to consume anything but listen to your cues and adapt your nutrition to your body. Longer sessions may require some fuelling during exercise, again, try to consume something primarily carbohydrate based to supplement endogenous stores. Depending on the exercise, gels may be suitable, but some sports and tournaments may allow for breaks for refuelling. Again, foods like bananas, cereal bars and fruit sweets can give a good carbohydrate and energy boost.
Following movement, to promote recovery, a meal or snack with a combination of carbohydrates and proteins will replenish glycogen stores, repair damaged muscle fibres and support new muscle tissue formation. Unless you’re planning on exercising again within 24 hours, there is no urgency to consume food straight after training. Try to be guided by your hunger cues and eat your post-movement meal or snack when you’re ready for it. If you consume enough energy, carbohydrates and proteins over the 24-hour period, your muscles will recover before the next movement session. If you train intensely or plan to move again in less than 8 hours, then eating a high carbohydrate and high protein meal within two hours is probably a good idea. Post-workout meals include oats, eggs and toast, cow’s milk (often called the ‘perfect’ recovery drink), a chicken curry with rice or a fruit and yogurt smoothie.
It is also important to remember hydration! Being hydrated contributes to optimal health and exercise performance. Ensuring you’re adequately hydrated before, during and after movement can improve performance.