We need food to survive. Fact. So why are so many keen athletes and fitness fans so happy to ditch the calories they need to perform better?
So often in the news we hear about people who consume far too many calories without doing nearly enough exercise to burn off the energy. But some people out there take the polar opposite stance, and are so keen on exercising that eating becomes some kind of bigger effort.
With so many experts telling us to eat less – when is it important to actually eat more?
A recent US survey revealed that 82 per cent of regular exercisers had really poor post-workout nutritional habits.
More than half of those surveyed believed that eating protein would build undesired muscle and half believed eating carbs after a workout would yield less optimal results
But consuming calories before and after a workout is when it’s best to do so.
EAS Sports Nutrition, who conducted the survey, believe there are many misconceptions about how to optimise post-workout results. Vice president of nutrition and performance Amanda Carlson-Phillips says: "Many individuals believe that consuming calories, especially carbohydrates, after a workout are a bad thing.
"In actuality, your body needs calories - especially carbohydrates and protein - to restore energy, build strength and improve lean body mass post workout."
The survey questioned 1,000 people across the US who worked out three times a week or more.
So here’s what you need to know about food and nutrition to keep your body going during and after those exercise sessions.
1 – Low fat
2 – Moderate in both carbohydrate and protein
3 – Low in fibre content
4 - High in fluid content
5 - Made up of familiar, well-tolerated foods
Before exercising or competing is no time to try out any new foods. You don’t know how your body will respond under pressures of exercise and it’s best to stick with what you know your body can tolerate. Something fairly plain is often the best idea. Something like a chicken salad, jacket potato with filling, but try and steer away from fried food as anything greasy is likely to have negative effects later on!
Food is so important for exercising but equally, so are fluids.
Being well hydrated can really improve your performance, and on a more serious matter – it can keep you alive. During exercise your body can reach dangerously high levels if you’ve not kept well hydrated.
The optimum way to stay hydrated is to drink lots of fluids with your meals and have about two cups of water around two hours before you plan to exercise. You can monitor your levels of hydration through two simple measures: The best ways to work out how water you’ll need to take on is to firstly weigh yourself before an exercise session. Weigh yourself afterwards and for each pound lost, take on two cups of fluids. Checking the colour of your urine is another great way to test your hydration levels. When you’re hydrated your wee will be a light straw colour – any darker and you need to up your fluid intake.
There is still the debate over whether sports drinks or water is better for nutrition and hydration in athletes. Certainly, if you are training in hot and humid conditions then a sports drink will provide the carbohydrate and sodium that you lose. They are also good if you are a particularly heavy sweater or if you are playing fast past team games.
We obtain most of our fluids from our food anyway, so if you are eating ingredients high in water – like salads and fruit and vegetables, then you are going quite far in ensuring you are hydrated, as well as taking on important nutrients and vitamins needed to maintain a high level of exercise.
The other thing to consider when you are about to embark on your exercise session is that although it’s important to eat well before and after training sessions, eating too soon before a session can cause stitch or make you feel uncomfortable and bloated so it’s best to eat a good hour beforehand. Then after exercise, your absorption rate is far better between half an hour to an hour afterwards, so try and eat within this window for the maximum benefit.
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