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Questions about food, drink and exercise

Excerpts from Claire Turnbull's article

1.  Do I need to eat before I exercise first thing in the morning, even if I don't feel like it?

You know exercising demands fuel.  Did you know carbohydrate is the main fuel that will keep you energized during exercise? It's important to be well stocked up but after sleeping your stores of energy can be low. Eating before you exercise means you're giving your body the fuel it needs to keep going. Your mental and physical performance will improve, and you'll experience less fatigue and dizziness. 

  • If you are exercising for under 1hr, try to have a small snack beforehand like a banana or half a slice of bread.
  • If for longer than 1hr you'll need a more substantial snack that is high in carbohydrate, low in fat and easy to digest; some low-fat yoghurt, a slice of fruit toast or a bowl of cereal and milk are all good options.

2. I do lots of weight training at the gym.  Do I need to have protein shakes and protein bars?

If you're a typical kiwi you'll be getting all the protein you need from everyday foods, even if you are a big weights buff. Eating protein like lean meat, chicken, fresh and canned fish, dairy products, eggs, nuts and pulses will give you the protein you need, as well as other nutrients.  Meat is high in iron, dairy foods are a great source of calcium and nuts provide healthy fats. All of these nutrients are needed to repair tissue, build muscle and help the body recover from its workout.

  • Instead of spending your money on expensive protein bars and shakes, try a protein-rich snack after training like a smoothie made with banana, frozen berries and milk or low-fat yoghurt and peanut butter on toast.
  • Make sure you have your palm sized portions of meat/fish/chicken or beans at mealtimes.
  • Check out the Ministry of Health guidelines for recommended number of servings for YOU. 

3. Why do I feel like I want to be sick when I train really hard?

When you exercise at a high intensity, for a short time your muscles burn fuel without oxygen and produce lactic acid.  If lactic acid builds up in your body, it can make you feel sick and even cause vomiting in some people.

  • The next time it happens, slow down the pace for a few minutes to allow the lactic acid to be removed from your muscles.

4. I have been getting cramps in my calves - do I need more salt?

Cramps often occur when muscles are tired. To alleviate pain, try stretching and massaging the cramped muscle. Sweating heavily during exercise can result in fluid and mineral losses so:

  • Try drinking plenty of fluids before, during and after training to minimize the risk of dehydration.
  • Sports drinks can be a good idea to replace salt (sodium) losses if cramps become a common issue for you.
  • Using salt tablets or adding extra salt to your meals isn't recommended. 

5.  When I drink during sport, the water seems to stay in my stomach and makes me feel sick.  What can I do to stop this?

If you haven't had anything to drink before a game, you may find that fluid stays in your stomach and ends up sloshing around, making you feel sick. The key is making sure you're hydrated before your game.

  • Drink 1-2 glasses of water an hour or two before the game- this helps prime your stomach and get it used to emptying fluid.

6. How much do I need to drink after exercise?

Re-hydration is essential for recovery.  The amount you need depends on you: how well hydrated you were before exercising; - how long you exercise for and at what intensity; - how much fluid you take in during exercise.

  • A good guide is making sure your urine is pale before you start.
  • Where possible, drink between 600ml - 1 litre of water per hour that you exercise.
  • When finished try to drink 1 -2 glasses of water each hour until your urine is pale again.

7.  What is energy?  Some soft drinks now say they give you energy, is this a good or bad thing?

"Energy" does not mean "vitality": it means kilojoules (Kj) or kilo calories (Kcal). These are the measurements for how much 'energy' food and drink provides and 1 Kcal = 4.2Kj. Just like a car needs petrol to work, our bodies need energy to work. Our brains need it to think, our hearts to beat and muscles to contract.

Soft drinks and lollies provide energy but are sugar-based with no fibre and few vitamins and minerals.  Getting your energy from these foods is like putting water into your car's petrol tank - you won't get very far!

  • It's better for your body to use energy from a variety of healthy foods and drinks like wholegrain breads and cereals, low-fat dairy products, lean meat and fish, healthy fats and fruits and vegetables.