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Claire Turnbull: Eating for exercise - 11 October


It doesn't matter whether you're an amateur or a professional athlete - everything you eat and drink has an effect on your body when you exercise. Today we welcome healthy food guide nutritionist Claire Turnbull who is going to tell us all about what to eat to get the best from your training!

1. There are lots of things to think of I guess when it comes to eating and exercise - but first off, what do you need to do to get the basics right?

While you might put a lot of emphasis on the food you eat before exercise, it's important to realise what you eat every day plays the biggest part in your performance. The food you eat before you exercise will have little benefit on your overall performance. Eating before you work out is merely the last step to make you feel comfortable and confident during your exercise session. You need to provide your body with a healthy, balanced diet consisting of carbohydrates, sufficient protein, healthy fats, and adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals.

Do: Eat a healthy, balanced diet made up of a wide variety of foods from all food groups every day.
Don't: Live on takeaways and convenience foods nor skip meals.

2. What is it best to eat before exercise?

Your body can only burn food it has already digested and absorbed, so there's no point eating right before you exercise in the hope it will give you more energy. In fact, eating a large meal will only cause you to feel sluggish and may even cause an upset stomach, cramping or diarrhoea. Foods high in fibre, fat, or protein take longer to digest and can increase your risk of stomach discomfort while exercising, so eat such foods long before you start - especially if your workout involves running.

Do: As a general rule, eat a carbohydrate-containing meal with a small amount of protein three to four hours before exercise, or a snack (such as a banana or a small pottle of yoghurt) one or two hours before exercise.
Don't: Eat a meal right before you're about to exercise.

What to eat three to four hours before exercise
- Baked beans on toast
- Roll made with ham and salad, plus a banana
- Pasta with lean meat, chicken or lentils and vegetables
- Baked potato with reduced-fat cheese and coleslaw
- Toasted sandwich made with reduced-fat cheese and tomato, plus a pottle of low-fat yoghurt

What to eat one to two hours before exercise
- Fruit
- Pot of low-fat yoghurt
- Glass of low-fat chocolate milk
- Bowl of cereal with skim milk
- Cereal bar

3. What about when you exercise first thing - do you need to eat?

- If less than 60mins - don't need to ask long as you eat as soon as possible afterwards
- If more than 60mins - might need something light before and then recover afterwards

4. Eating during exercise - what is best?

- A 90-minute or less workout: You shouldn't need to eat when exercising for fewer than 90 minutes if you follow the above advice

- If you do feel tired, it may mean you haven't eaten enough carbohydrates before you started, your diet is not well balanced, you ate too much or too closely to exercising, or you're dehydrated.  

- A 90-minute or more workout: A moderate to high-intensity workout for longer than 90 minutes is called an endurance event.

- Consuming extra carbohydrates is recommended as your body doesn't have an endless supply. To enable your body to access this energy, you need foods with readily-available carbohydrates - such as sports drinks, easy-to-eat muesli bars, or sugary confectionery.

- Research with athletes shows 30-60g of carbohydrates (equivalent to 500-1000ml sports drink or 12-24 jelly babies) needs to be consumed each hour of exercising to delay fatigue.

Do: Consume easily digested carbohydrate-containing snacks if exercising for longer than 90 minutes.
Don't: Load up on lollies during a sports game or one-hour workout.

5. What about eating after exercise

GOAL = Refuel, repair and Rehydrate.

- Refuel your glycogen stores (carbohydrates). Eat a carbohydrate-containing meal within two hours of your training.
Repair your damaged muscles with protein.

- During your workout, it's likely muscle protein has broken down. So including protein in your recovery meal can increase protein building. To reap the most benefits, include carbohydrates with this protein.

- Rehydrate with fluid as soon as you possibly can. Most of us finish our workouts at least a little dehydrated, and we continue to lose fluid through breathing and perspiration. Not replacing your fluid losses after training can negatively affect your recovery, daily activities, and the following workout. The best way to monitor dehydration is to look at the colour of your urine. The darker your urine, the more fluid you need. Aim for pale straw-coloured urine.

Do: Rehydrate after exercising. Eat a snack/meal containing low-GI carbs and protein.
Don't: Fall into the trap of eating high-GI carbohydrate foods or high-fat foods - as a reward for exercising. This will counteract all your hard work.

What to eat up to two hours after exercise (particularly when managing weight - basically - your next meal!)

- Lean meat, chicken or fish with potato and vegetables
- Seafood risotto with a side salad
- Stir-fry with lean red meat or chicken, vegetables and rice
- Homemade pizzas made on English muffins with lean meat, reduced-fat cheese  and vegetables
- Roll made with banana, reduced-fat ricotta and honey, plus an orange

6. What about sports drinks?

If you're working out for fewer than 60 minutes, sports drinks aren't needed. Sports drinks are great for the endurance athlete aiming for peak performance, but if you're exercising at a moderate intensity, or playing a social game of touch, water is the better option. You'll save kilojoules and stay hydrated. 

7. Any tips for children are playing sport

The well nourished child will be able to play better and for longer, maintain concentration, and recover quicker.

If your child isn't getting adequate nutrition, they will seem lethargic and tired. Children can overheat more quickly than adults, so it's important to maintain hydration before, during, and after their sport. If your child is playing in an all-day event, low-fat and high-carbohydrate snacks such as muesli bars, watermelon, oranges and bread and jam are best eaten every two hours. Sports drinks or cordials can be used in all-day events, but your child doesn't need them for a 30-minute game of basketball. To help children's bodies refuel and repair, give them a meal such as a ham and cheese sandwich or spaghetti bolognese up to two to three hours after playing sport.

8. What about if you are trying to bulk up?

To gain muscle, you need to combine a well developed, strength-training programme with an energy-rich diet which has adequate amounts of protein. While an increased protein intake is essential for muscle gains, steer clear of a high-fat, nutrient-poor diet of takeaway foods. Follow a low-fat diet, include some protein with each meal, and consume protein and carbohydrates before and after your strength-training programme. Carbohydrates help to reduce protein breakdown and allow the ingested protein to be used for muscle growth and repair.

9. What about when you are trying to lose weight

Eating before your exercise session will depend on your goal. If you're going for performance improvement, eat something before exercise. But if your aim is weight-loss - and you can do the same amount of exercise whether you eat or not - leave your food until after your session. Exercising on an empty stomach causes you to use more fat to fuel your workout - compared to doing the same workload after a carbohydrate-containing meal or snack. Fuelling up with carbohydrates makes it more likely you will be able to exercise harder - and for longer - which means you'll use more kilojoules and be more likely to lose weight.

10. What about during long, intense workouts?

Ensure you're eating a healthy, balanced diet every day, then eat a carbohydrate and protein-containing meal, such as a ham and salad sandwich, three to four hours before you exercise. If you haven't had enough time for a meal, grab a pottle of low-fat yoghurt or fruit salad one to two hours before you start. Make sure you are well hydrated, too. Follow up your session with a meal within two hours, or to keep you going until your next meal, eat a snack such as a banana smoothie or cereal bar.


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