Good nutrition is simple.
It simply means eating the right amount of a wide variety of foods from different sources to provide all the nutrients our body needs to function at its best. Simple, right? Maybe not...If it really were then obesity levels wouldn't be at an all time high and still on the rise. Good nutrition, while being vitally important to good health, is only part of the puzzle. The other: exercise.
I see a lot of misinformation (particularly on the internet...) regarding the finer details of nutrition as it relates to exercise - things like what to eat, when to eat them and how much is best. To help remove some of the mystery surrounding workout nutrition here is the ultimate guide to pre- and post-workout nutrition - an easy to understand list of what to eat and when to eat it.
Regardless of whether you're a professional athlete, a recreational fitness enthusiast or, as is my case, exercising to lose weight (apparently all the baby weight does NOT fall off when the baby comes out...) knowing how to time nutrients around exercise can help enhance performance, reduce fatigue and assist recovery.
A basic training diet should:
So first, some basic nutrition:
Food can be broken up into two overall classes: macro and micronutrients. Macronutrients are things our body needs in large amounts - carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Fibre is also sometimes included in this class as a separate nutrient. Micronutrients are required by the body in smaller amounts - vitamins and minerals. We need the right amounts of both macro and micronutrients for our body to work properly, and that's achieved by eating a balanced diet.
Carbohydrates, or carbs as we usually call them, have two distinct classes: complex and simple (NOT good and bad - my pet hate is "good carbs" and "bad carbs". Who started this labeling? Why do they spread such lies? How do I find them and slap them?). They are the main source of fuel preferred by the body, which is why cutting carbs is not something I will ever recommend.
Complex Carbs are low GI, so take longer to be broken down by the body and provide a slow release of energy. They're found largely in grains, cereals, legumes and starchy vegetables, and should form the basis of energy nutritionally-sound diet.
Simple Carbs are moderate to high GI, meaning the energy in them is broken down and released into the blood stream quickly. They're found mostly in processed foods like white breads and pastries, cereals, lollies, soft drinks, juices, honey, jam etc.
Fruit and dairy also contain largely simple carbohydrates, however because they also contain things like fibre, protein and fat they behave more like complex carbohydrates, breaking down more slowly and giving a steady supply of energy.
What you need to know:
Found in meat, beans, legumes, eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds. It helps the body build and maintain muscles, as well as forming a large part of our immune system. Protein is digested slowly by the body.
Supplements like protein bars and shakes are really only necessary if you don’t eat a lot of meat or you do a lot of strength training . In all other cases a cheaper way to supplement your protein intake is to add skim milk powder to normal milk, smoothies and shakes.
Found in nuts, seeds, animal products and processed foods like cakes, biscuits, chocolate etc. Fat, despite getting a bad reputation for contributing to obesity, helps form new cells, so is very important for recovery.
Fat is a very energy dense molecule and broken down slowly. Because of this it provides a long-lasting fuel source that supplements the glucose the body prefers and uses first.
Dehydration leads to things like dizziness and fatigue, so it's super important that you're drinking enough water to keep yourself well hydrated (and see this post on why water is so important to learn all the other ways dehydration might be hindering your weight loss).
What you need to know:
Recovery from exercise includes a complex range of processes such as:
In additional to an overall balanced diet, paying attention to pre- and post-workout nutrition can help you workout with more intensity and build new muscle tissue to recover quicker, as it allows you to have a ready supply of nutrients to your muscles and enough water in your cells to cope with fluid loss from sweat. This means means you can work out longer, harder and more often - all of which can be a huge boost to weight loss and lean muscle gains. So goodbye muffin top and hello abs!
Now, to the good stuff.... (and recipe links to match)
What to eat before exercise:
This can depend on what time you are working out and how well you tolerate food prior to exercise. I cannot exercise on an empty stomach - I feel dizzy and get a splitting headache. My sister-in-law however prefers to run with as little as possible in her stomach, so you can choose whichever option works best for YOUR body.
Ideally, you should eat a nutritionally balanced meal 3-4 hours beforehand or a balanced snack 1-2 hours before you exercise. This gives enough time to move the food out of your stomach (as exercising on a full tummy can make some people feel sick) and also to digest the nutrients and make them available to your body tissues.
Combining mostly complex carbs, some simple carbs and a little protein will provide a good spread of nutrients to fuel your workout.
Some good choices for a light meal 3-4 hours before exercise are:
Some ideas for snacks to eat 1-2 hours before exercise:
What to eat after exercise:
After exercise your muscles are in prime condition to take the nutrients from food and use them to replenish and repair your muscles. Post-workout is a good time to include more simple carbs, as they will take less time to break down and travel to the muscles, where they're needed. Your post-workout meal should also include a source of protein, and ideally fibre and micronutrients too.
Combining some complex carbs, some simple carbs and a little protein helps provide the nutrients necessary to recover from your workout.
Some nutritious carbohydrate + protein recovery snack ideas are:
Some balanced post-workout meal ideas are:
And to make it even easier for you, here are links to delicious, real food recipes you can make to go with the suggestions above:
Quinoa Pizza Muffin - a healthy snack
Chocolate, Pear and Ginger Muffins - a healthy snack
Vegan Blueberry and Walnut Muffins - a healthy snack
Strawberry, Lemon and Poppyseed Muffins - a healthy snack
Choc Crunch Granola -to have with fruit salad and yoghurt
No Bake Quinoa Muesli Bars - as a pre- or post-workout snack
Wholemeal Buttermilk Pancakes - for a post-workout breakfast
Hot Cross Pancakes - a post-workout breakfast
The World's Best Healthy Waffles - another post-workout brekkie
One-Pot Pasta - a great low-fat, complex carbohydrate meal
Zucchini, Potato and Sweetcorn Chowder - to have with crusty bread
Spiced Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup - to have with crusty bread
Cauliflower, Pear and Parsnip Soup - to have with crusty bread
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