What to eat when exercising?
Exercise or workouts plays a vital role in our daily energy expenditure and understanding what to eat before exercising, after exercising and how much food to eat is really important to enhance both your workouts and your body composition to meet your overall training and fitness goals.
What is on your “everyday plate”?
Better food choices are established from creating and following simple everyday habits that can lead to an improvement in calorie control, nutrient timings and food selections. Before focusing your attention on pre and post workout meals it is important that your everyday food choices are near optimum. Your everyday meals are what you eat when you are not exercising, these days are known as rest days or for those that do not exercise it is their everyday. The Eat Well guide shows how much of what we eat overall should come from each food group to achieve a healthy, balanced diet.
Eat slowly and stop at 80% full
For the majority of people, the focus is on what they are eating and how they are eating often gets forgotten. Eating slower and stopping when you’re 80% full can improve your workouts and digestion. It is really important to listen to your hunger and appetite cues and focus on how you are eating. Focus should be on ensuring we are sat down when we eat, in other words avoid grabbing foods on the go. Turn off your distractions whether it is the TV, your phone or laptop and pay attention to what you are eating. Aim for about 15-20 minutes per meal, this is because it takes about 20 minutes for our satiety mechanisms to kick in, these are the messages between your brain and your gut to say you are full. Stop when you are 80% full to avoid the feeling and need to unbutton your trousers!
Eat protein dense foods with each meal
It is essential to ensure you are eating adequate amounts of protein per meal (20-30g for women and 40-60g for men). You may have heard or seen people having protein shakes or protein dense foods after they exercise but it is important to look at the protein you are eating throughout the day, not just after you exercise. By eating protein dense foods with each meal, you will stimulate your metabolism, improve your muscle mass and recovery and help to reduce your body fat. The demands for protein increase when you are exercising regularly and the amounts you need to eat changes depending on the type of exercise you are doing and for how long you do it. This increase occurs because the protein balance during exercise shifts towards muscle break down as opposed to muscle building. It is important to eat protein as soon as possible after exercising as there is an increased demand for protein metabolism for up to 24 hours after exercising.
Carbohydrates for fat loss and maintenance
Carbohydrates are essential for providing energy to fuel exercise. You may have heard of “carb loading”, where individuals consume large amounts of carbohydrates before exercise to provide the body with enough energy for the workout ahead. Energy for workouts comes from a mixture of blood glucose from carbohydrate rich meals eaten before exercise and glycogen stored in the liver and muscles from carbohydrate rich meals eaten days before. It is important to eat carbohydrates before but additionally after exercise which a lot of people can be unaware of. HIT (high intensity training) workouts are extremely popular and it is important to eat carbohydrates immediately after strenuous exercise sessions such as HIT workouts as it will help to build up the glycogen stores that have been depleted during exercise. Additionally, the process of rebuilding and repairing of muscles can be stimulated by eating carbohydrates as the increase in insulin stimulates the uptake of amino acids which are the building blocks of protein.
Eat healthy fats daily
It is important when optimising your health, performance and body composition that you have the correct balance between the different types of fats you consume. It is recommended to have a balance of saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, giving a third of your recommended fat intake to each fat group. After working out, the recommendation to increase your carbohydrates will result in a reduction in fats to balance out.
Examples of meals and snacks for individuals who exercise
• Porridge with milk/milk alternative and fresh fruit
• Muesli (no added sugar) or wholegrain cereal with milk/milk alternative and fresh fruit
• Wholegrain or granary toast with peanut or other nut butter alternatives
• 2 slices of wholemeal toast with scrambled eggs and a grilled tomato
• Greek or natural yoghurt with banana, berries and cereal (e.g. oats)
• Baked potato with tuna and salad
• Eggs of choice on wholemeal toast with vegetables
• Chicken and salad sandwich (wholemeal bread or wrap)
• Lentil and vegetable soup with whole wheat roll
• Couscous or quinoa salad with chicken, roasted vegetables and kale
• Wholemeal pasta with grilled chicken and vegetables in a tomato-based sauce
• Chilli con carne – lean mince, kidney beans, chopped tomatoes and brown rice
• Salmon with boiled new potatoes and vegetables
• Stir fry – whole wheat noodles, lean meat (chicken, turkey or beef), tofu or prawns and vegetables
• Vegetable sticks with hummus
• Fruit yoghurt
• Unsalted nuts / seeds
• Oatcakes with peanut butter
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