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Putting nutrition into practice
The timing of eating and exercising can be important for how you feel and perform during your chosen activity. The body needs the correct fuel in the tank to perform well, however you want to avoid feeling too full or too empty during exercise.
Individuals vary in their preferred timing of food intake and amount that can be eaten before exercise. Some may find two hours is plenty of time to digest their meal, whereas others may feel uncomfortable when taking part in activity and need a bit longer. Experimenting with what, how much and when will help decide what suits you best!
- Ideally, your pre-exercise meal should be low in fat and contain a portion of starchy foods, such as porridge, pasta or potatoes, and should be around 2-3 hours before exercising. For example, if you have an exercise class at 5pm, have your pre-exercise meal at around 2pm.
- However, if you leave eating before exercise any longer or don’t eat anything at all, you may lack energy and risk feeling light headed during exercise.
- You could eat a small snack between your pre-exercise meal and exercise to top up energy levels. If you do, it is best to wait 30-60 minutes before taking part in any vigorous sports or exercise.
- Making sure you are well hydrated before you start an exercise session is important, so try to drink regularly throughout the day and with your pre-exercise meal.
- Consuming some carbohydrates during exercise can enhance performance but this generally only applies to individuals participating in endurance or high intensity sports that last over 60 minutes, as this is when carbohydrate stores may substantially decrease (e.g. marathon/long distance running, football games or competitive swimming events).
- It is important to consume plenty of fluids during exercise, especially if you are sweating heavily (also to replace electrolytes lost from sweating) and/or the environmental temperature is high.
- Try to sip small amounts of fluids whenever possible during exercise to stay hydrated. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty, as this is a sign that you are already partly dehydrated. Keep sipping water before and during the activity, if possible, to keep hydration levels topped up.
Food and fluid intake is also important for optimum recovery after exercise.
- After a long run or exercise class, your carbohydrate stores will be lower, so it is important to replenish them, especially if you are doing more exercise later on that day or the following day.
- The post-exercise meal should be based on starchy foods (preferably wholegrain) and include some high quality, lean protein. Consuming this as soon as possible after exercise will be most beneficial for recovery, restoring glycogen levels and muscle protein.
- If you are unable to have a meal soon after exercise, try to have a small snack that contains carbohydrate and protein, such as a banana and a glass of low fat milk, within the first 30-60 minutes following exercise to begin the recovery process, especially if you have exercise within the next eight hours.
- Don’t forget your meals should always be balanced so make sure you include fruit and vegetables to provide other important nutrients.
- To replace the fluid lost from sweating, it is vital to restore hydration levels as part of recovery, so remember to drink plenty of fluids after exercising. See common sports nutrition questions section for the benefit of other drinks, such as milk, for recovery.
Tips to plan your meals and snacks:
Preparation - your pre-exercise meal, whether it is breakfast or lunch, should be around 2-3 hours before and include a good amount of starchy foods to ensure you have enough fuel in the tank. A small snack 30-60 minutes before exercise can help to top up energy levels.
- Recovery – base your post-exercise meal on starchy foods and include some high quality, lean protein to help restore glycogen levels and muscle protein.
- Both meals should also include some fruit and vegetables.
- Good snacks for immediately after exercise should contain some protein, such as unsalted nuts or a glass of milk.
- Try to opt for wholegrain carbohydrates and high quality protein foods, as well as nutrient-rich snacks.
Ideas for meals and snacks
Below are some examples of suitable meals and snacks for an individual who exercises.
|Porridge with low fat milk and fruit
||Baked potato (skin on) with tuna, and salad (use low fat mayonnaise)
||Wholemeal pasta with grilled chicken and vegetables in a tomato based sauce
Vegetables sticks with houmous
Low fat fruit yogurt
Reduced salt/sugar baked beans on wholemeal toast
Guacamole, ½ wholemeal pitta
Rye crispbread with low fat cheese and grapes
Unsalted nuts or seeds
Low fat milk
Fruit smoothie (made with low fat milk and banana)
Oatcakes with peanut butter
Muesli (no added sugar) or wholegrain cereal, with low fat milk and fresh or dried fruit
|Eggs (boiled, poached, scrambled, omelette) on wholemeal toast with vegetables
Chilli con carne – lean mince, kidney beans, chopped tomatoes and brown rice
|Wholegrain or granary toast with peanut or other nut butter and 100% fruit juice (150ml)
Chicken and salad sandwich, using wholemeal bread or wrap
Salmon with boiled new potatoes (skins on) and vegetables
|2 thick slices of wholemeal toast with scrambled egg, a grilled tomato
Lentil and vegetable soup with whole wheat roll
|Stir fry – whole wheat noodles, lean meat (chicken, turkey or beef), tofu or prawns and vegetables.
|Low fat greek or plain yogurt with banana, berries, seeds and cereal (e.g. oats)
||Couscous or quinoa salad with chicken, roasted vegetables and kale
||Fish pie (potato topping) with green vegetables