Good nutrition can have a positive influence on how much energy you have for both endurance activities such as running, cycling and swimming – and weight-training/resistance activities – but supplements can also support you.
The key requirements are that you consume enough fuel for your energy and nutritional needs. Doing this will help you perform during the workout as well as protect you against injury and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Eat two to three hours before your workout:
- Eat carbs for endurance: If you're doing an endurance-based workout such as a run or bike ride, opt for a carbohydrate-heavy breakfast, e.g. porridge with banana, or at other times sweet potatoes, wholegrain rice, pasta or bread as the focus of your meal, with vegetables and fruit.
- Tuck into carbs and protein for weights and strength work: Go for meals which combine protein and carbohydrates such as: poached eggs/avocado on wholegrain toast; a healthy omelette; lean chicken/fish with wholegrains (bread/grains); sweet potato, tuna and feta cheese. A combination like this can help sustain energy levels, preserve muscle mass and speed up recovery.
More golden rules
- Eat protein with every meal: Include protein sources such as lean meat, fish, eggs, lentils/quinoa with every meal. Protein supplements (powders) are an easy, convenient way to recover quickly from and support your training. After exercise, protein will provide amino acids for the building and repair of muscle tissue.
- Time your carb-consumption: Save carbs for two hours before, or just after a workout; that way you'll burn the fuel whilst your metabolism is fired up. A good analogy is to think of your metabolism as an open fire. When you finish exercising, the flames burn brightly, so you can add fuel in the form of carbs and they will burn off quickly.
- Snack healthily: Opt for protein snacks such as nuts and seeds, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Stay hydrated: If you train regularly it's important you stay well-hydrated. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommendation is 2.5 litres of fluid for men and 2.0 litres of fluid for women per day. Note 70 per cent of this fluid should come from drinks and the rest from food. For every 45 minutes of exercise you should take on around an extra 200ml of water.
- Choose a sports drink for longer endurance events: If you're competing in an event lasting longer than two hours, for example a half or full marathon, you'll need a sports drink to keep your glycogen, (the carbohydrate fuel you run out of when you hit the 'wall'), topped up.
A typical 500ml sports drink contains 32g carbohydrates which will replenish glycogen for between 30 minutes and one hour (depending on your ability/level and the intensity you're working at).
- Non-sugary drinks for the gym: You can avoid the sugar and still get the benefits of essentials such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium to help correct electrolyte balance and reduce tiredness and fatigue. Ideal for a gym workout or for extra hydration on the run or bike. Some products have added caffeine which will further boost your alertness and attention as well as energy.
Supplements to boost energy before you work out
Good nutrition is essential if you want to fuel your workout, and supplements can help top up energy levels from food beforehand and aid your recovery afterwards – but should never be considered as a replacement for a healthy, balanced diet.
Caffeine increases energy, improves concentration and reduces your perceived levels of exertion. Studies have shown caffeine can help before both strength and aerobic workouts such as 5K runs and rowing. For a more natural form of caffeine, try guarana extract, a plant native to the Amazon Basin. Local tribes use the fruit as a natural stimulant and health tonic as it contains roughly twice the amount of caffeine found in coffee beans. You can take it in supplement form combined with ginseng and B vitamins.
Magnesium is needed for healthy muscle and nerve function, important for athletes who expend huge amounts of energy when competing and push their muscles and nerves to the limit. Strenuous exercise increases magnesium requirements by 10 to 20 per cent and its believed athletes may be at risk of deficiency if their magnesium intake is below 260mg for men and 220mg in women. Experts say performance improves in athletes who are magnesium deficient if they take a supplement.
Co-enzyme Q10 is a naturally occurring substance found in all the body's cells and in particularly high concentration in the energy intensive cells of the heart. Co-enzyme Q10 is often referred to as nature's biochemical 'spark plug.' One study which tested the effects of co-enzyme Q10 supplementation on athletes and non-athletes, over a two-week period, found after taking supplements the subjects could train for longer on a treadmill before feeling exhausted. The tests also found higher concentrations of co-enzyme Q10 in the athletes' muscles and fewer markers for oxidative stress.
B vitamins are involved in the production of energy. According to one research study, athletes with low levels of B vitamins will notice a dip in performance during high-intensity exercise, so if it's worth checking your levels if you want to perform at your best.