Knowing how – and when – to fuel your body to meet your fitness goals is the most important thing you can do to boost your workouts. Sure, upping the resistance on the cross-trainer, piling on the free weights and working out longer and harder will set you on your way, but without the right nutrients you’re more likely to lose muscle, cause injury and burn yourself out.
But incorporate these macronutrients into your training plan and the only way is up:
Protein is used to build, maintain and repair body tissue, as well as to synthesize important enzymes and hormones. “During training, protein is responsible for muscle repair. But inadequate protein consumption – pre-and post-exercise - can lead to injury and illness and can also lead to a reduction in immunity”, explains personal trainer and nutritionist Tracy McCartney.
How much: Experts agree that consuming 20-30g of protein is enough to enhance synthetic protein rates to cause growth and boost the regeneration of muscle tissue.
What: To put this into context, one 100g grilled chicken breast contains approximately 31g of protein – plenty to fuel a workout! Other sources include: 100g grilled steak (33g), 100g grilled turkey breast (35g) and 100g grilled salmon fillet (24g). If you’re looking for a protein-dense snack, eggs (6g per egg), pumpkin/sunflower/flaxseeds (100g = 24g) and feta cheese (100g = 16g) are good options. usually contain about 20g per serving, too.
When: “Time your pre-training meals at least 1½ hours before you head to the gym”, advises Tracy. So, opt for a turkey breast or chicken sandwich for lunch and top up with a handful of seeds mid-afternoon to fuel an evening workout. Or opt to eat post workout with a side of protein shake to fuel recovery.
“Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source”, explains Tracy. “Eating carbs provides energy to the muscles, brain, and nervous system, facilitates the metabolism of fat, and ensures that the protein in muscles is not broken down to supply energy.
How much: The recommended intake of carbs is around 50% of your daily energy intake. Based on a diet of 2000 calories this equates to about 250g of carbohydrate per day. To put this into context; 100g uncooked pasta contains around 74g of carbohydrate. Other sources include 100g uncooked rice (80g), 100g bread (50g) and 100g uncooked potatoes (17g).
Unhealthy carbs foods and drinks that contain high amounts of sugar (the most quickly digested form of carbohydrate) include 100ml soft drinks (10g), 100g chocolate (57g) and 100g sweets (87g). These foods should be limited in the diet as they offer little nutritionally and can imbalance blood sugar levels and promote weight gain.
If you’re trying to lose weight then reducing your carbohydrate in favour of protein and healthy fats is a useful strategy. Low carb diets normally involve eating around 50 – 150g of carbohydrates per day.
What: There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbs, such as bread and pasta, cause your blood sugar to rise quickly; while complex carbs, such as fruits and vegetables, and wholegrains, are higher in fibre and raise blood sugar gradually.
When: When it comes to simple carbs: consume them before your work out, or straight after to help your body refuel your energy levels without hindering on protein consumption. The key to pre-workout carb intake is to consume easily digested carbs, so prevent you feeling sluggish. If you’re eating an hour or two before, opt for wholegrain bread (to make your turkey sandwich), or an apple or banana 10 minutes before.
Post-workout, “the general recommendation is 1.2g/per kg of bodyweight, per hour of exercise for the first four hours (e.g. 85g carbohydrate per hour for a 70kg athlete)”, adds Tracy.
“Fat is the body’s most concentrated source of energy, providing more than twice as much potential energy as carbohydrate or protein (9 calories per gram vs 4 calories per gram)”, explains Suzanne Girard in Endurance Sports, Third Edition. However, due to the amount of oxygen required for the body to break down fat to fuel exercise, relying solely on fat to get you through your work out will negatively impact both performance and endurance during high-intensity workouts.
How much: There are two types of fats: saturated and unsaturated. Overall, adults should consume no more than 70g of fat daily. Experts agree that as part of a healthy balanced diet, adult women should aim to eat no more than 20g of saturated fats per day, while men should eat no more than 30g. The rest of your daily intake should come from poly and mono-unsaturated fats.
What: Examples of saturates fats include: fatty and/or processed meats such as sausages and bacon, butter, hard cheeses, cream, coconut and palm oils, plus cakes, biscuits, crisps and chocolate. Unsaturated fats include: olive oil, some nuts, avocados and oily fish.
When: Fat is best used to serve low-intensity workouts to preserve oxygen usage, but is best to avoid saturated fats prior to any work out, as, similarly to protein, they are more difficult for the body to digest which may leave you feeling sluggish.
“Post exercise nutrition should be individualised to your needs, based on workload, fuel used, body size, body composition goals, and the period of time before your next session or event”, advises Tracy.
Electrolytes – An electrolyte drink or effervescent added to water will quickly replenish glycogen levels, plus fluids, minerals and salts lost during your workout/via sweat.
Vitamin C – Vitamin C is essential for wound healing and collagen formation, making it vital for healthy, efficient recovery in time for your next session.
Sour cherry juice – “Tart cherry juice has been used by endurance athletes for many years due to its recovery-boosting effects”, explains Tracy. Taken post-exercise, it can help prevent DOMS (delayed-onset muscle stiffness), muscle damage and fatigue, and help you sleep.