Ever since I started exercising more seriously I’ve been interested in the various approaches to fuelling and refuelling that are recommended for optimal performance and recovery.
These guidelines tend to be recommended from most of the sources I have researched:
Before your workout
- Short workouts (less than 1 hour) – Snack on some easily digestible carbs about an hour before the workout – for example a banana or dried fruit
- Longer workouts (exceeding an hour) – Snack on a mix of easily digestible carbs with some protein, soluble fibre and fat – for example a banana with some nut butter added
Some people also recommend having caffeine before working out to improve performance, but of course this also has its drawbacks if you tend to have an energy slump after the initial boost or any GI issues!
During your workout
Water is obviously an essential, however if you are working out hard or long then you need to consider something more than water to a) replace electrolytes lost from sweat such as sodium, and b) to provide more direct fuel for energy. Options here include a typical commercial sports drink, many of which provide both energy and electrolytes, sports beans or gels or you can try adding some orange juice and a small pinch of salt to your drinking water. You can find some examples of commercial drinks and gels here: www.lucozadeshop.com
After your workout
A 4:1 ratio of carb to protein is the ideal for recovery. Carbs replace glycogen stores and the protein provides amino acids for muscle repair. Eating more protein than this immediately afterwards can impair this as it slows rehydration and replenishment of the glycogen stores. Usually a good way to go is to have something more carb heavy within 30 minutes after a long workout (for some people sports drinks may be easier and more convenient to digest to enable them to hit this 30 minute window) and then something with more protein in the 2 hours afterwards. The 2 hour post workout window is often talked about as being key for ensuring that you are getting the right nutrients for optimal recovery.
However, if your workout was more strength training based, then you have not depleted your glycogen stores quite as much as if you had been out running 10 miles so a protein shake or some yoghurt afterwards may be better.
Making it work for you
So this is what the nutrition books tell us is the ideal, however my approach is and has always been to experiment and find what works well for you! I know some people that prefer to eat something higher in fat for fuel rather than the recommended carbs. In the past and particularly when I was running, I experimented with sports drinks, dried fruit and various post workout meals such as smoothies, protein pancakes and big bowls of oats.
To give you an example of what has worked well for me, here’s how I approached this when I was running long distance:
- pre run – 2-3 medjool dates / empty stomach – I hate exercising with too much food in my tummy!
- During my run – I experimented with a few different things here, sometimes I was ok with just water, other times I diluted water with a sports drink or some coconut water, and instead of sports beans or gel I would take a few more dates with me to snack on – dates have and always will be my rocket fuel!
- Post workout – this was almost always a green smoothie (after long runs it was massive!) with protein powder, frozen fruit, greens and nut butter. If it was especially hot then I would add some coconut water too.
On race day I used to have porridge for breakfast with banana and peanut butter and then dates while I stood at the starting line, sports drinks during the race and then pretty much whatever food I could get my hands on afterwards! At last years Great North Run that included cinder toffee ;-) A tip of mine if you are entered into any races is to find out what sports drinks they may be offering at the water stations and try it out on a run before race day just to be sure it doesn’t give you a bad tummy!
I have to admit that now I’m no longer running I don’t worry myself too much about what I’m consuming before and after workouts as long as it doesn’t give me any tummy trouble. For working out first thing its usually an empty stomach, mid morning and I like to have oats or a sweet potato for breakfast, and for afternoon / early evening I just eat my usual afternoon snack that tends to be an apple and a raw snack bar or something similar. After a morning workout I still like to have a green smoothie that incorporates some protein powder and after an afternoon workout I tend to just eat my usual dinner which always includes some form of protein anyway. Green smoothies really can give you a double whammy when it comes to recovery. Not only are smoothies easy to digest and if using some protein powder and fruit, perfect for the right ratio of carbs and protein, but the greens are hydrating and anti inflammatory which is ideal for supporting your body after any form of exercise.
How do you fuel and refuel when you exercise? What are your favourite pre and post workout foods?
*post sponsored by Lucozade however all content and opinions are my own