We’ve all be told, at one point or another, that a healthy lifestyle is a balance of diet and exercise. But being told nutrition is important and actually understanding what a healthy diet looks like in relational to your fitness regime are two very different things.
Luckily, our sports and performance expert Emily breaks down the key things she thinks you need to know around pre and post workout meals and how much energy you should be consuming while also sharing some nutrition myths you should be aware of.
What should your pre and post workout meals look like?
Keeping our bodies fuelled with nutritious food is essential for our everyday function. The foods we eat assist in determining our energy levels, recovery, sleep, mood, and provide the energy required for all the physiological processes that keep us alive. When we take the time to exercise and better our health, it only makes sense that we should be fuelling our bodies correctly.
Nutrition is a widely researched topic with many differing opinions of what is best, however it is important to know how much energy we think you should be consuming, and the type and timing of food intake to maximise your training and recovery.
Why is nutrition important for training?
For our body to perform optimally, we need to be fuelling it with foods that are going meet the demands of training and provide us with enough energy. Just like your car, you won’t get too far on an empty tank. The foods that’s we eat before we train are going to be a key factor in determining how well we perform. Just as importantly, the foods we eat after exercise will play an instrumental role in determining how well we recover.
How much energy should you be consuming?
As energy consumption is different for everyone, a good way to gauge your daily energy intake is by first determining what your daily estimated energy expenditure is. The ‘Harris-Benedict’ equation is commonly used for this and is based on your age, sex, weight, and body composition. This can be done using the following equations:
- Male – 66.5 + (13.75 x weight in kg) + (5.003 x height in cm) – (6.755 x age in years)
- Female – 665 + (9.563 x weight in kg) + (1.850 x height in cm) – (4.676 x age in years)
(The only numbers that will change within this equation are weight, height and age. All other numbers are part of an equation that estimates an individual’s daily heat production).
You can then apply an activity factor to determine your daily energy expenditure, which is quantified in calories. To do this, multiply your estimated energy expenditure result from above, to the appropriate activity factor below:
- Seated work, sedentary = x 1.2
- Seated work, light exercise = x 1.4
- Moderately active, exercise 3-5x/week = x 1.6
- Physical work, heavy exercise = x1.8-2.3
You can now use this as a guide for how many calories you should consume to meet your daily energy demands. If you’re more of an app person and are looking to keep track of the foods you’re eating, MyFitnessPal do all the hard work for you and are an excellent resource for keeping track of your calories, macronutrients and micronutrients.
According to Dieticians Australia, your energy intake should come from the following macronutrient split:
15 - 25% Protein
- Eggs, chicken, lentils, Greek yoghurt, fish)
45 - 65% Carbohydrate
- Oats, bananas, apples, potato’s, pumpkin, brown rice)
20 - 35% Fat (with no more than 10% from saturated fat)
- Cheese (in moderation!), avocados, nuts, salmon, olives
The Australian Dietary Guidelines also provide the recommendations for nutritional requirements for different groups.
Fueling your body pre training
Prior to training, it is important to be sufficiently hydrated (see our hydration blog here) and ensure our body has enough glycogen (carbohydrate) stores to produce energy. Depending on the intensity of the session, it is recommended that you eat between 90 minutes and 4 hours prior to exercise. Ideally, try to consume 150-300g of carbohydrates, and if you’re looking to build muscle, including protein can be beneficial. It is also important to choose options low in fat and fibre to prevent digestions issues. Some good pre-training options include:
- Porridge with fat reduced milk
- Pasta with a tomato-based sauce
- Smoothies with fat reduced milk and yoghurt
Fuelling your body post training
After training, your main goal should be to rehydrate and replenish your carbohydrate and protein stores. Aim to do this within 30 minutes post exercise to maximise the replenishment of glycogen stores, however anywhere up to a few hours post exercise is still beneficial. Aim to consume 1.0 – 1.5g of carbohydrate per kg of body mass (high GI if possible), and 0.4 – 0.5g protein per kg of body mass if you’re looking to increase muscle mass. Some good post-training options include:
- Electrolyte drinks
- Dairy based smoothies
- Chocolate milk
- Protein powders (if intake cannot be met through foods)
- Yoghurt and fruit salad
- Most importantly – rehydrate!
Please note: Before making significant changes to your diet, you should always consult your GP or Dietician for guidance appropriate to your needs.
Low-fat or fat free = best choice ...
This is something we see too often on foods, instantly it makes us think it must be the healthier option. But how often have you looked at the nutritional value to see what’s in it? Often, these options have the same calorie content as the non-fat free option and are filled with sugar, salt, or fillers ultimately making them a less healthy version. Keep in mind that not all fats should be avoided, trans and saturated fats should be kept to a minimum, whereas monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are known as the ‘good fats’ and are a healthy component of our diet. So, next time you see the fat-free stamp – check the nutritional label first!
Muscle cramps are due to low potassium ...
While it might not be fair to say this is a complete myth, there is still no definitive conclusion on the cause of exercise associated muscle cramps. It has been suggested that dehydration, fatigue, electrolyte imbalance, neuromuscular imbalance could all be contributing factors. To reduce cramping, ensure you have adequate fuel and hydration levels and reduce any unnecessary muscle demand (correct running technique, having a strong core etc.)
Sports drinks are the best choice during exercise ...
Sports drinks have their place when it comes to providing a fast source of carbohydrate, or quickly replenishing lost electrolytes after heavy exercise. However, these drinks should not be used as a replacement for water and do not need to be consumed during low-moderate exercise. Sports drinks are most beneficial when consumed for replenishment and enhancing performance during endurance events or prolonged high intensity training. As these drinks contain high amounts of sugar and citric acid, which is known to damage tooth enamel, it is not recommend that they be consumed on a regular basis.