When it comes to your overall health and nutrition needs, have you got the right balance? Discovery Store principal dietitian Jae Braun shares some tips and advice on how you should be fuelling your exercise regime.
Even if you’re physically fit and healthy, training every day — and sometimes twice a day — can put a serious toll on your body. It’s hard work for your system to build and repair muscle, to convert the food you eat into the glucose that’s needed to fuel your cells, and to produce all the hormones and chemicals you need to survive — never mind to make it through your exercise routine.
According to Jae, the most important aspect of nutrition is that it should support the physical exertion you’re putting your body through. “General health is the foundation of endurance fitness. Therefore a high quality diet that includes fruit and veggies, complex carbohydrates and protein is essential,” she says.
1. Balancing calories
A healthy, balanced meal is very important. Finding the balance between spending calories exercising and taking in calories is also important because too few calories can:
- Decrease performance levels
- Cause fatigue
- Encourage cravings and hunger spikes
- Result in frequent injury or illness
Too many calories can:
- Lead to weight gain
- Decrease performance
“A high quality diet will satisfy an appetite that’s been increased by exercise in a calorie effective way,” says Braun.
2. Food versus supplements
If you’re training, it’s particularly important to eat enough protein. Because of this, many lean towards the supplements aisles in supermarkets to increase their daily intake, but it’s better to get your protein from whole foods as close to their natural state as possible. Protein requirements range from 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight, so work out how much you need.
Foods high in protein that are quick and easy to prepare, as well as store well include:
- Mixed beans
- Raw vegetable salads
- Cold roast chicken
- Boiled eggs
“Simply eating a carbohydrate and protein-rich snack within an hour of exercising helps your body to recover,” advises Jae.
3. Healthy food choices
When it comes to ‘eating right’, it can sometimes be tough to know what ‘right’ is. Make food your fuel with these guidelines:
- Breakfast: A good breakfast helps to fight fatigue and increase energy for the whole day. Breakfast should include complex carbohydrates and protein, so a bowl of oats with milk, granola with yoghurt or some whole wheat toast and a boiled egg makes for a very satisfying breakfast. Add a side of fresh fruit to increase the fibre and nutrient value. A smoothie also makes for a very convenient meal.
- Snacks: It’s important to include healthy snacks in your diet to help keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable throughout the day. Good snacks include air-popped popcorn, whole wheat crackers with cream cheese, nuts, or fruit.
- Lunch: Vary the size of this meal and its composition based on where it fits in with your exercise schedule — avoid eating too much within two hours before exercising. Lunch can include a small bowl of the previous night’s dinner, pasta with veggies and lean meat, a sandwich that’s light on sauce and includes some vegetables and protein or a tasty salad with chicken or beans and a side of fruit.
- Dinner: If you’re an afternoon exerciser, by dinnertime you should have already eaten your exercise recovery snack. If you’re exercising in the morning, a big dinner can still feel heavy in your stomach, so opt for a large bowl of veg with some grilled fish or chicken, a wrap, salad or a bowl of pasta. Stop eating when you feel full to avoid bloating.
Other healthy food options include:
- Whole wheat pasta, bread, and crackers
- Low fat dairy
- Lean meats like chicken and fish.
- Keep in mind that how you cook food affects health and nutrition: opt for grilling, baking, steaming and stir frying over deep frying or even shallow frying.
- It’s important that no matter what you eat, you remember that your diet supports your exercise training, whatever your fitness goals. Processed foods rich in unhealthy fats and sugars will hamper training efforts, while healthy foods rich in nutrients can support exercise goals.