To Eat or Not To Eat – Food for fuel


In the Old Days…
Back in the day of black and white football it wasn’t uncommon for players to turn up to the game with a hangover after eating a very heavy meal the night before and  enjoying a halftime swig of alcohol and a ciggie and of course a  healthy piece of orange! Things have moved on since those days and todays athletes meals are scientifically planned to the last crumb. Hold on, we last won the World Cup in ’66, maybe there is something in this…..!

What works for one…
What and how much you eat really does vary from one person to the next. There isn’t a right or a wrong choice, it all boils down to what works for you. You need to experiment until it feels right.

When I run long distances, 10k, half marathons or a full marathon I am a Carb Craver! My body will not function without a constant supply of carbohydrates throughout my training. My colleague on the other hand is a Fat Fiend! He fuels his body before endurance training with dark chocolate, coconut oil and macadamia nuts, all of which are fats. Had we swapped diets I would have been sick and he would have felt sluggish and bloated!

The Sciencey bit!
Before you can work out what is going to be best for you it will be helpful for you to understand how our body uses energy, pay attention at the back….

The first source of energy which only lasts for a few seconds is creatine phosphate; the second is adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is stored in our body. At maximal exertion this will have run out after about a minute. If the activity we are doing goes on for a long period of time we then go to our carbohydrate stores and fat stores which keeps us going for longer, still with me?

The type of workout that we are doing and for how long and how hard we are working will determine our energy needs.

It’s important that we eat a healthy balanced diet every day so that when it’s needed your body can leap into action like a coiled superman/woman!

We need a variety of macronutrients which are carbohydrates for instant energy, protein to build and repair muscles and fats for long term energy. We also need a balance of micronutrients which are vitamins and minerals and water.

So, what should you eat?
Over the 250 years that I have been a Fitness Instructor I have trained 1,000’s of people and it never ceases to amaze me that people don’t eat when they know that they will be exercising that day. They are easy to spot: they are the ones who start off well, getting into the swing of things, having a little laugh with their mates in the studio, 20 minutes in they have gone from a healthy looking pink with a touch of fuchsia to a worrying white with a touch of grey on the Dulux paint chart. Next they start to sweat, go clammy and the end result is they are lying on their backs in the middle of a busy studio with their legs in the air! Sound familiar?

Food is fuel people, you don’t expect to hop into your car ignoring the Feed Me Now, I need Petrol sign (how annoying is that by the way?) and drive to Aberdeen. We need fuel to fire up our engine and keep us ticking along nicely.

Of course if you get it wrong and you eat too much before you exercise you can feel sluggish, bloated, tired and saying hello to your last meal again (sorry!)

It’s all about timing
You can time eating to whatever suits you but in general; the closer you get to your workout the more simple your meal should be.  If you have two- three hours before exercise you will be able to digest and absorb food into your blood stream. You can have a more complex meal of protein, fat and fibre. A whole grain sandwich with chicken or turkey, roasted vegetables and advocado would be ideal.

If you only have an hour before working out, eat something that is quickly absorbed like cereal or fruit. Banana and yoghurt would be a good choice.I do know of people (well, a person) who eats their main meal of the day before they exercise and then moans that they are uncomfortable throughout the session but she is just weird!

Tea break
For a normal activity session you won’t need to eat half way through your session. As long as you have fuelled your body before you started you don’t need to shove in some more food at half time of your football match unless you are Luis Suarez of course! If you are doing an endurance event then you will probably need to replenish at some point, all energy systems can get depleted. The best Jelly Baby I have ever eaten was at the 23 mile post of the London Marathon!

What should you eat after exercise?
15-60 minutes after your workout is the best time to eat carbohydrate foods such as a banana as this is when enzymes that make glycogen are most active and will quickly replace the lost glycogen stores in the muscles. Protein will help muscles repair so try and have some protein fortified milk or turkey slices.

Most important is to replenish your fluid intake, it is very important to keep your body hydrated.

You train your body to react well to exercise; you can train it to eat before or after exercise. Getting it right will have a huge impact on your ability, for the better.

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