21st May 2018 by Jess
Whether you’re starting a new gym routine or you simply want to maximise your workout, what you put into your body will affect everything from your performance and recovery rate of recovery to your long-term enjoyment and success in that sport.
A common question that comes up a lot with our grazers and also my clients in my online nutrition practice is “What should I eat around my exercise to get the most out of my workout?”
Today, I’m going to share 7 foods for you to eat to fuel your workouts and how they relate to workout nutrition specifically. The food examples below are by no means an exhaustive list, and instead, I recommend you use them as a starter guide to help you on your way to ensuring you optimise the hard work you put in the gym.
Any information you read around nutrition principles should be applied in general terms since everybody has a different genetic makeup, lifestyles, fitness goals and metabolisms.
pre & post workout snacks
If you’d like to learn about some quality questions you can ask yourself around exercise and snacking so you can further personalise your routine, check out this blog post I did in 2017:
In a nutshell, you want to focus on consuming carbohydrates which will help to increase your glycogen stores and healthy fats and protein to help with muscle recovery.
We have three main energy systems which are used to supply our body with energy to power our every move; depending on the number of times you train, the intensity you train at and the type of exercise you do, this will determine which energy system in the body is predominantly used to power that movement.
From creatine phosphate through to glycogen stores in our liver and muscles, our body has an amazing ability to ensure we function well and to dip into the required fuel type we need, as long as it’s on hand.
The trusty banana. This yellow fruit is a sportsman’s favourite for many reasons. Not only is it packaged up in its own case (which makes it very portable and hygienic to carry in a gym bag) it’s also a simple, yet effective food to eat before or after an intense workout. It can even be used during if the workout is intense and prolonged.
Bananas contain vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre and simple carbohydrates (i.e. sugar) that allow your body to perform better and longer. Your body's preferred fuel for immediate, easy-to-access energy is sugar, and bananas contain around 14g of natural sugar per medium-sized banana. A banana ahead of an intense workout would be ample to power that exercise, or if your workout is low intensity or a shorter timeframe, you can enjoy half a banana.
Everyone is different and our needs are unique; pay attention to how you feel before, during and after your workout to vary the amount for you and your body.top 10 ways to use bananas
Apples are another useful fruit to have on hand for a quick burst of energy before a workout. They naturally contain fructose and glucose which can help overall performance by increasing stamina and cognitive ability. The glucose helps replenish the body and support muscle recovery.
Top tip: enjoy an apple as a quick snack before a workout, either by itself or alongside your previous meal.
It’s no secret that berries of all kinds (strawberries, blackberries, raspberries or blueberries) are good for you. They’re a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and fibre and their staple inclusion in your diet can reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease, inflammation and certain cancers according to science. In relation to exercise, they can help to speed up muscle recovery after a hard workout which will mean you can train harder with reduced likelihood of injury in your next workout.
Top tip: keep a stash of frozen berries in your freezer when they’re not in season. This way, you have access to berries year-round and can enjoy them with your porridge in the mornings or blended in a smoothie.the complete berry encyclopedia
This blue-green tiny algae has been used for centuries due to its potent nutrient content. Just two tablespoons of this algae deliver 8 grams of protein so it’s a great source of plant amino acids for vegetarians or people wishing to include more plant foods into their diet.
Spirulina is not only a rich source of essential amino acids, but also gamma-linolenic acid (an essential omega-6 fatty acid), fibre, B vitamins, calcium, phosphorous, iron, pigments such as beta-carotene, xanthophylls, and chlorophyll, and other bioactive compounds. It has an array of health benefit from boosting immunity, protecting the liver, reducing allergic reactions and when it comes to sport-specific benefits, improving muscle endurance and oxidative stress.
Top tip: add it to your smoothie in the morning so you know you have all the above health angles covered.
Nutritional yeast is a food that is becoming more and more well known, thanks to the vegan or plant movement. It has a strong flavour, the taste is similar to a rich sharp cheddar cheese, hence why it’s so popular in vegetarian and vegan lifestyles — it makes the perfect dairy-free cheesy substitute.
Nutrition-wise it’s a great source of B vitamins, protein, and fibre, in a very small volume - just two tablespoons supplies 8-10 grams of protein.
Top tip: add a tablespoon of nutritional yeast to potatoes, popcorn, kale or cauliflower for an added cheese-flavoured protein and nutrient boost.
Quinoa is a seed which comes in a few different colours, from red, black, and yellowish-white. It contains fibre, carbohydrates, zinc, iron, copper, vitamin E as well as B vitamins and it’s also a complete protein since it contains all essential amino acids. It’s a very versatile ingredient in the kitchen as it can be used with a sweet or savoury flavour profile, and it works amazingly as a base to a salad, with roasted veggies and pesto mixed through, or used as a base to a stir-fry in place of rice. You can also get quinoa as ‘flakes’ which have a similar texture to oats, so you can enjoy quinoa porridge in the morning or a mix of oat and quinoa flakes with your muesli to expand the nutritional profile of your breakfasts.
Top tip: make a muesli mix of oats and quinoa flakes for your breakfast or a quick snack.the benefits of quinoa
Sweet potatoes are a great source of complex carbohydrates, dietary fibre and vitamins A and C which help to support your body from oxidative stress which occurs at increased levels during exercise. They also contain minerals like copper, manganese and B vitamins which keep our blood sugars balanced and our bodies fighting inflammation, as well as potassium which plays a big role in muscle control.
Top tip: enjoy a baked potato for dinner with warmed up beans or chilli con/sin carne and a big side of spinach.loaded sweet potato toasts
By Jess, graze nutritionist.
Our nutritionist extraordinaire, Jess trained at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition and is a registered practitioner with the British Association for Applied Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She's the creator of our health badges, to help you choose the snacks and boxes that are right for you. Check out everything from Jess on our blog, with recipes and tricks to help you keep making better choices, or go to her website at jessntom.com for even more.
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