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Fuelling your weekday workout

Posted by: Julie Meek

It can be tough work juggling a demanding job and fitting in a workout as well as family and social commitments. Sometimes it simply doesn’t feel like there’s enough energy in your body (or hours in the day) to do all the things you need to do!

If you exercise regularly I’m sure you know the feeling of running on empty. So do you know how to give your body the energy it’s so desperately craving?

There is no doubt that you perform better when you make the effort to choose healthy food before, during and after your workout. Most of us are not professional athletes and need to structure our exercise routine around our working day and ensure both our bodies and brains are functioning at full energy.

What should you eat before your workout?

Whether your exercise session is before, during or after work, eating before exercise will give you the opportunity to top up your carbohydrate (glycogen) stores in the muscles and liver giving you the energy to workout harder and longer.

Ideally a meal should be consumed 3-4 hours before exercise and a snack 1-2 hours before. This gives your body time to digest and absorb the food before your training session starts. You don’t want your digestive system busy during your training session when your body needs to be focusing on delivering energy to your muscles.

The pre-exercise meal or snack should provide carbohydrate, which is the key fuel source for muscles during exercise. Beginning a training session with no fuel and low carbohydrate stores will inevitably lead to fatigue and reduced endurance, intensity and stamina.

In addition to carbohydrate, the food should be low in fat and contain moderate amounts of fibre to make digestion easier and avoid stomach upset. Fluid is also an important factor in preparing for a training session. For those who find it hard to eat before exercise, start with something small until your stomach gets used to it.

Some ideas for pre-training meals and snacks include:

Pre-training meals (3-4 hours before your workout)

  • Fruit toast with ricotta and banana
  • Baked potato with corn and cheese
  • Baked beans or spaghetti on wholegrain toast
  • Breakfast cereal with low-fat milk
  • Wholegrain sandwich with meat and salad filling
  • Fruit salad or berries with low-fat yoghurt
  • Pasta or rice with a low-fat sauce
  • Pita bread wrap with tuna and salad

Pre-training snacks (1-2 hours before your workout)

  • Fresh fruit
  • Canned fruit
  • Tub of low-fat yoghurt
  • Low-fat flavoured milk
  • Fruit bun or fruit scone
  • Low-fat breakfast drink

What should you eat after your workout?

A common complaint of athletes is fatigue and inability to recover. Quite often this is a result of poor recovery practices and insufficient carbohydrate. It is super important to replenish carbohydrate stores immediately after a training session. Timing is everything and ideally this snack should be within 15-30 minutes of finishing the session.

It is very easy to waste time after training, talking to friends, gathering belongings or just generally milling around. Keep an eye on your watch or set the timer to remind you.

Aim for 50g carbohydrate within the 15-30 minute window and then follow-up with something more substantial.

After hard exercise the recovery of carbohydrate stores (glycogen) is a relatively slow process and normally takes 24 hours. If adequate dietary carbohydrate is not consumed following exercise, recovery can take up to 7-10 days.

Protein is also very useful and essential for recovery – sports nutrition experts recommend 10-20g of protein alongside the 50g carbohydrate.

Try some of these snacks after your workout to assist your recovery:

• 1 high fibre muesli bar plus 1 piece of fresh fruit
• ½ cup of creamed rice and ½ cup tinned fruit
• 1 cup low-fat milk plus 1 banana
• 4 heaped tablespoons skim milk powder mixed with 250ml low-fat milk
• Protein bar
• 1 slice of wholegrain toast with 1 egg or 95g tuna in brine/spring water
• 1 wholemeal English muffin with peanut butter and sliced banana

If you're looking for more meal and snack ideas, LiveLighter have some tasty recipes that are ideal for before and after a workout. Don't forget check the nutrition information to ensure you're getting the right amount of carbs and protein.

When you’re pushing your body whilst exercising and then your brain at work, the smallest things can have a massive impact: eating too much or too little, not getting enough of the right nutrients, not allowing your body enough time to recover. Go to it!

Until next time...
Julie :)

About Julie Meek

Accredited practising dietitian, performance specialist, speaker

View all posts by Julie Meek

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