All people who are interested in taking part in sport know that what they eat is important in affecting how they perform. For those people who simply take a morning jog or a single exercise class probably don’t have too much to worry about, but for those who work really hard in the gym or are looking to train for an event or personal target, what goes into the body needs to be carefully considered.
Carbohydrates are essential for exercise. The carbohydrate structure converts into glucose, sugar for the muscles which is then stored as glycogen. During exercise periods, this glycogen is what powers the body. Even during intense cardio or long, 90 minute workouts, these glycogen reserves are used to sustain performance. This is why many top athletes take part in ‘carb-loading’ for three days prior to their event, to build up these reserves in advance of their activity. For more normal exercise patterns, it is recommended to get around 70% of carbohydrate energy from quality sources like wholemeal bread, cereal and pasta.
In general, everyone can get the dietary fat they need from their normal diet. Foods rich in unsaturated fats are the ones to choose, including avocado, nuts, olives and fish like tuna and salmon. It is fat which the body will use for energy during exercise in the event that the carbohydrate glycogen supplies are depleted. Before exercise sessions, avoiding eating fats as these have sometimes caused stomach troubles for people.
Ask anyone which dietary group is most important for exercise and the response would likely be protein. Protein is essential for repairing and rebuilding muscle tissues, which are torn during exercise, and to help create new tissues during strength training for muscle mass. For many people, the best suggestion is to drink a milk-based liquid after exercise, as milk balances protein with carbohydrate and contains casein – good for recovery in the longer term. Others buy egg whites to use in omelettes and muffins, as they contain significant amounts of protein without the cholesterol-heavy yolks. Suppliers like www.proteinfoodsdirect.com are ideal for this, selling cartons of white which reduce the amount of food waste at home. Either way, eggs are a great solution for protein needs post exercise. Recent discussion of the nutritional value of eggs has shown that they contain significant nutrients useful for everyone, but athletes can benefit more than most.
Of course, the main thing that people need to remember during exercise is that their body needs water. Especially in hot weather, the body will lose a significant amount of water during exercise and can easily become dehydrated. A key point is to drink before the body is actually registering thirst, as at the point when one feels ‘thirsty’ the liquid levels in the body could be reaching severe dehydration. Intense exercise can also trigger a rapid fluid loss through sweat. After exercise, it is also important to remember that the body needs electrolytes. There are sports drinks on the market which offer these, but for replenishing fluids as well as electrolytes consider mixing the sports drink with water to a 50:50 ratio.