People who are super fit often ask me for advice about things that they should eat and do for optimum fitness. You know the type, those people who run a marathon with the same ease that I walk round to the shops. 😉
Whether you want to improve your health to lose weight, improve your health or run a marathon the diet should be based around the same things:
Fresh ingredients such as fresh poultry/fish/meat/eggs/tofu; fruit and vegetables; beans/pulses/legumes; wholegrain cereals and grains; healthy fats e.g. nuts, seeds, avocados, olive/ sunflower/ safflower oil.
But for those who want to improve their fitness and have the energy to do their super-duper exercise regime you need to eat more, and of the right things.
So you need to take into consideration these things when preparing for a mega exercise session. The body needs protein for muscle repair and it also needs carbohydrates and fats for energy. Also the body digests your food at different rates, the more complex the longer it takes:
Simple sugars will take about 15 minutes to get into your system.
Fruit 30 mins
Non starchy vegetables 40 mins
Fish/eggs upto 60 mins
Starchy vegetables 60 – 90 mins
Brown rice, beans, pulses, wholemeal grains, chicken, turkey 2 hours
Seeds, nuts and other healthy fats 3 hours
Red meat 3 – 4 hours
This isn’t an exact science but it’ll give you a general idea of how long you need to eat these things before you exercise, to get the maximum benefit; but to be honest try not to get too hung up on the timings.
On the day of training it is recommended that you eat a meal that contains proteins, complex carbs and fats. This will give you what you need for your exercise regime.
Some ideas include:
Portion of brown rice
Oatmeal with almond milk
Selection of nuts and seeds (unsalted variety)
Complex starches – fruits and vegetables
Almonds (packed full of protein!)
Did you know that soyabeans have more protein per 100 grams than a chicken breast?
So I’m sure you’re going to ask “So how long before a big race should I eat a meal?”
Well everyone is different and it depends on your comfort levels. You don’t want to go eating a large meal immediately before a race otherwise you’ll most probably end up with indigestion. I would recommend you eat a meal two – four hours before running, or a snack 30 mins – two hours before. Bear in mind the timings I have given you above for how long it takes to digest certain foods. Everyone is different, however, so it’s best trying things out to see what works best for you.
If you’re in for the long haul with your exercise regime (I’m talking a few hours!) then you could do with topping up your energy supplies along the way. You don’t want anything that’s going to take hours to digest as your exercise may well be over by then.
So things like:
Non starchy vegetables
Apple or banana with nut butter
Sweet potato smoothie
Nut bars/Nakd bars
Plenty of water!
I know many people use these commercial sports drinks but to be honest I wouldn’t recommend them. I have checked the ingredients for many of them and they are just full of sugar, artificial sweeteners and preservatives.
Instead choose fruit or vegetable juices (pressed not concentrated) this will provide you with plenty of glucose to keep you going, plus other vital nutrients.
You could also make your own glucose drink by mixing molasses with water. Ok I admit it doesn’t taste as great as some drinks but it will provide you with a hit of glucose and it also contains a good supply of calcium (50% rda), iron (95% rda), magnesium (38% rda).
If you are a vegetarian/vegan I would recommend you take molasses every day to make sure you are getting a good supply of iron in your diet.
After the training session, eat protein based meals to help your muscles recover, these should include poultry, fish, meat, soyabeans, eggs, beans & pulses, brown rice, peas, almonds. If you want to supplement then use whey powder or pea & rice protein to add to a shake. Muscle remains responsive to protein for atleast 24 hours after exercising so there’s no absolute rush to get it down you.
As you will have been sweating a lot it is important to replenish sodium and potassium levels so include foods such as beans, dark leafy greens, potatoes, squash, yogurt, fish, avocados, mushrooms, and bananas.
Magnesium is needed for your muscles to relax. Good sources include dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, fish, beans and lentils, brown rice, avocados, bananas.
Take an epsom salt bath this will also help you to replenish your magnesium levels and help your muscles relax. Put 500g of Epsom salts into a hot bath and soak in it for 15 minutes. You can also take magnesium as a supplement: 400 mg for men; 300 mg for women. And of course having a good deep tissue massage is always a winner to ease those aching muscles!
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