Nutritional therapist Henrietta Norton explains how to eat to fuel your body for activity
January often brings about the desire to exercise more often and find a new health routine for the year ahead. Whilst the enthusiasm, or not, may be there, it is important to eat well to support your body properly. Here’s what I recommend you do.
What you eat and drink post-workout is vital for improving your fitness and body composition. You could end up burning muscle rather than fat, or struggling to complete your planned workout, if you don’t eat the right foods at the right time.
You must ensure your pre-workout food contains carbohydrates and protein, and that you have it at least one hour before working out. Try having the following foods before starting an exercise session.
• One or two oatcakes with mashed banana and a small sprinkling of cinnamon (which helps stabilise your blood sugar levels)
• A small bowl of oatmeal with fresh berries
• Apple wedges with almond butter
• Yoghurt (soya or dairy; sugar free) with berries and a small sprinkling of sunflower or pumpkin seeds
• A protein smoothie. If you find this is too much, simply have half before your workout and the rest after exercise
What you eat and drink after exercise is vital for improving your fitness and body composition. Follow the guidelines below.
Replace: Your muscles cannot fully recover until your cells are properly hydrated. Pure water is the best source of hydration for the average exerciser. Sport drinks like Gatorade replenish electrolytes (salts like potassium and sodium) but contain large amounts of sugar and calories. Only athletes may need the extra electrolytes that make sports drinks worth the sugar and calories. Coconut water is an alternative to sports drinks, offering plenty of potassium and magnesium, which restore your electrolyte levels.
Refuel: You need to replace the carbohydrate fuel you’ve used up during your session. If you don’t do this, you will feel lethargic after your workouts – the opposite of what exercise should make you feel – and your next workout session will be harder to get through. You can get your carbs from wholegrains such as quinoa, buckwheat noodles, fruits and veggies.
Rebuild: You need plenty of protein to repair muscle cells, jumpstart recovery and prevent muscle loss. (The amount of protein depends on your body weight, activity intensity level, length of workout, and gender, but you usually need 10–20g). Try to eat up to 30 minutes afterwards (for cardio sessions) and up to two hours post workout (for more strength training sessions). If you plan on doing another session within 24 hours, the sooner you refuel and repair, the better.
Ideally, you could try and time your workouts so you have a main meal afterwards (either breakfast, lunch or dinner – just ensure your meal is properly balanced with proteins, fats and complex carbs. For example, you could have a meal with a plant or animal protein (such as chicken, fish, beans, lentils or tofu) with quinoa and vegetables, or you could eat a salmon stir-fry with buckwheat noodles.
Post-workout snack ideas:
• Spinach salad with sliced chicken breast or a tofu fillet
• Protein smoothie (in the warmer months) or chicken or greens broth soup (in the colder and darker months)
• Veggie omelette
• Half an avocado with hummus and a tomato.
Try to eat foods of all colours. Exercise causes inflammation and free radicals in the body, so you need lots of antioxidants hanging around to mop these up. Ensure you eat plenty of colourful fruits and vegetables – get a rainbow of colour daily!
Henrietta Norton is a nutritional therapist, author and co-founder of Wild Nutrition (wildnutrition.com). She has clinics at Grace Belgravia and SP & Co in London.
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