When you eat, is second only to what you eat, in terms of its effect on your performance and your recovery.
Three time zones are particularly important in terms of sports nutrition; the four hours leading up to your exercise, the exercise period itself and the two hours immediately after exercise.
Yes, what you eat for the rest of the day is important, yes what you eat on your rest days is important, but to get the most out of the effort you put in, you must master your pre, during and post exercise nutrition.
“Always aim for a full tank of energy before exercise”
There are many nutritional factors that can cause the early onset of fatigue and affect your performance. Many of these however, can be alleviated by what you eat and drink in the 4 hours leading up to exercise to maximise your liver glycogen stores.
The only way for you to optimise sports nutrition for you, is to experiment around the guidelines and find out what works best, for you! I know from my time in professional football that players have their own preferences, their own routine. They have experimented over the years and have found what works best for them. Although it’s never good to start exercise feeling hungry, I know several players who prefer to start a match feeling a little peckish.
You should always aim for a full tank of energy before you exercise by consuming food and drinks that can be digested easily whilst at the same time avoiding refined, processed and simple carbs. Carbohydrates should compose the majority (60-70%) of your intake, aiming for 1-4g of carbs per Kg of bodyweight. This is quite a range, 65g-260g if you weigh 65kg, which is exactly why it is so important to experiment and find what suits you, what you feel comfortable with. Unfortunately, even with practice it is possible to overdo it and cause gastrointestinal discomfort. Remember Paula Radcliffe’s awfully embarrassing upset in the 2005 London Marathon?
Consuming protein before exercise will help reduce muscle protein breakdown and increase muscle building. Remember that proteins take longer to breakdown and be absorbed than carbs, so don’t leave it until the last minute to take your protein snacks. Always try to get your proteins at least an hour before exercise and try to find a healthy balance between carbs and protein intake that suits you, ideally aiming for 50-110g of protein.
Eating protein and carbohydrate rich meals before and immediately after training has been shown to be hugely beneficial for both body composition and performance, compared to eating the identical meals in the morning and the evening.
There are few, if any, benefits to eating fat during and in the four hours leading up to exercise and in general they should be avoided due to the risk of gastrointestinal discomfort. Without going into too much detail, I refer back to Paula Radcliffe!
Consuming carbohydrates during exercise reduces fatigue and reduces reliance on your body’s own glycogen stores. In general you should aim to eat 30g-90g of carbs per hour during any exercise lasting over 60 minutes. The most convenient sources of carbs during exercise are sports drinks and carbohydrate gels which have the added benefit of helping with your hydration.
Although eating protein during exercise is widely thought to improve performance, at the moment, although it will not do you any harm, there is no conclusive evidence to support the claims that it will improve performance.
As mentioned earlier, avoid ingesting fat during exercise.
“The ideal window for you to replenish your glycogen stores is within
15-30 mins post exercise”
Even moderate intensity, moderate duration exercise will deplete your muscle and liver glycogen stores. The ideal window for you to replenish these stores is within 15-30 mins post exercise. Immediately after training is one time when high GI carbohydrates are favourable and you should aim to consume 1g-1.5g per kg of bodyweight within 15-30 mins.
Muscle hypertrophy occurs when protein synthesis is greater than muscle breakdown and for this to occur you need to get amino acids into your blood, preferably from full protein sources such as whey or casein which contain high levels of branched chain amino acids (BCAA). You should aim for a protein intake of about 0.2g per kg of bodyweight within 15-30 minutes of your exercise finishing.
Combining your carbohydrate and protein post exercise, at a ratio of approximately 3-carbs to 1-protein, enhances their intake into muscle cells. A great example of a post workout combined carbohydrate and protein snack would be something like a good quality, protein rich, chocolate milk shake.
Well, time for me to refuel before going out on my bike. My pre-match meal was always poached egg and beans on toast. Back then I never gave nutrition a second thought, but it turns out it wasn’t a bad little snack after all. If I could live my life again I would seriously have to reconsider my post-match nutrition though. Apparently 4 pints of lager and a packet of crisps wasn’t as good for me as I thought!
My third and final nutrition blog, will look at hydration and the use of sports supplements such as protein, beetroot juice and sodium bicarbonate. Yep, supplementing with baking powder can help improve your performance!