This post relates to two things very close to my heart – food and exercise, both very important things in keeping me happy! I haven’t always been this way, however and often struggled to get a good balance. I have always enjoyed food, but exercise never played a big part in my life until I was in my early 20s. It’s amazing how this has changed over the last few years, and now I start to feel fidgety and grumpy if I go for longer than a few days without some form of exercise.
I am often asked what are some good snacks to have before and after a good sweat sesh. This can be a tricky question to answer for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it really depends on your goals; are you trying to lose weight? Are you trying to increase muscle mass? What kind of exercise are you going to do/ just performed? How often do you exercise? What intensity do you work out at? How long are you going to exercise for? My answer would be different if you said you were going for a 2km walk and your overall goal was to lose weight compared to if you spent 60 minutes in the gym lifting some heavy weights or doing an intense circuit, which would again be different if you were going on a 21km run or 60km bike ride… You see, these things get tricky!!
Despite this, we can follow some basic guidelines to help us make informed choices about appropriate foods to pick.
Goals of pre-exercise nutrition
Ingest a snack which contains a fair amount of carbohydrate with some protein to ensure glycogen levels (stored glucose) are topped up and ready to fuel your workout and that protein is available to help in tissue repair post exercise.
Choose snacks that are easy to digest. Foods that are high in fat or too fibrous or with a very low GI may digest too slowly, meaning fuel is not available when you want it, or leaving you with gastrointestinal discomfort. Not sure about the meaning of GI – check this previous post on sugar http://bitewize.co.nz/article/is-sugar-really-the-big-bad-wolf-of-food/
Ensure adequate hydration prior to beginning exercise.
Appropriate snack choices
Fruit and nut butter e.g. 1 banana or apple or pear with 1Tbsp nut butter
Cereal and milk e.g. 1/2 cup cereal with 1/2 cup trim milk
Fruit and yoghurt e.g. 1 medium serve of fruit with 1 pottle of yoghurt
Creamed rice e.g. 1 small can – 1/2 large can
Banana and nut butter on toast e.g. 1 banana with 1 Tbsp nut butter on wholewheat toast
Fruit and cottage cheese e.g. 1 medium serve of fruit with 1/2 cup cottage cheese
Jam/ honey sandwich
Oats with fruit and yoghurt/ milk (lower GI) e.g. 1/2 cup oats with 1/2-1 serve fruit and 1/3 – 1/2 cup yoghurt/ trim milk
For people exercising heavily, sports drinks, gels and bars may be a good choice for them
You could even try my berry parfait
Check out how to make this here http://bitewize.co.nz/recipe/breakfast-berry-parfait/
Do I need to have a snack if I am trying to lose weight?
It’s often thought that if you don’t eat before a workout you will burn more fat during the workout. However, a more sensible approach is to rearrange when you eat your food to ensure adequate energy is available for your workout. This means you are not necessarily adding more energy (food) to your day overall, but that you are re-arranging the timing of it for best utilisation. You are likely to have increased output (burn more energy) during your workout if you have adequate energy pre workout. The last thing you want is to fatigue half way through your session, or not complete it to the best of your ability. It also helps prevent over eating post workout.
This is similar for early morning exercisers. You are likely to be able to work harder if you have something small to eat before you try to exercise rather than doing it on an empty stomach. To ensure you don’t end up over eating because you are suddenly eating two breakfasts, try having half of what you would normally eat for breakfast before your session, and half afterwards.
How long before I exercise should I eat?
Ideally you will have eaten a meal (breakfast/ lunch etc) 3-4 hours before your exercise session. A pre workout snack may be eaten 30-60 minutes before hand (examples as listed above) and remember to hydrate.
If you are racing early in the morning, some people prefer to have a bigger supper with a small snack before the race to ensure their glycogen levels are sufficiently topped up. Again, if you are a casual exerciser and trying to lose weight, you probably don’t require a large supper as this could lead to an excess of energy intake and thwart your weight loss goals!
What about food/ drink during exercise?
For the average person doing their 30-60 minutes/ day type exercise the only thing you should need to think about is hydration, and this does not need to be complicated. Water is your best option here. If you are working hard for 90 minutes or longer you may want to consider drinking something with some electrolytes in it to ensure you recover efficiently and replace salts lost through sweating.
A good tip to ensure you rehydrate adequately throughout a session is to weigh yourself before you start and immediately after you finish and work out the difference. You want to try and ensure that you don’t lose more than approximately 2% of your body weight. Any more than this and it has been associated with fatigue and impaired performance.
If you are involved in endurance events and races you will need to consume something during long training sessions and on the day. Fuel for these events is out of the scope of this blog post and would require individualised consideration. To get a few more tips have a look at a previous post I have written on sports nutrition http://bitewize.co.nz/article/want-to-maximise-your-workout-gains-then-you-need-to-keep-reading/
However to get you started consider the practicality of storing extra food/ fluid, ease of digestion and flavour – you may get sick of having something sweet all the time and a vegemite sandwich may be just what is needed!
You may need to try a few different things before you find your favourite snack, as people will have personal preferences about some things. Monitor your tolerance and output to different snacks to see what works best for you!
If you have an important competition/race/game, experiment before the big day, not on the day.
For tips on what to eat to re-fuel after exercise, check back here next week!