How to time food around exercise to get the best results

Nutrient Timing: When to consume your carbohydrates and proteins is key. If you eat in good time before you exercise and your blood sugar is stable, there is less need to eat so quickly afterwards.

Pre-training: Having a good store of energy in muscles (muscle-glycogen) will allow optimal intensity and achieve a greater training effect. A low store of muscle energy leads to early fatigue, reduced training intensity and lower performance.

The best way to obtain glycogen is from complex (slow releasing) carbohydrates i.e. brown rice, wholegrain bread, rye bread, oat and rice cakes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin or butternut squash. Consuming protein as well as carbohydrates before training can significantly increase the amount of protein the muscles absorb during the workout and over the next few hours. This is significant because the more amino acids (the building blocks of protein) the body retains, the greater the speed of recovery and growth of muscle.

If possible eat meals one to three hours before a training session or competition. For training sessions lasting under two hours you can rely on fat stores for energy and consume fewer carbohydrates in the form of sports drinks. Avoid refined sugars (i.e. sports drinks and confectionary) before a competition/training starts as they cause a high insulin drive and you may be in a downward slope in your blood sugar level before you compete, giving you the feeling of ‘heavy legs’.

Post–training: Ensure that you consume protein with carbohydrates in a ratio of one protein: two carbohydrates as soon as possible after exercise in order to optimise recovery. Post training muscle-glycogen is depleted and increased cortisol levels are beginning to breakdown muscle tissue and the only way to reverse this is to consume a quickly digestible post-workout meal within half an hour to an hour.

Protein is needed to build and repair muscle, and carbohydrate to replenish muscle glycogen. The surge of carbohydrates and amino acids from a quickly digested meal causes an insulin spike that puts nutrients into the muscle cells. This is more important if you are doing more than one training session in a day. If you are training once a day it is possible to rebuild your glycogen store over 24 hours.

Following training, ideally eat a meal containing lean protein i.e. chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, nuts, or beans and slow releasing carbohydrates i.e. brown basmati rice, sweet potatoes, squash, plus a range of coloured vegetables/salad containing antioxidants.

If you train at a time when it is not possible to eat within an hour, having a recovery drink combining protein and glucose or maltodextrin is equally important to improve glycogen replenishment, recovery and protein synthesis.

I would suggest blending up some whey protein isolates powder (20g), fruit juice, two tbsp natural yogurt, half a cup of berries, a banana, seeds, one tbsp nut butter to make a recovery smoothie. For added omega-3 you could also add hemp or flaxseed oil, and for antioxidant support powdered greens or fruit powders (available in a health food shop).

Wait a few hours before consuming fat as it inhibits carbohydrate absorption.

If you train in the evening a pre bed-time snack of yogurt, whey protein, coco powder, a tsp of raw honey with some grated raw chocolate on the top will drive up serotonin, tryptophan and melatonin so that you are not breaking down muscle at night.

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Written by a listed nutritionist

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