We should all be aiming to look after and nourish our bodies, and food and nutrition of course has a huge role to play in this. We also need to be mindful of the fact that we should be eating to match our energy needs, particularly if you are very active. When exercising, your body will use significantly more energy and you need to make sure you are fuelling and refuelling with adequate amounts of food to cater to the amount of exercise you are doing. This is where nutrition is very important.
Eating well for sports and exercise has a variety of benefits. Good nutrition allows you to perform better and keep you more energised. It may reduce the risk of injury whilst exercising. It can also aid better recovery after your workout or training. A well balanced diet should include starchy foods (carbohydrates), plenty of fruits and veg, protein and essential fats. In addition to nutrition, it is extremely important to stay hydrated before, during and after your workout or physical activity.
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Foods and nutrition to fuel your exercise
Carbohydrates are very important for energy. Once eaten, carbs are broken down into glucose in order to provide the body with readily and available energy. This may be the most important food group in regards to fuelling physical activity. It is essential that carbs play a role in your overall diet as they are the bodies preferred source of energy. The muscles are able to store carbs in glycogen and use this for energy for both the brain and body whilst exercising. However it is important to refuel glycogen stores post workout. Failure to do so will likely result in fatigue and lack of energy and perhaps hinder muscle recovery. All carbohydrates are helpful but wholegrains also contain fibre, B vitamins and folate.
Protein is essential for the body to grow, repair and maintain muscle and body cells and tissues. Therefore, it is very important in regards to training. Protein foods contain different amounts of amino acids – the building blocks to protein. Essential amino acids cannot be synthesised by the body thus must be obtained from food. Animal proteins such as meat, fish and eggs contain a complete amino acid profile. Plant sources such as soy and quinoa, also contain a complete amino acid profile but other plant proteins like beans, chickpeas and rice, need to be paired together in order for you to get all those essential amino acids. There are many different recipes that are nutritious and great for pre and post exercise.
Therefore, those who eat more plant based or are vegan, need to be mindful of their protein sources and the amount in which they are eaten – often you will need to eat more plant protein in order to obtain adequate amounts. The amount of protein you will need will depend on size, weight, gender and physical activity levels. Consuming a well balanced diet with protein at each meal and snack, should ensure you are getting enough but a lot of gym – goers will rely on protein powders too.
Fat is also an essential nutrient for the body. There are different types of fat (saturated and unsaturated) and research suggest opting for more unsaturated fats is preferable. Food sources that contain essential fats include: oily fish, nuts, avocado and olive oil.
Stay well hydrated! As well as nutrition, water intake is crucial when exercising and recovering from your workout. Physical activity causes the body to heat up which results in sweating. This often leads to loss of water and salts in the body. The amount of salts and water lost will depend on the type and intensity of the workout, and the individual. As expected, hotter environments will cause a person to sweat more thus losing more water. Dehydration can really effect you in a negative way. You may feel faint, dizzy or very tired so making sure you hydrate after your workout is absolutely essential.
Ideally you want to be consuming a meal 2-3 hours before your exercise or training program. If you are snacking, it is best to wait an hour or so before you hit the gym. You need to enable your food to digest before physical activity.
If you don’t eat anything at all, hours before training, you may not perform as well as you could do, or worse, become dizzy and lightheaded.
Starchy foods such as oats, are a good pre workout food as your body needs glucose to fuel your workout.
Firstly – rehydrate! Water is essential for the body to replace loss of electrolytes and fluids.
Food wise, you want to make sure you are refuelling with carbs and protein in particular. Ideally you would eat within 60 minutes of working out, especially if you have had a very vigorous training session. Don’t forget that balance is key and you also need to include fruits, veg and essential fats in your post workout meal too!