Exercise Fuel

Exercise fanatics and sports nutritionist don’t call it food they call it fuel, and if you’re a serious sports competitor, regular runner or you’re just starting out in the exercise world you’ll want to know what food you should be eating and when.

It’s called fuel for a reason; like any other machine your body needs fuel to do its thing, and if it’s doing its thing across 26 miles then it needs the right kind and amount of fuel to perform best.

There’s a huge amount of varying advice out there about what to eat before you exercise and there’s something to be said for trial and error. Every individual’s body is different and some of us will work better on certain foods than other, but below is a general guideline to get you moving in the right direction.

It’s all about carbs

Carb loading isn’t recommended unless you’re doing something like a marathon, but it is true that carbohydrates are the most important food stuff before you exercise. Carbs will raise your blood sugar level and give you the energy to go out there and put your body through the motions. When carbohydrate is eaten it breaks down into three kinds of smaller sugars glucose, fructose and galactose.

Any glucose which isn’t needed there and then gets stored away in the muscles and liver as glycogen and it is glycogen which is the ambrosia that fuels our body most during exercise. Taking in enough carbohydrates also prevents the body from using protein as energy. It’s the job of protein to help build muscles, bone, skin, hair and other tissues and if it’s caught up producing energy it will limit the body’s ability to make tissue (although this isn’t much of a risk unless you are doing very intense exercise).

At least 45 minutes before

Since the body takes time to digest food it’s recommended to leave at least 45 minutes between eating and exercising, ideally an hour or more depending on how much you’ve eaten. If you can’t leave 45 minutes in between eating and doing physical activities then you’re recommended to have something small with simple carbohydrates like fruit or fruit juices. According to sports nutritionist Rebecca Scritchfield, if you have 45 minutes or under to eat, a general guideline is to consume one gram of carbs for every kilogram of your body weight.

What to eat?

Cereal: hot or cold, preferably something with oats, bran or whole grain.

Peanut butter: peanut butter is praised the world over by sports enthusiasts as an easy and tasty way to get your carbs in. If you don’t like peanut butter try nutella.

Smoothies: smoothies are a great snack to have in the 45 minute window between a proper meal and exercise. Blend fruits with milk or ice and sip away!

The Faithful Banana:

The banana is recommended as a kind of super fruit in the exercise world. It’s recommended before and after exercise as a great way to get your carbs. One distance runner decided to investigate where the mythology around the revered banana came from, and what scientific basis there was. He came across a study indicating that actually a high carb drink (an energy drink like Gatorade for example) had the same effect. Still, if it’s doing the same thing a banana is likely to be a lot cheaper and some energy drinks have added sugars and the like which make them far less healthy than a reliable banana.

Eating for exercise is reasonably common sense. Carbohydrates give you the essential energy you need but this doesn’t mean you need to “carb load” before exercise. Ask your physiotherapist if you would like further advice!

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