Eat Right for Your Exercise

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Don’t know the right foods to eat when exercising? Here’s a guide on what you should eat according to your exercise.

Whether it be for yoga, HIIT, weights or running, these are the best foods to eat for different exercises.

When we can make the connection between how we move our body and how we fuel our body with food, we are on track to a whole new level of appreciation for what we can achieve living a healthier lifestyle.

The question ‘what are the best foods to eat for my training or practice?’ is a pretty interesting question because there are many ways to answer it. Firstly, how we eat generally comes down to what we like to eat, what we need to eat to stay healthy long term and reduce disease risk, and how active we are day to day.

Once these points have been established, it becomes obvious that there are many ways to eat that can yield great results. When we layer over the idea of eating to enhance our performance, we are really just adding in a few extra parameters including the type of training, training goals, duration and intensity of the session and once again, personal preference.

The following descriptions aim to provide more detailed insight into how you might approach fuelling according to the type of exercise you do regularly.

HIIT

(High Intensity Interval Training)

This type of training is characterised by short, sharp bursts of exercise that spike and drop your heart rate multiple times in the session. These sessions are usually less than 60 minutes and can be as short as 10-20 minutes.

The way our body’s energy systems work means that you could not keep up these high intensity bursts of movement for longer that say 10-20 seconds, before slowing right down, or needing to stop completely, compared to slower sub-max efforts like jogging.

Undertaking high intensity exercise under fuelled means that you are likely going to flat line early due to low glycogen stores (glycogen is the stored form of glucose AKA carbs which we get from our diet).

As glucose is there preferred fuel source for the body, particularly when there is high intensity activity going on, having a source of carbohydrates close training is beneficial.

We could go down the rabbit hole of utilising fats as energy, however for someone new to exercise and nutrition, we will keep it simple and say that given HIIT uses 100% carbs to fuel the exercise, carbs should be the preferred macronutrient.

So, when it comes to fuelling and refuelling for this session, we need to prioritise having a small snack carb rich snack prior to ensure we can go hard and replenishing our muscle glycogen stores for the next session with carbohydrates and provide some protein to assist with muscle repair.

Great foods to eat around a HIIT training session include:

  • Fruit, because it not only contains carbs, but vitamins and antioxidants, is easy to consume of the run, especially if you are training early and is a great fibre source.
  • Rice cakes are a super portable carbohydrate source and can be topped with lots of different ingredients for a solid pre-training snack. Plus, they are gluten free for those who do not tolerate gluten. Try them with banana and ricotta or almond butter and strawberries.
  • Whey protein powder is an easily digested source of protein derived from milk that acts quickly to repair muscles and is easy to carry around and add with water post training.
  • Yoghurt contains a bit of carbohydrate and protein and is also a good source of calcium for bone health and many other highly important processes in the body. A tub of high protein yoghurt is easily kept at work before training or perfect with fruit post training for recovery.
  • Oats are delicious in a smoothie, soaked in milk or juice as bircher or hot in winter as porridge and provides slower burning fuel if you are eating a few hours before training.
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Endurance Training

Endurance training involves long bouts of steady state exercise, usually lasting at least 30 minutes, but can be sessions of 2 hours or more for marathon running or road cycling. The energy system at work in endurance exercise uses oxygen to burn up both carbohydrates and fats as fuel.

Because of the more mixed fuel combination, as long as we are consuming adequate calories total, we can look at mixed meals to get you through the session.  While adequate carbohydrate is important to keep muscles topped up, dietary fats and fats stored in our body also can contribute to the effort.

Knowing your habitual daily energy intake, along with how long you are training for is useful to ensure you are eating enough to get through your sessions. For endurance type training, not only do you need to consider how to fuel before and after, but for sessions lasting longer than about 90 minutes, you may need to start factoring in intra-training fuel to keep energy stores topped up.

For endurance running, riding or triathlon, it is recommended that a carbohydrate intake for 40-60g per hour is achieved to avoid running out of puff! Keep in mind that if you are just going for a steady run of less than 60 minutes, you probably don’t need to do too much extra to fuel beyond your normal meals, assuming you eat a well-balanced diet.

Foods that might be good to use for endurance-based training should be easy to carry, simple to eat on the run (literally) and probably something that doesn’t melt easily!

  • Dried fruit is a great fuel top up for endurance racing
  • Nuts and nut butters contain healthy fats and can be added to smoothies to bulk up calorie content and provide slow burning fuel
  • Fruit once again is an easy to carry source of carbs that is rich in micronutrients
  • Smoothies make a great meal option, especially if you find solid meals hard to get down before a ride or run. Choose a milk base, add a protein source like why or pea protein, add some fruit and a healthy fat like peanut butter, avocado or chia seeds then blend!
  • Wraps are easy to throw together and using a multigrain wrap provides slower burning energy. You can construct a sustaining meal with chicken or tofu as the protein, hummus, salad and some cheese or avocado for long lasting energy

Strength Training

Strength training focuses on building muscle strength and size but exercising under load. Strength training can look very different depending on what type you choose. Accordingly, the food types and amounts will vary.

For example, powerlifting involved heavy compound movements using a barbell, with a slid amount of rest between each set, requiring a smaller amount of energy to get through training.

Whereas a cross-fit style workout with Olympic lifts mix strength with high intensity intervals, requiring more fuel daily and a higher carbohydrate intake to maximise training. And there are many variations in between. As with HIIT and endurance training, how long you are training for, the intensity of the training session and your usual food intake will help inform food choices.

However, one key component of the diet to focus on when undertaking strength-based training is protein intake, ensuring that, especially if you are starting out that you increase your intake to about 1.5g per kilo of body weight each day, consuming a high-quality protein source at each main meal to provide the building blocks for new muscle.

Some good choices include:

  • High protein yoghurt which also comes with some carbs and calcium
  • Lean meats, eggs and fish or for those following a plant-based diet, include tofu, legumes, pea protein powder, quinoa and some nuts
  • Whey protein post training as it is easily digestible and rapidly absorbed


Yoga,
mobility
and
walking

For low intensity movement focused on mobility and well-being there is no special changes you need to make to your diet from a performance perspective because a new PB isn’t the goal.

When the goal is mobility, improving range of movement and de-stressing, you can stress less about food choices. One aspect you may like to look at is ensuring you eat early enough before your class so that you don’t feel uncomfortably full, and ensure you are well hydrated.

The focus should be on consistent healthy eating choosing slow burning wholegrains, legumes, lean proteins and dairy to support muscle, lots of veggies and a bit of fruit.

 

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Harriot Walker

CONTRIBUTOR

Harriet Walker is an Accredited Dietitian and Sports Dietitian, a self-confessed health and fitness nerd, and a certified bad-ass in the gym. Having completed a Bachelor Degree in Human Nutrition, Master’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, plus Certificate III and IV Personal Training qualifications, Harriet has also competed as a figure competitor and fitness model as well as in power-lifting, Cross fit and Surf boat rowing completing the gruelling 200 km George Bass Marathon twice. In recent years she has even taken up strong man (lady) competitions, competing at a national level.

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