By Florencia Tagliavini, The Nutramilk Nutritionist
Nutrition plays a key role in sports and exercise. It can make a big difference in your athletic performance during a competition. There are specific nutrition recommendations for pre- and post-competition as well as specific foods that are recommended to eat while you are training or competing for optimal performance. The nutritional needs will depend on many factors such as the type of sport, time of training and length of competition, the amount of competitions, etc.
But, you don't have to be a professional athlete to feel the effects of nutrition on exercise or benefit from a few dietary changes.
A healthy diet will make a big difference, not only on how you feel before and after exercise/workout, but on your weight and overall health.
The best pre- and post-workout meals will contain a combination of good quality protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients that build muscle, supply energy, decrease inflammation, and boost recovery.
Pre-work out: The goal is to achieve a good glycogen reserve which is basically energy stored in your muscles and liver or fuel that is readily available so you can tap into it during a competition or a workout. Carbohydrates are especially important here, they are fuel for your "engine" (i.e. your muscles). And, the harder your engine is working, the more carbs you need to keep going.
How soon should I eat before a workout?
Eating too close to a workout may cause you to experience some GI discomfort while you train or play, so it´s best to fuel your body anywhere from 1-3 hours before, depending on your personal tolerance. Test these options to see how they settle. High-fat foods can slow digestion, and they can make food sit in your stomach too long if your workout is coming up quickly.
Here are some suggestions for pre-workout fuel:
- A peanut butter and banana or PBJ sandwich
- Yogurt with berries
- Oatmeal with any plant-based milk and fruit
- Apple and peanut or almond butter or any other homemade nut or seed butter
- Handful of nuts and raisins (two parts raisins: one part nuts)
Post-workout: The goal is to replenish glycogen reserves, all the nutrients, liquid and electrolytes lost as well as recuperate muscles. Try to eat within 30 minutes of completing an intense workout. Protein is especially important here to rebuild and repair muscle. Most people can get enough protein from foods alone without needing a supplement, plus eating too much protein can have negative effects.
Let's not forget about hydration which is vital at every stage. Not being well hydrated during exercise can cause nausea, vomiting, cramps, fatigue and an overall poor performance. Water is essential, yet usually overlooked. Your body can lose several liters of sweat in an hour of vigorous exercise, therefore, replacing fluids during and after exercise is crucial and promotes adequate hydration. Drinking water is a great way to re-hydrate and cool the body. If you are performing a moderate to high-intensity activity that lasts an hour or longer, then a sports drink can help replenish fluids and electrolytes.
Here are some suggestions for post-workout meals:
- Post-workout recovery smoothie (Try one of our recipes)
- Chocolate milk (Try this energy & nutrient-dense chocolate milk)
- Turkey or tofu on a whole-grain wrap with veggies
- Yogurt with berries
Nuts and seeds on their own or their butters and milks are a healthy addition to a diet for exercise. Pair them with fresh or dried fruit for a dose of carbohydrates, and they can give you a source of sustainable energy for your work out. They are especially great for a a post-work out meal. Nuts and seeds provide healthy fats, protein and a load of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to help recuperate muscles. Try any nut or seed butter on an apple, banana or other fruit or veggies as well as on whole grain crackers or a slice of whole grain bread. With the NutraMilk you can make great on-the-go recovery smoothies, delicious plant-based milks, and tasty nut and seed butters to use on fruits that are easy to take with you to the gym for a healthy and nutritious snack.
Eating a well-balanced diet can help you get the calories and nutrients you need to fuel your daily activities, including regular exercise and a casual sport. If you are an athlete, its important to work with a sports dietitian and a diet specific to the sport and individual to optimize performance.
On the contrary, if you are not getting enough of the right nutrients, you are more likely to perform poorly during sports or regular exercise, not to mention a competition.
One of they keys is learning to listen to your body and what feels right. Pay attention to how you feel before, during and after exercise as well as what foods you are incorporating and make healthy changes that work for you.