Eating for exercise – what, when and how much

When it comes to looking after yourself, diet and exercise go hand in hand. Whether you are exercising for health and wellbeing or for competitions and performance, what you eat before, during and after training can affect recovery, fat burning and stamina. Some smart choices will help you get maximum results.

If you are trying to fit yoga classes or gym sessions into your busy week, eating the right food at the right time will help maximise the benefits of your workout. Timing your meals and balancing your carbohydrate and protein with the type of workout you do can help optimise performance, speed muscle recovery and boost fat burning.

:: Are you eating enough?

Cutting right back on the amount of food you are eating and exercising more will not always result in weight loss. Imagine your metabolism is a furnace that needs stoked. If you don’t eat enough, then your body compensates by slowing down metabolism and holding on to fat stores, making it much harder to lose weight.

:: What are you eating?

Quality matters as much as quantity, so the balance of nutrients on your plate can make or break the effectiveness of your training. If you are eating more refined carbs, processed foods and sugar, and having a chocolate bar after every workout, then it is unlikely that you will get the results you want to see.

Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all diet for training, as it depends on the type of exercise you do, how often you train and the results you want, but generally speaking, the better quality the food on your plate, the better the results you will see.

Aim to pack as many vegetables onto your plate as possible. Packed with antioxidants to add recovery and vitamin C for tissue repair, the more variety of veg on your plate, the better.

Have a palm-sized portion of protein with every meal. This can be plant-based protein like quinoa, nuts, seeds and pulses, or animal protein sources like natural yoghurt, meat, fish and eggs. Protein helps growth and repair and is essential for muscle function.

Eat carbs. Have a fist-sized portion of carbohydrate at each meal. Wholegrains like quinoa and brown rice or root veg like sweet potato and beetroot are great as they are packed with vitamins and minerals too.

Include some anti-inflammatory fats to help reduce risk of injury. Foods like oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocado and olive oil are perfect.

:: Keep hydrated

Dehydration will quickly lead to fatigue, so drink up. Aim to drink about one and a half to two litres of water a day. Sip throughout the day and always keep well hydrated during training.

Coconut water is a fantastic way to rehydrate after training.

:: What to eat after training

Eat about 45 minutes after training to help maximise the fat-burning effect of your session (don’t leave it longer than 60 minutes, though, as your body will switch to starvation mode, where the body is primed to store more fat).

Refuel with a small/moderate portion of slow-release, low-GI wholegrains or root vegetables, with a protein-rich meal or snack and some omega-3 fats for muscle repair.

If you exercise before breakfast refuel with some porridge with berries and seeds, or a couple of eggs, cooked how you like, with toasted sourdough or rye bread, avocado and grilled tomatoes.

If you exercise in the early evening, pile your plate with antioxidant-packed vegetables and some good-quality protein for dinner and eat within an hour of finishing.

Try chicken with spinach and avocado salad, or make a tasty vegetable omelette with salad for dinner.

This blog post first appeared as an article in The Irish News on Saturday 29 September 2018.