Fuel your workouts
Find the perfect diet for your favourite activities.
Getting back into fitness after the summer can be a challenge. Even with the best of intentions, annual holidays, al fresco socialising and looking after the kids during the school break can mean your training schedule goes on the back burner, leaving you with reduced fitness and looking a little less toned than you’d like!
If you’ve been struggling to meet your pre-summer fitness goals or simply aren’t seeing the gains you’re looking for in your workouts, it could be time to rethink your diet. Finding the right fuelling strategy for your training sessions can boost endurance, build muscle and help you recover quicker. We spoke to three top sports nutritionists to help you discover your perfect workout fuel, whether you’re doing HIIT, resistance or long runs.
When you perform high-intensity endurance exercise, your body breaks down glycogen (stored carbohydrate in the muscles) as well as fat to fuel your muscle cells. The greater the intensity, the higher the proportion of glycogen used. ‘Starting your workout with full glycogen stores will allow you to exercise hard for around 45-60 minutes before you need to refuel,’ says Anita Bean, registered nutritionist and author of The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition (Bloomsbury Sport, £18.99). Given that a one-hour, fast-paced Spin class can burn up to 600 calories, you need to make sure you’ve eaten sufficient carbohydrates in advance.
FUEL UP FOR SPINNING
PRE-WORKOUT: Bean advises you eat a meal two to four hours before your workout, aiming for 100-150g of carbohydrates, with some protein and a small amount of fat. If you have a lunchtime class, good breakfast options include porridge made with milk or eggs on toast, she says, while a lunch of pasta with fish and vegetables, or rice with chicken and broccoli, is ideal fuel for a Spin session later in the day. ‘Of course, it’s not always possible to match your meals to your workouts, so if you haven’t eaten for four or more hours, have a snack containing around 25g carbohydrates, such as a large banana, or a slice of peanut butter on toast 30-60 minutes before you work out.’
POST-WORKOUT: After a high-intensity workout, your glycogen stores will be depleted, so it’s important to refuel. Again, the emphasis is on carbohydrates, this time aiming for 1g per 1kg bodyweight (for example, 60g carbs for a 60kg woman), and around 20g of protein. Bean suggests 500ml milk, 200g strained Greek yoghurt with a banana or a protein bar such as a Clif Builders’ Bar (£19.22 for 12 x 68g, uk.iherb.com), which contains 20g protein.
DO I NEED A SUPPLEMENT? Caffeine is one of the most well-researched
supplements, so it could be worth giving it a try. ‘Caffeine reduces your perception of effort, so exercise feels easier,’ says Bean. ‘It also increases endurance, meaning you can keep going at your chosen pace for longer. The optimal dose is 3mg per 1kg body weight, so if you weigh 60kg, you would take 180mg of caffeine – the equivalent to a double expresso. It’s also available in gels such as a Clif Shot Energy Gel (£23.80 for 18, uk.iherb.com). It takes about 45 minutes for caffeine to peak in your blood stream, so take it three-quarters of an hour before your session. ‘If you’re doing a workout that lasts longer than 60 minutes, you might want to take caffeine mid-workout (instead of pre-workout) to help you keep going in the latter stages,’ Bean suggests.
Strength work helps you tone up, increase lean muscle and burn fat and the right fuel will make a significant difference to your results. ‘The aim of your weight-training fuelling strategy is to create a stronger neurological pathway between your brain and your muscle,’ explains Renee McGregor, sports nutritionist to Paralympians and author of Training
Food (Nourish, £10.99). ‘This will train the muscle to become stronger.’
There’s a misconception that all you need is increased protein to fuel your weight training, but this isn’t true, says McGregor. ‘While your protein needs are increased when you start weight training, individuals who train regularly don’t have increased protein requirements.’ Rather, you need a combination of sufficient energy in the form of overall calories, protein and training for your muscles to develop. Generally speaking, when working out three times a week, if each meal consists of a fist-sized portion of wholegrain carbs, the protein requirement for your weight (see below) plus salad or vegetables, you’ll be taking in enough to get the gains you want.
FUEL UP FOR WEIGHT-TRAINING
PRE-WORKOUT: Your focus should be on good-quality protein – eggs, milk, meat and fish will have the most beneficial branch chain amino acids for your workout. If you’re a vegan, food combining will give you the best chance of obtaining the optimum balance of amino acids. Try oats and soya milk, rice and lentils or beans on toast. And don’t forget tofu and quinoa. ‘They are as close as you’re going to get to all the branch chain amino acids,’ says McGregor. ‘Ideally, eat good-quality protein throughout the day, but in the immediate meal prior to training, aim for 0.3-0.4g of protein per kg of bodyweight (18-24g for a 60kg woman),’ she says. You’ll still need energy for lifting, so include a fist-sized portion of carbohydrate in this meal, too. If your session is more than four hours later, McGregor advises a pre-workout snack such a glass of milk, matchbook portion of cheese, or some Greek yoghurt and fruit.
POST-WORKOUT: If you’re training, say, three times a week, your recovery can simply be your next meal. ‘There’s a misconception that you need to guzzle a protein shake after every workout,’ says McGregor. ‘If you’ve had a tough session, include wholegrain carbohydrates and protein in your recovery meal to rebuild glycogen stores and start to repair muscle. If your session is less intense, include both carbs and protein, ideally using beans, pulses or root vegetables as your source of carbohydrate.’ If your next meal is three to four hours away, a post-workout protein snack is a good idea. Dairy is best for absorption and muscle repair, but soya or pea protein are fine for vegans.
DO I NEED A SUPPLEMENT? Not really, especially when you’re eating well in the week. If you’re new to weights, McGregor suggests a tart cherry supplement for persistent muscle soreness (CherryActive Montmorency Cherry Capsules, £10.99 for 30 caps; hollandandbarrett.com).