Energy comes from a variety of food and drinks, this energy is given a name…Calories. Calories basically tell us how much energy a certain food or drink provides, so the higher the calories the more energy it provides.
However, just because a food is high in energy doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to be good at fuelling exercise, this isn’t the way it works. Certain foods take longer to digest than others, therefore a slow digesting food such as chicken will take longer to provide you with energy. On the other hand a glass of orange juice will provide you with energy much faster than say chicken or pasta would. So when it comes to planning your pre- exercise nutrition, it pays to get the balance of fast and slow releasing energy right!
‘Day before’ exercise
You should be thinking about loading yourself up with complex carbohydrates (carbs) and protein the day before exercise. Complex carbs are some of the best sources of energy to humans because carbs are easier for the body to use for energy than proteins and fats. Complex carbs will take longer to digest in your stomach, and enter your blood stream slowly as well as being stored in the muscle ready for exercise the next day.
You’re best to eat a protein source that provides all of the essential amino acids (building blocks) the night before exercise. The amino acids are not used for energy, instead they are stored ready to be used the next day for muscle repair and recovery. An ideal protein source would be meat, fish or eggs, as well as dairy and some vegetable sources like beans, peas and pulses (lentils & chick peas etc). One of the best protein sources the night before exercise is a complex protein that takes longer to digest such as chicken, beef, pork or fish, these types of protein will also deliver all of the essential amino acids needed by the body. Your bodies preferred protein type is whey protein, this has the highest bioavailability of all proteins meaning a whey protein shake first thing in the morning, and immediately after exercise (ideally no later than 30mins after) is optimal.
‘Day before’ Pre- workout meals
Grilled chicken, sweet potato & mixed vegetables
Cod or baked Pollock, mashed potato & mixed vegetables
Foil baked salmon, brown or white rice & asparagus with light soy sauce
Steak mince fajitas with wholemeal wraps, peppers and onions
Moroccan stew with chick peas, lentils, mixed vegetables and cous- cous
Meals for the morning of exercise (at least 2-3 hours before)
If exercise is only a few hours away, say 10am in the morning for example, then you need to be sure that the meal (breakfast) is not too heavy (but you MUST eat and drink something). A ‘heavy’ breakfast is something that will take up a lot of space in the stomach and require lots of digestion, an example of a heavy breakfast would be a sausage sandwich or bacon and fried potatoes.
Shoot for something like:
- Scrambled egg on granary toast for an ideal blend of easily digestible carbs (bread) and a light source of protein (egg).
- Something like 2x Weetabix & half a chopped banana is also a good option for the moderate release energy from the weetabix, the relatively fast releasing energy in the banana, and the protein in the milk.
(See the ‘Breakfast for Champions’ section for more ideas)
Food & Drink 1-2 hours before exercise
The ideal type of nutrition for immediately before exercise is something that is easy to digest, or already partially digested (broken down) before you consume it. One of the best ways to get lots of nutrition into you but without bloating or upsetting your poor stomach, is liquid. So a 150-200ml glass/bottle of chocolate/strawberry milk is a good option, so is a homemade shake (see recipe below OR Super Smoothie Recipes). If food is preferred then try a moderate to quick releasing carb such as rice cakes with Nutella or nut butter, a handful of dried fruit and nuts, or a regular piece of fruit.
Avoid heavy proteins at this stage, in fact, avoid eating any foods in large quantities because this will deprive your muscles of blood and oxygen as the stomach steals it to support digestion. Keep fluid levels topped up being sure to alternate between sipping water and an isotonic drink in the 15-20 minutes leading up to exercise.