Nutrients to help you make the most of your exercise routine
What and when should you eat to make the most of your exercise routine? For the fastest possible results, your body needs nutrients to provide maximum energy during exercise and help to build up your muscles afterwards. Here’s how to make that happen.
Before your workout
Eat a big meal two to three hours before exercise, or a smaller one an hour before, to get the energy you need for your workout. This applies even if you are trying to lose weight. The more muscle mass you have, the more fat you burn, so it makes sense to give your body what it needs to build up those muscles as quickly as possible.
Your meal should be rich in carbohydrates because these are stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles and provide muscle cells with energy. The meal should also contain protein. If you eat shortly before your workout, try not to eat too much fat and fiber, to avoid stomach problems during the session.
After your workout
After exercising, drink water, a sports drink or milk, and eat something rich in carbohydrates and protein as quickly as possible. This is important to replace fluid and electrolyte loss and replenish glycogen stores. Carbohydrates are the most important nutrient for recovery and proteins stimulate protein synthesis as well as repair and build muscle tissue.
Important nutrients when exercising
If you want good results, consider your daily diet and not only what you eat in connection with your exercise. There are certain nutrients that are important components of the daily diet when activity increases. These are:
Vitamin D contributes to the maintenance of normal muscle function. This vitamin can be difficult to get enough of in the winter, especially if you don`t eat much fish. And it’s in winter when you need it most, since vitamin D also contributes to maintaining the immune system and building bone. In the UK, sunlight doesn’t contain enough UVB radiation in winter (October to early March) for our skin to be able to make vitamin D. During these months, we rely on getting our vitamin D from food and supplements. Cod liver oil is a good source of vitamin D. A teaspoon of cod liver oil or a fish oil capsule each morning will give you a shot of the important omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which both contribute to the normal maintenance of cardiovascular function, vision and brain function.
Although the need for protein increases when you exercise, it’s not necessary to take protein supplements. A normal, varied diet is usually good enough. If you alternate between meat, fish, dairy products, legumes and eggs you get both adequate and good quality protein.
High intensity workouts increase the development of free radicals, and these must be neutralised by antioxidants that you get in your diet. The strongest antioxidants are vitamin C and E. Good sources of vitamin C include oranges, kiwifruit, red peppers and turnips. While cod liver oil, vegetable oils and nuts are rich in vitamin E.
When you start an exercise routine, or increase the amount of exercise you do, your body will react by producing more blood to transport the increased level of oxygen. And since the body needs iron to produce blood, it is important that you get enough. Foods like poultry, beef, tripe, mussels, wholemeal bread and paté are good sources of iron.
Calcium is important for maintaining bone health. Good sources of calcium are milk and dairy products, sardines, dried figs and almonds. Note that the body depends on vitamin D to absorb calcium from food.
Magnesium and zinc
When you sweat you lose zinc and magnesium and this loss must be replaced through your diet. Peas, beans, bananas and almonds have a high magnesium content, while the best sources of zinc are beef, cheese, peas, beans and lentils.
Did you know…
For most people, even those who exercise a lot, regular food and drink works just as well as sports products. Milk, for example, is proved to be as equally an effective regeneration beverage as a sports drink.