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alisonnoblesmlThe food you eat before, during and after exercise is important for both comfort and performance during exercise. Energy foods help prevent your body from depleting its energy stores too quickly when exercising; those foods can be in the form of bars, drinks, gels and easily digestible carbohydrates.

The major source of fuel for active muscles is carbohydrate which gets stored in the muscles as glycogen. It takes time to completely fill glycogen stores, so it is important you refill these stores in the days before exercise and what you eat after exercise can help or hinder this process.  Eating the right foods at the right time after a workout is essential for recovery and being ready for the next workout.  However a daily balanced diet is vital to anyone who exercises.

What you eat directly before exercise often depends upon your needs and individual preference; it is important to experiment with this during training and not just before an event.

What should you eat before exercise?

Foods such as pasta, breads, fruits, energy drinks and bars are good as they are high in carbohydrate. Glucose is a frequently used energy source as it is easily absorbed, it is often the main source of carbohydrate in bought energy drinks and bars.  However glucose can cause a spike in blood sugar, some people do not cope well exercising after a blood sugar spike if this is you then you need to plan your food in advance and eat more complex carbohydrate foods in the few hours preceding exercise.

When should you eat before exercise?

Exercising on a full stomach is not ideal. Food that remains in your stomach during exercise may cause stomach cramping, nausea, and even diarrhoea, foods that include too much fat or fibre will cause the same problem.

To make sure you have enough energy, yet reduce stomach discomfort, you should allow a meal to fully digest before the start exercising. This generally takes 1 to 4 hours, depending upon what and how much you’ve eaten. Everyone is a bit different, and you should experiment prior to workouts to discover what works best for you.

If you have an early morning race or workout, it’s best to get up early enough to eat your pre-exercise meal. If not, you should try to eat or drink something easily digestible about 20 to 30 minutes before the event. The closer you are to the time of your event, the less you should eat. You can have a liquid meal closer to your event than a solid meal because your stomach digests liquids faster.

Suggested Foods for Exercise

Eating before exercise is something personal to you and again needs to be practiced with, but some generally try to eat a solid meal 4 hours before exercise, a snack or a high carbohydrate energy drink 2 to 3 hours before exercise, and fluid replacement 1 hour before exercise.

1 hour or less before competition/workout

  • fresh fruit such as apples, watermelon, peaches, grapes, or oranges and/or
  • Energy gels
  • up to 400mls of a sports drink.

2 to 3 hours before competition/workout

  • fresh fruits
  • bread, bagels, pasta, malt loaf
  • yogurt
  • water

3 to 4 hours before competition

  • fresh fruit
  • bread
  • pasta with tomato sauce
  • baked potatoes
  • energy bar, malt loaf
  • cereal with milk (care with fibre content)
  • yogurts
  • toast/bread with a bit of peanut butter, lean meat, or cheese (care with fat content)
  • water

In theory, it’s not essential to eat immediately before you run if you consistently eat a healthy diet and have properly replenished your glycogen stores after your last workout. The majority of the energy used to fuel your run comes from your glycogen stores, not the food you’ve just consumed. Most people have enough glycogen to fuel about 90 minutes of high intensity exercise and several hours of moderate exercise. So if you should feel fine doing a short run on an empty stomach. Just try to get used to running/exercising with 300-400ml or water in your stomach before setting off.

What and when to eat after exercise?

Your post-exercise food is important for recovery and your ability to train consistently. It is also very important to replace lost fluid; to get an idea of how much you should drink weigh yourself before and after exercise, drink 600-700 mls for every ½ Kg (1Lb) lost.

Generally it is said there is a 30 minute window for refuelling after exercise, also consuming carbohydrate and protein together speeds recovery. The optimal carbohydrate to protein ratio is 4:1, eating more protein than this can be negative because it slows rehydration and glycogen storage.

A drink maybe easier to digest and be more palatable than solid food in this 30 minute post exercise window, a time when we don’t often want to eat. So going to the gym or training armed with a milk based smoothie may be helpful.

On a final note if you wait more than 2 hours to refuel after exercise 50% less glycogen will be stored in the muscle.


Fruit Flapjack

85g Chopped mixed nuts
300g Rolled Oats
70g Demerara sugar
50g Dried fruit
125g Melted butter
3 tblsp Golden syrup
25g Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame etc.)
2 tblsp Pear and Apple spread (found in health food shops no added sugar)

1.    Heat oven to 180°/160° fan gas 4. Grease a shallow baking tin.
2.    Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl, stir in the butter, syrup, pear and apple spread.
3.    Spoon into the tin.
4.    Bake in oven for 20 mins or until cooked.
5.    Mark into 24 slices.

Per slice approx:  142 calories, 16.4g Carbohydrate, 2.7g Protein, 7g fat.

Banana and Cranberry Flapjack

85g Chopped mixed nuts
85g Self-raising flour
200g Rolled oats
70g Demerara sugar
40g Dried Cranberries
125g Melted butter
3 tblsp Golden syrup
1 egg
2 mashed bananas
25g seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame etc)

1.    Heat oven to 180°/160° fan gas 4. Grease a shallow baking tin.
2.    Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl, stir in the butter, syrup, egg and bananas.
3.    Spoon into the tin.
4.    Bake in oven for 20 mins or until cooked.
5.    Mark into 24 slices.

Per slice approx:  168 calories, 16.3 g Carbohydrate, 4.2g Protien, 9.3g fat.

Yoghurt Cake

1 small pot of yoghurt  (125g or 150g)
The pot is then used as your measuring device
1 pot of sunflower oil
3 pots of self-raising flour
2 pots of sugar
3 eggs
(Flavourings can be added such as blueberries, raspberries, lemon juice and zest, chocolate etc all seem to work well)

1.    Heat the oven to 180°/160° gas 4. Lightly grease and flour a loaf tin or 2 cake tins.
2.    Mix all the ingredients together into a batter, add any flavourings
3.    Pour into tins, if using a loaf tin cooking time may be longer.
4.    Bake for 30-40 mins or until cooked.
Per slice approx: 239 calories, 10.9g fat, 32.7g carbohydrate, 3.6g protein.

Fruit Smoothies

Strawberry Smoothie

240ml milk
50g rolled oats
1 Banana
250g strawberries
½ tsp Vanilla Extract
1 tblsp Honey
2-4 ice cubes

1.    Put all ingredients into a blender and whizz until smooth

Frozen Berry Smoothie

450g frozen berries
450g pot of fat free yoghurt
100ml milk
25g Porridge oats
2tsp Honey

1.    Put all ingredients onto a blender and whizz until smooth

Frozen fruit Smoothie

1 ripe banana
1 glass of frozen fruit
½  cup of oats
3 tblsp natural yoghurt
1 glass of milk
Honey to taste

1.    Put all ingredients onto a blender and whizz until smooth

Per smoothie approx: 296 calories, 30.1g carbohydrate, 12.3g fat, 12.4g protien

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