Eating for your Sports Event

Dietitian Nick Green explains what you need to eat before, during and after a sporting activity so you can make sure you have the right fuel to perform and recover.

Are you stepping up to ride in Around the Bay in Melbourne? Having a crack at a fun run or even your first full marathon? Even the best physical training program can only get you so far: you also need to get your nutrition-thinking cap on before, during and after you train! As a Bupa dietitian, I’ll answer some of these questions for you.

Before you exercise

If you don’t eat before you exercise, you’ll be running on empty which generally means you’re unable to train as efficiently. 

Here are some small meal/snack options to consider before a training session.

Two to four hours before

  • Cereal/muesli, low-fat milk and fruit
  • A sandwich, wrap or roll filled with lean meat and salad, with fruit
  • Small bowl of pasta or rice with lean meat and steamed vegetables
  • Fruit smoothie and a slice of toast with your choice of spreads.

One to two hours before your training session

Choose something lighter that will be faster to digest:

  • Jam sandwich made with white bread 
  • Banana and a small tub of low-fat yoghurt
  • Milkshake made with fruit and low-fat milk
  • A cereal bar.

If you don’t eat before you exercise, you’ll be running on empty.

During exercise

You don’t need to focus on refuelling during normal exercise under an hour as you’re not significantly draining your glycogen (glucose) stores. Just make sure you stay hydrated with water.

However, for those of you looking to push that bit further with any event over an hour – such as running in a half or full marathon – you should refuel with 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. 

Here are foods that provide approximately 30g carbohydrates:

  • 40g lollies (e.g. jelly beans or jelly babies)
  • 1 standard sport/energy gel pouch
  • Half a jam sandwich (white bread, no margarine/butter)
  • 500ml sports drink
  • 1 large banana
  • 1.5 cereal bars
  • 40g sultanas.

After exercise

Exercise can put your body under some strain – but in a good way!  This strain triggers your body to adapt and grow to take on future challenges you throw at it. Nutrition plays a huge role in driving your ability to perform better during exercise, and helps you refuel, repair and rehydrate during recovery. 

When you’re exercising your body draws on its reserves of glucose, stored in your liver and muscles as glycogen. To refuel, you need to replace your glycogen stores, particularly in the first hour after exercising. Carbohydrates are an important food source to replace your glycogen. 

To repair, you’ll need dietary protein so you can help your muscles heal and grow. 

To rehydrate, find out how much fluid you’ve lost by jumping on the scales before and after exercise. Each litre of water equals 1kg and ideally you want to aim to replace with 120 to 150 per cent of the fluid you lose over the next few hours.

A good recovery meal should include quality carbohydrates, lean protein and fluid – this could involve:

  • 600ml low-fat, flavoured milk
  • A large bowl of cereal and a glass of low-fat milk
  • Two slices of wholegrain toast, with margarine and a can of baked beans
  • A wholegrain sandwich, wrap or roll filled with lean meat and salad, and a piece of fruit
  • A large bowl of fruit salad with a small tub of low-fat yoghurt
  • Lean meat and three veg
  • Rice/pasta dish with lean meat, skinless chicken or fish.

Nutrition plays a huge role in driving your ability to perform better during exercise. Now that you’re armed with the nutritional know-how, you’re better prepared to compete in your sporting activity.

If you’re looking for a nutrition plan to support your training, it’s best to work with an accredited sports dietitian. Find one near you at Sports Dietitians Australia.

This article was originally published by Bupa Healthlink

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