Should I eat more when I'm doing lots of exercise? If you have recently increased your physical activity levels and are now enjoying taking part in regular sports or exercise, you will be using up more energy each day than you did before. Unless you are trying to lose weight, you will need to eat more food to match your activity level. It is still important to make sure that you have a balanced diet. Check out the eatwell plate below and try to have the proportions of each food group as shown every day.
Carbohydrates – our body's favourite fuel source Carbohydrate is the body's main source of fuel during exercise. The more exercise you do, the more carbohydrate the body needs. The body stores carbohydrate in the muscles and liver as glycogen, but these stores are small so it is important to keep them topped up. If you get tired during physical activity this might be because your carbohydrate stores are low. It is important to have regular sources of starchy carbohydrate such as pasta, rice, cereals, potatoes and breads as part of your balanced diet. It is a good idea to have a carbohydrate rich meal around 2-3 hours before exercise (to allow the food time to digest). This will ensure your glycogen stores are topped up to fuel your activity. If you are taking part in prolonged exercise - more than around 1 hour, you may need to top-up carbohydrate during exercise. Using carbohydrate that is more quickly digested (in the form of sugars) such as an isotonic sports drink, diluted fruit juice or jelly babies is usually easier and more manageable during more intense prolonged exercise. Food and drink also plays a part in recovering effectively from training. Good recovery is crucial to prevent a midweek slump in energy levels, and to aid muscle growth and repair. When you finish training, aim to have a carbohydrate-rich food or drink within 30 minutes.
What about protein? Protein is needed in moderate amounts for muscle growth and repair, so it is important to include low fat protein sources such as fish, chicken, lean red meat, eggs, lower fat dairy products and pluses as part of a balanced diet. It has been shown that including some protein along with your carbohydrate, within 30 minutes of finishing exercise, can help to aid recovery and muscle repair. So choose a food or drink at this time that includes carbohydrate and protein such as a large glass of milk, a tuna sandwich or beans on toast.
Do I need to drink when I exercise? It's really important to start any exercise session well hydrated. Do this by drinking water regularly during the course of each day. For any exercise that lasts longer than 30 minutes, you should drink fluid while you're doing it. Water is usually enough for low-intensity exercise up to 50 minutes. The more you sweat, the more you will need to drink. Remember that when you sweat you also lose salt and it is important to replace those salts to maintain good hydration. For higher-intensity exercise lasting more than 50 minutes, or lower-intensity exercise lasting hours, an isotonic sports drink may be of benefit (you can make your own with diluted fruit juice and a pinch of salt). The isotonic sports drink provides carbohydrate to help maintain energy levels, as well as fluid and salt to keep you hydrated.
Further information on nutrition for sport and exercise can be found on the NHS choices website or if you would like individualised advice, consult a Registered Dietitian or Registered Sport and Exercise Nutritionist, found at www.freelancedietitians.org or www.senr.org.
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