A Guide To Workout Nutrition – Diet For Sports Training

Fitness instructor holding a protein shake

If you are exercising intensively you need to start thinking about nutrition. Whether you are trying to lose fat or build more muscle, or both, then getting your diet right is vital for success. For bodybuilding, training for kickboxing competitions, football, athletics or any other active sport, you need to get your nutrition right.

Here we look at nutrition for fitness in general, then we take a look at how martial artists and runners manage their nutrition. Finally we look at some supplements and share some warnings.

Sports nutrition is undergoing constant change and the best way to stay up to date is to enroll on modern nutrition courses that will provide you with all the tools you need to become a better athlete. To maintain a healthy weight all you really need to do is eat a reasonable well balanced diet and stay within your daily calorie needs to avoid gaining weight. However, if you are looking to lose fat while building muscle, nutrition becomes more complex.

Nutrition for Exercise and Sports

Pre Workout Nutrition

What you eat before your workout affects how much energy you have. If you eat too little then your muscles may become fatigued too soon. If you eat too much you risk gaining weight.

You should consume your pre-workout meal 2 hours before your workout to ensure that it is fully digested and that the energy and nutrients are being passed on to the muscles. If you allow the glycogen reserves in your muscles to deplete, you not only become more sluggish when working out, you also start to burn muscle tissue for energy, which is a bad idea if you are trying to get fit.

It is in the pre-workout meal that you should consume slow release carbohydrates. So this is the ideal time for a large healthy salad with many mixed leaves and vegetables. Low GI carbs are the most important food choices pre-workout. You also need to be consuming a healthy supply of lean proteins from eggs, poultry, lean meats and fish.

If you are still digesting your food when it is time to workout you will suffer an energy loss as your body will be focusing on supplying blood (oxygen) to your digestive system and not your muscles.

You should then eat a snack about 15-20 minutes before your workout that provides a rich source of vitamins and supplements to aid growth and keep your working throughout the exercise. This is a good time to have a strong coffee too as the caffeine boost will give your more mental energy during the workout which will help you train harder.

Carbohydrate Loading For Athletes

If you will be performing a very long and enduring activity, such as a long distance run or cycle, you should take in extra carbohydrate to ensure that your muscles will have all the energy they need. This is known as carbohydrate loading in athletics.

Intra Workout Nutrition

If you are doing a long and intensive workout you need some nutrition during training. If you are weight training then all you really need is some additional fast release carbohydrates to give you an extra boost. Some bodybuilders like to take a branched chain amino acids supplement too. Remember that hydration is also important during longer workouts.

Post Workout Nutrition

Immediately after a workout you need to consume some fast release proteins if you have done a big weight training session and carbohydrates if you have done an intensive cardio session or endurance session.

The timing of the meal after a training session is vital. Research has shown that consuming a high protein snack, such as a protein shake, should be done within 30 minutes of finishing exercising. Later than this, and the benefits of the extra protein become less important. If the exercise was strenuous and lasted longer than 90 minutes, the body’s glycogen stores will also need refueling. Consuming foods and drinks high in carbohydrates right after exercise will help to increase the refueling glycogen stores. Research has found that a high-carbohydrate food or drink should be consumed within two hours after exercise in order to help glycogen re-synthesis.

For protein, whey protein shakes are a popular choice as you can consume them quickly and the body digests and absorbs the proteins into the blood system very fast. For carbohydrate a glucose based rehydration drink is best, although an low GI (quick release) food will work.

Post Workout Fluid Replacement / Hydration Drinks

There are many different fluid replacement drinks on the market. The top selling brands include Lucazade, Gatorade, Isotar and Dexters. However, the jury is out on how effective these really are on speeding up hydration and replacing lost minerals. In fact many long distance runners have nutritionists prepare their own home made sports drinks.

If you wish to make your own sports rehydration drink, then the best advice is to experiment. Try starting with the following recipe and then modify as you see fit:

  • 2 litres of water
  • 150 ml (about half a cup) of your favorite fruit juice
  • 5 table spoons of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt

Reduce the salt or increase sugar depending on your needs. If you sweat very heavily you may lose a lot more fluid and minerals than your running partner.

Workout Nutrition for Recovery

If your workout was very intensive and long then you will need some additional carbs too afterwards. Ideally you should eat these carbs before the main protein meal. If you are not receiving adequate nutrition after your workout then you are not only slowing down muscle growth but also increasing recovery time.

You should try to eat 3g of carbs for every kg you weigh every two hours after the exercise, ideally until bed time. This is to replenish all glycogen reserves which helps to keep anabolism (growth) maximized.

Be Careful With Post Workout Shakes

We already mentioned these, but they need explained a little more. You have to be careful with any supplements such as shakes. A very common mistake that people make is consuming too many calories when working out, and shakes are one of the easiest ways to exceed your daily calories needs.

If you are trying to lose weight (lose fat) then ensure that you calculate total calories consumed each day very accurately. A post workout whey protein shake is the best way to get a quick hit of protein after a workout but you must ensure that you are not overeating if you want to lose fat.

Best Post Workout Protein

Whey Protein shakes are the best post-workout supplements as they are the quickest the digest and absorb  into the blood supply, which means that the proteins and amino-acids are distributed to the muscles to aid recovery and growth.

There are many brands on the market, really the most important factor is ensuring that you are getting a 100% whey protein as some of the “muscle building protein” shakes also contain carbohydrates, which although are essential also, can push you over your daily carb / calories limits without you realising.

Best Post Workout Carbohydrates

This is actually one area of exercise nutrition that is under debate still. Should you take extra carbs after working out, or is it counter productive? Some nutritionists believe that loading up on carbs after a workout aids protein synthesis, i.e. it helps the body to create proteins to start rebuilding muscle tissue.

“In conclusion, coingestion of carbohydrate during recovery does not further stimulate post exercise muscle protein synthesis when ample protein is ingested.”

The best scientific research to date is the Dutch study on protein synthesis which concluded that carbs after a workout did not increase protein synthesis at all.

Count Your Calories Before Eating Your Carbs and Proteins

Remember, if your goal is to lose fat then is it absolutely vital that you control calorific intake. Refer to the calorie table to determine your needs and keep calories below your maintenance level. Although getting the balance and timing of proteins and carbohydrates is important, do not forget your ultimate goals. If you goal is to lose fat, get ripped muscles or a 6 pack, then you have to control your eating.

Protein Should Be Added To Drinks For Endurance Athletes

In November 2012 sports science researchers reported in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research that when protein was added to a carbohydrate based sports drink endurance cyclists experienced an increase in performance.

Long distance runners, cyclists and other endurance athletes often refuel mid-race to help maintain carbohydrate levels (glycogen in the muscles). Traditionally drinks are just carbohydrates (glucose, maltodextrin, and fructose) and other some vitamins. However, sports nutritionists have found that adding protein increases performance.

In the studies athletes were made to exercise moderate intensity for 3 hours (VO2 max 45-70%) and then at a higher intensity (VO2 74-85%) until exhausted.

Athletes were given supplements every 20 minutes through the exercise, with a 6% carbohydrate supplement or a 3% carbohydrate/1.2% protein supplement (half the carbs with added proteins).

The study found that the athletes taking the protein could work harder for longer, and so concluded that a moderate amount of protein can improve aerobic endurance at high intensities, even though they contain less carbohydrate and fewer calories.

Sports Nutrition Evolution

We are still learning how specific nutrients affect the growth, development and function of the human body in different ways. Elite athletes need to optimize their fitness routines and nutrition to ensure that they reach their peak performance.

The research and findings from the athletic community and sport scientists can certainly aid the rest of us in developing fit and healthy bodies. However, it is important to remember that what the athletes are doing is aim to reach their maximum potential in any given activity. To be fit and healthy you do not need to go to the lengths that pro athletes go. Just eat healthy, get a good balanced of nutrients and exercise hard, and most of all, enjoy it!

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