Fuelling the body

by frank-stuart

All food will provide fuel for day to day activity, work and exercise, but what food will help you perform at your best for all of these things. Food has a powerful impact on how you feel and your energy levels and motivation. It doesn’t have to include extreme ingredients it just means getting the right combination of food to provide the body what it needs when it needs it.

The basic principles to stick to for healthy eating day to day is eating fresh healthy foods including

  • Lean meats
  • Wholegrain carbohydrates
  • Plenty of vegetables and fruit
  • Eating regularly in smaller balanced meals
  • Limiting processed food and excess fats

Healthy food choices

If you are training first thing in the morning, a small, lower fibre, high carbohydrate snack such as a banana; low fat yoghurt; or toast with jam before training. This is essential to aid performance and get the body to use fuel more efficiently to fuel the activity ahead of you and get more out of your training.

Within 30 min after morning exercise or waking up, start the day with either a bowl of cereal and low fat milk, a low fat smoothie with fruit or a piece of toast with a protein source such as an egg or low fat cheese to fuel the body for the day’s activities. Without eating breakfast your metabolism slows down to conserve fuel which means accessing energy can be a slow and inefficient process and may lead to lethargy or a reduction in muscle mass, especially when training at high intensities.

Each meal has an impact on how you will feel later in the day. If you have a poor choice for snacks or at lunch, chances are you will be falling asleep or making a b-line for the biscuit jar at about 3:30pm.

Smaller, frequent meals over the day keep energy and blood sugar levels consistent and can help with weight maintenance to avoid over eating large meals or picking at the wrong foods. If you are maintaining your weight aim to eat something every 3 hours and 4 hours at the longest, any longer than this and the body might start conserving energy or hunger pains might make convenience foods more appealing.

The timing of snacks at mid-morning and mid-afternoon can be shifted slightly to suit the activity and obligations you have during the day. Aim to have snacks with both protein and fibrous carbohydrate as this can fill you up more than a sugary snack which offers little more than instant energy that quickly fades making you look for the next meal. Good choices would be some grainy crackers and low fat cheese; a small tub of low fat yoghurt; or a piece of fruit and a small handful of nuts.

A balanced lunch and dinner should have a protein and carbohydrate source along with additional salads and/or vegetables to meet your vegetable requirement for the day. Salad on its own is not enough and will just make you hungry, skipping carbs can also lead to picking at in the arvo or at night so if you are going to cut out anything just have a serve of bread or potato and avoid the sweets later instead.

Both athletes with a high training load and individual who exercise regularly for fitness and health need to consume regular healthy balanced meals and snacks such as those discussed. The difference between the two is that the more activity you do the more times you will have to eat and this might include a pre and post training snack to sit either side of training.

Before training an additional top up of energy with a light meal or snack mostly high in carbohydrates and low in fat 1.5 hours to 30 minutes prior to training will make the right fuel available for the muscles to use during training.

If a meal is not available within 30 minutes of finishing training a snack or beverage that includes protein and carbohydrate should be consumed to start the recovery process and repair damaged muscles and replenish some energy ready for the next training session.

To check if your meals are balanced and adequate to fuel your daily activity consider an individualized consultation with a qualified dietitian to plan an eating routine that works for you and your lifestyle.

For more information on dietitians in your area, visit the Dietitians Association of Australia or Sports Dietitians Australia websites.

By Sally Walker – Sport Dietitian at NSWIS

Sally Walker has a wealth of experience in understanding the nutrition needs of athletes, and delivers high performance support to elite sportspeople in NSW as the NSW Institute of Sport Dietitian. Sally is dually qualified in dietetics and exercise rehabilitation, offering expertise in performance and fuelling strategies for athletes, body composition, weight management, diabetes, preventative health measures and nutrition & lifestyle education.

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