Eating for fitness

16 Aug 2021 10:44AM by Rory Beardsell

2019_01_Vegan Shake

When it comes to working out, you might think that a solid exercise routine is all you need. It’s important to know what you’re training and why but it’s also important to fuel your body to improve your performance during your session and to help your body recover afterwards.

We caught up with Rory who’s a head of exercise experience at Virgin Active to find out just how important eating is for improving your fitness.

What happens to our bodies when we work out? 

When we work out, we exercise in 2 ways: aerobically or anaerobically. 

Aerobic workouts are typically longer than 1 minute and allow your body to produce energy with oxygen, for example running. On the other hand, anaerobic workouts are done at a higher intensity and the body produces energy without using oxygen. Strength training is an example of anaerobic exercise.

Having a brief understanding of these energy systems will allow you to decide on the food that you are going to eat before, during and after your workout. Depending on your session intensity and duration, you’ll need to fuel your body differently.

What should you be eating? 

There are three main nutrients, or macronutrients, that the body depends on for fuel before, during and after a workout. These are carbohydrates, fat and protein. 

Carbohydrates are good for energy in both aerobic and anaerobic workouts. Dietary fat helps with recovery and energy during long, low intensity aerobic sessions and protein aids recovery for both.

Why are carbohydrates important?

Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source. Consuming a carbohydrate-based meal (porridge with honey) or snack (banana or oat bar) before your important training sessions will ensure that your body has a sufficient supply for the task at hand. 

Depending on the demands of your training programme the amount of carbohydrates you should consume per day for training and recovery will vary. Carbohydrates also play a significant role in recovery which is why it is important to ensure that your body has an appropriate amount for the training program that you are following.

The following recommendations are adapted from the Journal of Sports Science, Carbohydrates for Training and Competition, (Louise Burke):
Light Low intensity, skill based activity 3-5g/kg of body weight
Moderate Moderate program, up to 1hr per day 5-7g/kg of body weight
High Endurance program, mod-high intensity 1-3hrs per day 6-10g/kg of body weight
Very High Moderate-high intensity 4-5hrs per day 8-12g/kg of body weight

How does the body use fat? 

Dietary fat provides energy for exercise and recovery. Fat is utilised more during long duration, low intensity aerobic training. An appropriate amount of fat to consume per day would be 22%+ of daily calories. 
Interestingly, long distance athletes will train without many carbohydrates which allows the body to utilise fat for a longer time period before tapping into carbohydrate stores during races.

What about protein?

For recovery, protein is your best friend. When training, it’s important to be able to recover and perform again on a regular basis. Protein helps rebuild muscle and maintain muscle mass which is of vital importance when eating for fitness. 
An optimal amount of protein for fitness and recovery would be between 1.2-1.8g/kg of body weight per day.

If you follow these tips for eating for fitness, you should see your stamina and endurance increase. You’ll also feel more rested when you start your next workout. 

For further information about eating around your training program, you can find Rory at Virgin Active Aldersgate or ask your club to recommend a Personal Trainer to support you with your fitness. 
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