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Eating right for a better workout

For people who work out, a good diet is essential for both performance and recovery. Ensuring you eat the right amount and the right foodstuffs will help you train harder and, importantly, help you stay fit and healthy. Getting the correct levels or vitamins, minerals, proteins and calories will be the difference between an effective workout and a workout that is lacking energy.

Should I eat more when I'm doing lots of exercise?

If you exercise every day, you will use more energy than if you do little or no exercise. If you are a healthy weight and don't want to lose body fat, you will need to eat more food each day to maintain your weight. You should also eat plenty of protein to help repair and build muscle. If you are looking to bulk up, then you will need to think about eating more protein and carbohydrate – but take professional advice to avoid putting on fat instead of muscle bulk.

A balanced diet is essential. To increase your energy intake and fuel your training sessions, eat more carbohydrate-rich foods, such as bread, cereals, rice, pasta and potatoes. Try to choose wholegrain varieties, and eat potatoes with their skins on. Include sources of essential fats from foods such as oily fish, nuts and seeds.

What should I be eating when I'm training?

The most important fuel when you are training is carbohydrate. You get these fuel providers from bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and cereals. They are an essential energy source for the brain and central nervous system. Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. These stores are small, so a regular intake of carbohydrate is necessary to keep them topped up - little and often is the mantra. Low glycogen stores may result in poor performance and increase the risk of injury.

Protein comes from a healthy, varied diet. Good sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs and dairy foods. If you are training very hard, particularly in weight-bearing scenarios, then think about protein supplements, but talk to a certified nutritionist first.

The proportions of carbohydrate and protein required will vary, depending on your levels of exertion, so it's best to seek advice from a qualified professional on your individual requirements.

How long should I leave between eating and exercise?

Once you’ve eaten a meal or snack, allow between one and four hours to pass before you start exercising. Your body needs time to digest. The amount of time will depend on the amount of food you've eaten.

An average meal should be eaten around two to three hours before you exercise. If you have only an hour or so before you exercise, then aim for a meal or snack that is rich in carbohydrate, low in fat and moderate in protein, such as porridge made with low-fat milk or a wholegrain sandwich or bagel with chicken and salad.

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. If you are training more than once a day and you have fewer than eight hours between sessions, aim to have a carbohydrate- and protein-rich food or drink within 30 to 60 minutes of finishing your first session. If you are training less than this, or with more time to recover, just eat as soon as you can afterwards.

How essential is water?

Dehydration is when the water content in your body falls too low. It can have a major effect on exercise performance. It's important to start any exercise session well hydrated. Aim to do this by drinking water regularly during the course of the day.

The amount you need to drink during exercise depends on the amount you sweat. This varies from person to person and also depends on the intensity and length of time exercising, as well as environmental factors.

Water is usually enough for most forms of exercise up to about an hour. For longer-duration exercise lasting several hours, where energy and fluid needs may be greater, a carbohydrate, electrolyte-containing sports drink may benefit.

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