The food you eat plays a large role in performance. At the foundation of sports nutrition is the food you eat each day. Eating nutritious foods will help you to train, recover and perform at your best, as well as keep your immune system firing.
Each day, make sure your meals and snacks include:
- Carbohydrates are your body’s number one fuel source. If you do not eat enough carbohydrates you will find it hard to concentrate, feel tired and fatigued and not recover as well. Good sources of carbohydrates include wholegrain bread, oats, rice, pasta, fruit, potato, milk and yoghurt.
- Protein is vital for growth and helping your muscles recover after exercise. There is no need to eat massive amounts of extra protein if you are trying to bulk up – a balanced diet with a little extra protein and adequate carbohydrates will help you achieve your weight gain goals. Food sources of protein include eggs, lean red meat, fish, chicken, dairy products, lentils, nuts and seeds.
- Healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and oily fish such as salmon are needed by your body to insulate you, maintain core body temperature and help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E and K.
- Fruit and Veg are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre, all of which are important for keeping you healthy and your immune system firing. Include at least two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables each day.
What to eat before exercise
Everyone is different in what they like to eat before they exercise, but as a general rule, your pre-exercise food choice should be rich in carbohydrates to prime your fuel stores, low in fibre and fat, moderate in protein to reduce any risk of gut upsets, and easy to digest1.
Generally, most people can tolerate their last main meal like oats, chicken and salad sandwich or pasta 2-4 hours before exercise without any unwanted stomach upsets. A smaller snack of a muesli bar, piece of fruit or tub of yoghurt can usually be had 1-2 hours before exercise to top up fuel stores. Make sure you also start your exercise session well hydrated2.
Failing to not fuel or hydrate properly before exercise can result in earlier onset of fatigue, reduced speed, reduced endurance, poor concentration, skill errors and poor decision making.
Get more from your workout
If you’re looking to train harder for longer, try adding beetroot juice and/or caffeine to your pre-exercise regimen. Here’s why:
Beetroot juice is high in nitrates which are converted in the mouth and stomach to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide acts as a vasodilator, opening blood vessels and allowing more blood and oxygen to be delivered to muscles. Taking a concentrated shot of beetroot juice two hours before exercise can help boost endurance and stamina3.
Caffeine influences the central nervous system resulting in a reduced perception of effort and/or reduced perception of fatigue. Caffeine affects us all differently so it’s important to determine a dose that works for you. Typically, doses ranging from 1-3mg of caffeine per kg of body weight are sufficient to improve performance3. Kanguru provides 80mg of caffeine per can.
Recover with the 4Rs
What you eat post-exercise is essential as it helps prepare for your next session. Your recovery nutrition starts as soon as your exercise session is over and should include the following1:
- Refuel your muscle and liver glycogen stores with carbohydrates like reduced-fat milk, fruit, rice, sweet potato or pasta.
- Rebuild and regenerate muscle tissue with high-quality protein foods like milk, yoghurt, lean red meat, chicken or fish.
- Rehydrate with fluid and electrolytes. Aim to drink 125-150% of your fluid losses (1kg of weight loss = 1.25-1.5L of fluid).
- Reinforce your immune system with nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, dairy products, lean meat, skinless chicken, fish and nuts.
There’s no best option for exactly what to eat post-exercise. Milk-based drinks like smoothies can be a great option because they contain all your recovery needs – protein for muscle repair, carbohydrates for muscle recovery and fluid and electrolytes to rehydrate. Other suitable options include spaghetti Bolognese, chicken burrito, beef, noodle and vegetable stir-fry or a bowl of muesli with fruit and yoghurt.
- American College of Sports Medicine and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Dietitians of Canada. Joint Position Statement: Nutrition and athletic performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 2016;48(3):543-568.
- American College of Sports Medicine. Exercise and fluid replacement. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2007;39(2):377-390.
- Maughan R, Burke L, Dvorak J et al. IOC consensus statement: dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. Br J Sports Med2018;52:439-455.