'Eat Right' Challenge, Carbs - Day 4

Emma White - Nutritionist

We asked Fitness Expert Helen to share a few questions she often gets asked by clients.

Should I have a sports/energy drink when I go to the gym?

This is a personal bugbear of mine!

I see so many people wandering around the gym with a bottle of essentially sugary water infused with caffeine. If you're training for less than 2 hours, your primary focus should be hydration (drinking water), so a sports drink will offer few benefits.

If you feel you need a pre-workout boost, then coffee will do the trick! If you prefer an energy drink, make sure you check the ingredients and calories – they still count, and certain beverages may result in you consuming more calories than you're burning off during the workout.

Do I need to carb load before I go for a run/workout?

The short answer is no unless you are about to run a marathon or are an elite athlete!

For general fitness – a visit to the gym, a 5k or 10k run, for example, you don't need to eat a shedload of spaghetti to fuel your exercise. That said, it is essential to eat right beforehand – see the answer to the next question.

And my final point – it's easy to use exercise as a reason to over-consume calories! Remember, exercise benefits can quickly be impacted by eating too many calories before and after compared to the amount burnt! So don't slip into the mindset of 'I'm okay to have that cake at work because I'm going to the gym tonight'.

Firstly, you've just given yourself another 300 calories to burn off, and secondly, what happens if your plans change and you don't get there? Cake 1 – 0 Gym.

If I don't need to carb load, what should I eat before and after exercise?

If you're exercising for general health and fitness, you don't need to worry too much about specific timings. To get the most from your workout, you need to ensure you are adequately fuelled and hydrated – lack of fluid does stop you from performing at your best.

And it is also good to eat well afterwards to ensure your body recovers and adapts effectively. This would be my eating plan:

2-3 hours before your workout – eat a normal meal incorporating:

  • Protein (minimally processed), e.g. chicken, fish, Greek yoghurt, eggs, Quorn
  • Vegetables
  • Quality carbs e.g. rice, potato, oats, bread
  • Healthy fats e.g. avocado, nut butter.

Up to 1 hour before – eat something easily digestible:

  • Toast with almond/peanut butter
  • Smoothie with almond milk, banana, Greek yogurt, protein powder
  • Apple and peanut butter.

Post-workout – try and eat within 2 hours of your workout:

  • Protein (minimally processed) as above
  • Vegetables
  • Quality carbs as above
  • Healthy fats as above.

Nutritionist Emma White (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.

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