Is your eating plan helping or harming your workout?

Eating the correct food at the correct time, according to the workout you do, can really help you improve your performance, tone and overall wellbeing. However, each person is unique and each expert has a different approach to exercise and nutrition. The general consensus is that diet affects your performance, and the food you choose to eat before, during and after your training will affect your recovery and performance outcome.

Different types of training have different variables when it comes to fuelling your body. The same can be said of your general health.

If you are a strong, healthy person, you may not need to watch what you put into your mouth as carefully as someone who has high blood pressure, diabetes or any other such condition.

All the experts consulted agree that each workout calls for a different nutritional approach. Personal trainer and owner of Fitness Technologies, Julian Reichman-Israelsohn, says: "The more intense your exercise routine, the higher the kilojoule burn and the faster your metabolism becomes, so you should take in more kilojoules to fuel your body correctly for the extra energy required for that type of training and performance."

Comrades Marathon winner Nick Bester adds that the more rigorous the training routine, the more muscle breakdown occurs, which means that more protein is needed for muscle recovery.

“Early morning workouts raise your awareness, helping you make healthier eating choices throughout the day”

When is the best time to exercise?

This all depends on your goals. Personal trainer, consultant and nutritionist Julian Naidoo suggests that if your goal is fat-burning, an early-morning cardio session will be good. But if it is muscle-building and strength-training, an afternoon training session will be better.

Reichman-Israelsohn agrees. "Between 3:00pm and 4:00pm is the ideal time to do resistance-training, as your body is fully awake and functioning properly. It has also been properly fuelled through the day."

The human body functions on a circadian rhythm or internal clock, and this cycle depends on your personal schedule. If you struggle to fall asleep, the morning is your best time to train, as the additional energy production of evening training can keep you awake.

Description: Fit to EAT

Lifestyle and wellness expert Lisa Raleigh adds: "Morning exercise is an ideal way to start the day feeling energized and raring to go. Early-morning workouts raise your awareness, helping you make healthier eating choices throughout the day." However, she also points out that those who train in the late afternoon and early evening have the advantage of training when the body reaches its maximum temperature. During this time, your lungs will process oxygen more efficiently to improve your stamina, your muscles will become more fluid and you will have increased agility.

But regardless of the time that you train, honoring a regular routine will bring you the best results long-term, and being wide awake during your workout will guarantee a more efficient session and more kilojoules burnt in that time.

“Ensure that you have a meal at least half an hour to an hour before you exercise, but make sure that it is low fibre, low-GI and contains fluid”

Pre-Workout Eating

Eating before training will ensure that your body is using energy, and not muscle, during your workout, so it is important to eat the correct snack before you train, says Naidoo. He adds that the more you preserve your muscles, the faster your metabolism becomes. When you wake up in the morning, you start the day with low blood-sugar, because you haven't eaten for about 10 hours.

"Training on an empty stomach in this state means your workouts are fuelled by the glycogen stored in your muscles, as well as your body's own lean muscle mass. The purpose of training should be to increase lean muscle mass, which improves your metabolism, so morning training on an empty stomach would be counteracting this process," reiterates Raleigh.

She explains that even though it's not a good idea to be running on empty, you don't necessarily want a lot of food in your stomach either. If you are going to work out first thing in the morning, Raleigh suggests a piece of fruit, a small yoghurt or a vegetable juice as an ideal pre-workout snack. However, she also recommends that the best time to work out is two to four hours after eating, depending on the size of your meal.

If you are training for an endurance event, Woolworths dietician Maryke van Zyl indicates that having a proper meal before the session is essential. "Have a meal at least half an hour to an hour before you exercise, but make sure that it is low-fibre, low-GI and contains fluid," she says.

Bester also suggests eating before you attempt a long, tough session, to ensure that you will have enough fuel to carry you through the entire race and that you can keep up your high pulse rate.

Eating before training can be very technical if you are training to compete, as opposed to simply keeping fit. However, running coach and nutrition expert John Hamlett says: "It's important to eat for energy and not always for maintaining your optimum muscle-to-fat ratio."

He explains that runners would need a "light high-carb kick, while weight-training is a little different, as the absorption rate is dependent on the movement and effort of that specific sport or exercise. A good rule of thumb is to try to keep the GI index near 35; this will aid in preventing a spike in your blood-sugar levels. As each person is different, Van Zyl recommends that, if you are training to compete, you experiment with your nutrition strategy before you embark on your event.

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