Nutrition is such an important part of being an athlete, and getting the most out of every session. Let's first introduce Charis. She is nutritionist focusing on ‘enabling active mums to improve energy and perform and peak’. What does this mean? She is particularly focusing on mums post kids looking at getting active again and working with them around performance nutrition - for endurance events and life.
We spoke with her to help break down what we need to put into our bodies pre and post workout, and why it is so important.
What are the key things to fuel yourself pre workout?
Consider this a small ‘snack’.
Whether someone needs to eat before training and what they eat depends on several factors – these are;
- The length of the session
- Time of day
- The goal of the session
- Male versus female and
- how well an individual tolerates food prior to exercise.
As a general rule, fasted training is best applied to a recovery session and I am cautious with both men and women doing fasted training. A session greater than 60 minutes I do not recommend as being done fasted.
As a general guide, I follow these rules –
For a 60 minute or less training session, a small snack is helpful around 10-20g of carbohydrate (CHO) for an endurance session around 10-20 minutes before you commence. A small banana or a handful of dates is enough to boost blood glucose and reduce cortisol. Cortisol is catabolic and breaks down muscle and supressed fat loss, so this is part of my reasoning around not doing fasted training.
For a 60-90 minute session, eating before training is very important as well as eating during the exercise with some carb and a small amount of protein prior.
For 90 minutes plus training, eating before and during training is imperative.
It is important to remember that the stomach is a muscle and like every other muscle, it requires training. Eating prior to a ‘training’ session is recommended, however some people may need to really train their stomach to handle an adequate amount of food.
What are the key things to fuel yourself with post workout?
This is your primary recovery meal.
Post exercise, the focus is on replacing lost glycogen stores. Delaying eating reduces how well these stores are refilled. If you’re trying to lose weight, it may be tempting to not eat post exercise, or you may simply not feel like food. However, this is an imperative time to eat and replenish to allow for adequate building of muscle to really take advantage of the exercise you have just done.
Once again, these are general rules, however for endurance training recovery, I advise people eat a ratio of around 3:1 carb to protein for men and women. Recent research came out for pre-menopausal women suggesting .32-.38g/kg protein intake to maximise recovery (1). Therefore – a 60kg woman would need a range of 19.2-22.8g of protein post exercise with around 60g of carb to make the 3:1 ratio.
My top tips:
- Eat within 30 minutes of finishing your exercise
- Feel free to make it a big meal such as breakfast or lunch
- If you are not able to eat a meal, prepare an adequate smoothie for ‘on the go’.
- Avoid high fat immediately post training as this can interrupt carb and protein absorbtion
What is my biggest tip to athletes doing more than one session per day?
For double day training, refuelling post first session is essential to ensure adequate glycogen stores for the second session.
Without eating enough carbohydrate post first session, the body will utilise protein to make glucose for the second session, resulting in potential muscle loss over time.
Don’t be tempted to skip eating after the first session and make up for it after the second. Respect them as individual sessions to maximise the benefits.
From your experience as an athlete and nutritionist, what advice would you give to athletes who are new to balancing work, training, and everyday life?
Training should fit with your life, not rule your life. Prepare and plan your session and what you will eat the day before. Don’t wing it as this can lead to fatigue and headaches by over-training and/or not refuelling correctly.
Don’t compare your life, training or nutrition to anyone else. Your sex, body type, gut bacteria and type of training all impacts how you respond to nutrition – so there is not a ‘right or wrong’ only guidelines.
Food is awesome, hydration is the forgotten nugget. The more dehydrated, the more likely you are to suffer gut issues with fuelling. Your body needs approximately 600ml of water per hour of exercise – however, we do all sweat differently. So weighing yourself pre and post exercise on digital scales can be an easy ‘at home’ guide to how much you might be losing. Dehydration will cause fatigue, headaches, brain fog, sluggishness which is easily considered to be a lack of carbohydrate, so don’t forget the water!
You can find out more about Charis here:
- Mercer D, Convit L, Condo D, Carr AJ, Hamilton DL, Slater G, et al. Protein Requirements of Pre-Menopausal Female Athletes: Systematic Literature Review. Nutrients. 2020;12(11):3527.