Eating for exercise

  • By
    Roxanne Fisher - Health editor - bbcgoodfood.com

We all know a healthy diet is key to feeling great, but are you eating the right foods to get the most from your workouts?

Running shoes

Hands up if your exercise regime is as sporadic as the local bus? We're all guilty of watching our good intentions dwindle as we find any excuse to slack off yet we feel a whole lot better when we're active. So what makes us swap lithe smugness for the sofa? Ironically, it's often what we've had (or haven't had) to eat.

Girl preparing for exerciseMaybe you feel life is too busy for regular exercise. Maybe the dog ate your shorts. While there are a plethora of reasons to vanquish your virtue, one of the most common excuses for avoiding a run/swim/aerobics class is that we're just too tired.

This lethargic attitude is partly because many of us have no idea how to fuel our bodies for the sweaty task ahead. Some may also be more prone to throwing in the towel when the scales take too long to tip. Whatever the motivation (or lack of), eating for exercise is fundamental to success and maintaining the desire to get those overpriced trainers out from their dusty corner.

Spanish seafood riceIt doesn't take a nutritionist to see that healthy, balanced eating with fewer saturated fats and more fruit and veg will see us all a little lighter on the scales. But, making the right choices will also make that run in the park more palatable. When working out, all eyes are on carbohydrates, (stored as glycogen in the body) and are our main source of fuel. Good carbohydrates include whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans while bad carbs are often foods that have been refined and processed. Use wholegrain rice and pasta in recipes such as superveg pasta and Spanish seafood rice for a healthy boost and enjoy sweet, sat-fat-free treats with lots of fruit like this mango & banana smoothie.

For high intensity workouts, protein is also a key diet staple to get right. Once glycogen stores are depleted, the body turns to protein to bump up energy levels so eat plenty of meat, fish, chicken and eggs to insure you have solid supplies. Vegetarians can help back-up their energy levels with dishes containing lots of pulses, nuts and seeds.

box of eggsFive or six smaller meals a day are recommended for active individuals - as this helps to keep your blood sugar levels on an even keel. Low-GI foods and recipes are also great. They slowly release energy into the body - so tuck in, ideally, two hours before working out.

How much you should eat depends on lots of factors from age, weight and daily activity right through to genetic make-up. There are lots of online resources to help you estimate what your daily calorie intake should be but if you want to read more check out 'The complete guide to sports nutrition' by Anita Bean - a great resource for anyone interested in exercise and eating towards optimum health.

Find more exercise and nutrition tips in our fitness hub.

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