Chocolate milk is an age-old favourite for endurance athletes. It might sound unhealthy, but it works because it contains the two essential ingredients you need after a workout: carbs to give energy and protein to repair muscles. A homemade fruit milkshake or fruit smoothie does the same job.
If you can’t stomach energy gels during long races, dried fruits are a great natural substitute as they pack in plenty of high GI carbs to give you energy. Aim for one or two servings before a race and two to three servings for every hour of running (one serving is roughly three dried figs). As with all foods, if competing, experiment with dried fruit during training runs rather than on competition day to avoid the dangers of a washing-machine stomach mid-race!
A compact boost of energy…
Dried fruit energy nuggets
Broccoli (and other green veg)
When it comes to bone-building calcium, plant based foods such as broccoli and kale offer a healthy dose and can be a good alternative to dairy products. Low calcium levels make you more vulnerable to stress fractures, particularly if you do endurance sports, so make sure you get enough calcium in your diet – the NHS recommends 700mg for adults a day.
Sweet potatoes are a good addition to a carb-loading diet before a long race, such as a half marathon. They are also high in the electrolyte potassium, which can help ward off muscle cramping during exercise.
Tomatoes may also help with a weight-loss programme: the fruit has been linked with natural weight loss hormones in the body such as leptin, a type of protein which helps to regulate metabolic rate and appetite.
Bananas are slightly higher in energy than other fruits but the calories come mainly from carbohydrate, which makes them brilliant for refuelling before, during or after a workout. They’re also packed with potassium, which may help with muscle cramps during exercise.
Combinations for extra energy…
Upping your exercise and activity levels can make you more hungry so it’s important to choose snack foods that pack in nutrients and curb hunger pangs. Nuts fill you up far better than other snack foods so are a wise choice to beat the 4pm snack attack.
Add to homemade cereal…
Like dried fruit, fresh fruit is also good to eat during and after exercise since it contains high GI carbohydrate-packed sugars, which provide energy to muscles in the quickest way possible. Frozen blueberries (often far cheaper than fresh in the supermarket) are brilliant when whizzed up into a post-exercise smoothie to replenish your muscles’ glycogen (energy) stores.
Pick protein for the perfect post-exercise meal. Protein rebuilds and repairs muscles so is the nutrient to fill up on after a workout. Protein-packed salmon is a great choice, as well as eggs and lean meats.
One of the best things about doing regular exercise is that it allows you a little more leeway when it comes to naughty foods. And there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself every now and again, is there? If you’re after a sweet fix, pick dark chocolate over cake or other calorie-laden foods to get all the nutritional benefits of cocoa with less added sugar. The higher the cocoa content, the better – look out for bars containing 70% and over.
Low-fat dessert idea…
Katie Hiscock is a fitness writer with diplomas in personal training and sports massage therapy. With an interest in sports nutrition, antenatal exercise and injury prevention, she works as a therapist for Brighton & Hove Albion.