Exercise Nutrition

Pre-exercise food intake

This meal should be eaten 2-4 hours before exercise. It should be high in carbohydrate, low in fat, low to moderate in protein but with a low amount of fibre. Too much protein will slow down the movement of foods from the stomach and will make you feel uncomfortable if you are going to be performing vigorous exercise. It should provide approximately 200-300g carbohydrate.

  • Pasta with tomato based sauce with chicken and vegetables
  • Stir fried noodles or rice with vegetables and lean meat, chicken or prawns
  • Vegetable and chicken risotto
  • Oats with milk/yoghurt
  • Toast/muffins/crumpets with honey, jam or marmalade
  • Spaghetti in tomato sauce or baked beans on toast
  • Sandwiches with lean meat, tuna or salmon
  • Jacket potato or sweet potato with low fat toppings such as baked beans, cottage cheese or low fat soft cheese, tuna and sweetcorn

Pre-exercise snack (60-90 minutes before)

You may find it beneficial to eat a small carbohydrate snack 30-60 minutes before exercise to top up energy levels. This could include:

  • Fresh or dried fruit
  • Smoothie
  • Cereal bars
  • Rice cakes with jam or honey
  • Fruit loaf / malt loaf
  • Sports drinks
  • Low fat yoghurt
  • Pre-exercise fluid intake

400 – 600ml water should be consumed 2 –3 hours before exercise to allow sufficient time for your body to get rid of any excess fluid. Sports drinks are useful before exercise if carbohydrate intake during the day has not been optimal or if there has been a long gap between the last meal/snack and the training session. Start drinking sports drinks 10-20 minutes before you start exercise.

During-exercise food and fluid intake

During exercise, your fluid intake will be dependent on a number of variables such as climate, intensity of session, clothing worn and access to drinks. It is easy to remember to drink in hot conditions but be aware that sweat losses can be high, even in winter months when you are wearing lots of layers. Sip fluid little and often throughout training. Do not gulp your drink!

Water or squash is sufficient for low intensity sessions up to 90 minutes. For higher intensity exercise of 90 minutes or longer, sessions in the heat or matches, a sports drink would be of benefit. This will supply carbohydrate to boost energy levels and electrolytes to help stimulate water absorption and replace electrolytes lost in sweat.

Carbohydrate gels can be consumed alongside water during sessions lasting longer than 90 minutes or during matches.

Post-exercise food and fluid intake

Effective recovery is crucial when you are training regularly. If you are not exercising again until the following day, your focus should be on rehydration and eating a healthy balanced meal containing some carbohydrate, protein and plenty of vegetables within 2 – 3 hours of finishing your session.

  • Salmon, brown rice, vegetables
  • Roast chicken, potatoes and vegetables
  • Couscous with roast vegetables and feta cheese
  • Spaghetti Bolognese with a side salad
  • Fajitas
  • Chilli with baked sweet potato and broccoli

After exercise the fluid required to replaces losses should ideally be consumed within 2 hours to ensure that optimal hydration is achieved as soon as possible in case a further event is imminent. Start rehydrating by consuming 400 – 600ml of fluid over a 2 hour period immediately after finishing. If you are planning on eating a meal during this time, water or squash are adequate choices. If you don’t have access to food within 2 hours of finishing, milk and sports drinks are good choices.