The more I’ve worked towards my fitness goal for 2014 the more I’ve realised that to succeed in the gym, I need to start and end my workout in the kitchen. So when Fitness First challenged me to super charge my health, I made an appointment with Steph Lowe, aka The Natural Nutritionist.
I kept a food diary (what, when and how much I was eating) and listed the exercise I had been doing. I then got Steph to be brutally honest and share her advice on how I could tweak things to fuel my body right – to make the most of my workouts and the most of my busy days.
How to Give Your Body the Right Fuel When Excercising
1. Get at Least 4 Hours Out of Every Meal
After reading through my food diary Steph asked, ‘”Has anyone ever told you to eat this often? Changing some of your food choices for more nutrient dense options will lead to enhanced blood sugar control and naturally, less snacking.”
I always thought I had a big appetite, but I didn’t realise that this was because I wasn’t always making the best choices. Nutrient dense foods give you the ‘biggest bang for your nutrition buck’ because they are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants. For example, kale, seaweed, sardines and eggs all make the grade.
The fact that I was looking for a snack a few hours after eating, also meant I haven’t been getting the foundation of each meal right. By including enough protein and good fats I should feel full for longer and get at least four hours out of each meal before I start thinking about food again!
2. Timing Is Everything
Another one of Steph’s great comments was that ‘Food is neither good or bad- there’s just a good or bad time to eat it.’
Steph takes the view that nutrition is not where we want to strive for perfectionism or follow extreme rules. It’s about having a good relationship with food and paying attention to timing. So, when it comes starchy carbohydrates (like fruit, grains, sweet potato, potato) it’s best to eat them post training to help with recovery and go easy on them at other times.
She also suggested that it pays to think about the timing of your exercise. For instance, if I knew I was going out to dinner for a hearty red and bowl of pasta, then I should try and time my run for late in the afternoon rather than first thing in the morning.
A third insight Steph had about timing was that when I train in the morning I should try and do it on an empty stomach to accelerate the percentage of body fat I was using as fuel. I usually wake up at 5:30, so if I had a session at 9:30 I would have a small breakfast at 7ish. Not because I was hungry but because I thought you needed to eat fairly soon after waking. But Steph suggested that if I wasn’t hungry, I should extend my overnight ‘fast’ and eat after exercising.
It’s best to refuel with an hour of finishing your workout. Steph suggested that a smoothie is a great option because post-training your body might not be ready to digest a big meal. It also has good nutrient density while the carbs from the fruit in your smoothie will help replenish glycogen stores. Other post-workout snacks to consider are egg cups with veggies, an almond meal banana muffin or a piece of fruit and handful of nuts which combine carbs and good fats for blood sugar control.
4. Gut Health Matters
Steph gave me a big tick for the fact that I pay attention to my gut health. Every day I drink kombucha and add fermented vegetables to most meals. Why? Because good digestive health is the cornerstone of optimal health.
Your gut is home to tens of trillions of bacteria, of which some are ‘bad’ (causing digestive stress) and some are ‘good’ (controlling the bad bacteria). When the microbiome is thrown out, it can decrease energy levels, negatively impact on your metabolism, immunity and brain health, effect exercise performance and give rise to a stack of other long-term health problems.
To find out how you can improve your gut health, check out this awesome article by Steph.
Steph’s message here was simple – regardless of how much you’re exercising everyone needs to pay attention to their daily hydration needs. For women, that means drinking at least 2.2 litres of water (which I do!) and if you need extra hydration when exercising skip sports drinks (which I do!) and add a pinch of sea salt and squeeze of lemon to your water. The minerals in the sea salt will help hold the water in your body.
Have you got any tips to share about fueling your body for exercise?