What To Eat: Before, During and After Exercise


When you watch sport you may notice that tennis players eat bananas during a match, or cyclists in the Tour de France love chugging energy drinks.

The food and drink that athletes have are carefully planned to help them with their performance. It is important to eat a healthy, balanced diet with the right mix of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. When exercising, your body requires extra energy because it’s working harder. This extra energy helps to maintain your body weight, keep your bones strong and maximise how well you train and perform. If your not getting enough energy in your diet, you will feel fatigued, and may well be at an increased risk of illness and injury. It’s also important to make sure that you stay well-hydrated when you exercise.

Before You Exercise

What you eat before exercising will determine how much energy you have and how well you perform. If you don’t eat the right food, you may struggle to complete your workout and will not be able to do your best.

The best way to begin is to eat a meal containing carbohydrates three to four hours before exercising. This will increase both your blood glucose and your glycogen levels. Ensure that whatever you eat before exercising also contains a moderate amount of protein. This will help with recovery after exercise. Keeping it low in fat and fibre will also help to prevent any digestive problems, such as stomach pain and feeling sick.

If the exercise your participating in is extremely strenuous, it may be beneficial to have a small snack one to two hours beforehand. Similarly, if you don’t have much time before you start, you may want to eat something lighter. This should also be high in carbohydrate. If your in a rush, food that is higher in sugar is easier to digest and provide energy more quickly.

You may need to experiment with the timings of your pre-exercise meal or snack to make sure that you don’t feel any discomfort once you start exercising.

Here are some ideas for snacks and meals to have before you exercise:

Pre Exercise Meals:

  • Sandwich filled with chicken
  • Pasta with tomato-based sauce and vegetables
  • Baked beans on toast
  • Porridge made with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk

Pre Exercise Snacks:

  • Banana
  • Small pot of yoghurt
  • Cereal or energy bar
  • Light smoothie made from skimmed or semi skimmed milk

During Exercise

Eating during exercise can help to provide glucose to your working muscles. This will stop you from getting tired too quickly and increases your endurance and performance. How much you require depends on how long you’re active for and is very important when you’re exercising continuously for over an hour.

If you’re doing intense exercise for over an hour, try to eat 30 to 60g of carbohydrates every hour. You can either get this from carbohydrate-rich food that is easy to digest such as a cereal bar. But, you may find it easier to get from an Isotonic sports drink. If you are eating, its best to do so in small amounts during intervals, rather than all in one go. It’s also important to drink water while you’re exercising to prevent dehydration.

The table below has some ideas for snacks during exercise:

Food or drinkPortion size providing 30g carbohydrate
BananasOne to two (medium-sized)
Isotonic sports drink500ml
RaisinsOne handful
Cereal barOne bar

After Exercise

It’s very important that you eat soon after exercise to replenish your stores of glycogen. The amount to eat will depend on how long and how hard you have been exercising, and when you plan to exercise next.

Try to eat within the first 30 minutes after exercising and aim to eat around 1g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight, every hour for up to four hours afterwards. For example, if you weigh 60kg you will need to eat approximately 60g of carbohydrates. This may be preferable in the form of a high-carbohydrate drink if you don’t want to eat immediately after exercising.

If you don’t plan to workout for a day or so, ensuring your next meal contains plenty of carbohydrates should be enough to top up your glycogen stores. Protein is also important to eat after exercising due to its ability to build and repair your muscle tissue.

Good Post Exercise Snacks are:

  • Fruit Yoghurt
  • Sorts bar rich in carbohydrates and protein
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Nuts and dried fruit

In general, if you eat a healthy, balanced diet, you should get all the necessary vitamins and minerals your body requires. You shouldn’t need to take supplements unless you have specific medical or nutritional needs.

To Summarise:

  • Eat a meal that contains carbohydrates three to four hours before exercising.
  • Eat a snack that contains carbohydrates one to two hours before exercising.
  • Try taking in 30 to 60g of carbohydrates every hour during exercise sessions that last for longer than an hour.
  • After exercising, eat a meal that contains plenty of carbohydrates and some protein to help top up your glycogen stores and repair your muscle tissue.
  • Remember to keep hydrated when you exercise too.

If you require any more nutritional information, you may find our post about a high protein diet on a low budget useful. You may also wish to look over our information on energy boosting foods. For all your Martial Arts equipment needs please visit www.blitzsport.com.

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