Training Hard Tomorrow? Here's What To Eat Today

Fuel properly now to perform better tomorrow.
One of the biggest mistakes is not eating enough.
One of the biggest mistakes is not eating enough.

If you've ever exercised hard on a completely empty stomach, you'll know how tough impossible it can be. You might feel weak, tired, lightheaded or simply unable to perform at your peak.

Whether you're running 10 kilometres, cycling to Whoop Whoop and back, or pushing yourself to the maximum in weight training, you need to eat properly the day -- and a few hours -- before.

"Consuming food and fluid before exercise should be seen as an opportunity to fine-tune carbohydrate and fluid levels, to ensure you feel comfortable and confident, and to support athletic performance," dietitian Robbie Clark told The Huffington Post Australia.

"If you haven't filled up enough, whether it's a big weight session or a run, you're not going to be able to perform at your best," accredited practising dietitian and sports dietitian Chloe McLeod said.

"It's about consuming enough carbohydrates and protein so that there's enough energy (and the right types of energy) available for your body to perform."

The three biggest mistakes people make when eating around training are: not eating enough, not getting the right mix of macronutrients, and eating at the wrong times.

"When the duration and intensity of training increases, it is also important to increase your calorie intake to support the body's extra energy requirements," Clark said.

"I often see people who do not eat accordingly. Their energy levels suffer and so too does their concentration, focus and performance. This can place them at higher risk of injury as well as prolong the recovery process from their training."

Particularly after training, it's important to eat or drink a mix of both protein and carbs, not just protein.

"The biggest mistakes would be people forgetting to eat a mix of protein and carbs after training. Often it's just a protein shake but, particularly with cardiovascular type exercise, the carbohydrates are essential -- they are what helps us refuel our muscles with energy so that we can be ready for the next training session.," McLeod told HuffPost Australia.

"Also, eating too much of the wrong things at the wrong times. If you're going out for a long run, plan to eat a carbohydrate-rich meal beforehand, and then a mix of protein and carbs after. Rather than having just a tiny meal beforehand or not eating at all."

Carbs and protein are your best friends.
Carbs and protein are your best friends.

When it comes to what to eat the day (or hours) before your big run/cycle/weight session, it depends on the type of exercise you are doing. However, there are two main factors in common.

"Drink plenty of fluids so you're well hydrated. Eat appropriate amounts of quality sources of carbohydrates, as well. They're the main things I'd be looking at beforehand," McLeod said.

If you are an endurance athlete, 'carb loading' the day before is especially recommended. With weight training, protein is your friend.

"If it's a big weight session, I would recommend to include protein in that, as well, just because it can help to preserve muscle mass. With the cardiovascular activity it's not as important," McLeod said.

As for timing, again, it depends, mainly on the size and quality of the meal.

"To determine how far in advance you should consume a pre-event or pre-training meal or snack, it's important to note that food consumed before exercise is only useful once it has been digested and absorbed," Clark explained.

This means you need to time your food intake so that the fuel becomes available during the exercise period.

You do NOT want to be caught halfway through a big run feeling lightheaded and sick.
You do NOT want to be caught halfway through a big run feeling lightheaded and sick.

"The time required for digestion depends on the type and quantity of food consumed. A general guide is to have a meal about 3-4 hours before exercise or a lighter snack about 1-2 hours before exercise. It's recommended that you experiment to find the timing, amount and makeup that best suits your individual needs," Clark said.

While eating healthy, macronutrient balanced meals the day before is important, what you eat in the hours leading up to the event or training session is even more important, Clark explained.

"The exception to the rule might be if you train very early in the morning. Even then, it's not recommend that you consume a large meal before bed," Clark said.

"Just remember that foods higher in fat, protein and fibre tend to take longer to digest than other foods, and large quantities of foods take longer to digest than smaller quantities."

Pre-workout or pre-event meals and snacks

The following foods are suitable to eat 3-4 hours before exercise:

  • Scrambled eggs and mushrooms on wholemeal toast
  • Lean meat and vegetable stir fry with brown rice or quinoa
  • Baked beans on wholemeal toast
  • Wholemeal roll/wrap with lean meat, cottage cheese and salad vegetables
  • Pasta, quinoa or brown rice with a sauce based on low fat ingredients (e.g. tomato, vegetables, lean meat)
  • Baked potato with cottage cheese and diced vegetable filling

The following snacks are suitable to eat 1-2 hours before exercise:

  • Liquid meal supplement
  • Protein shake or fruit smoothie
  • Rice cakes with spread
  • Breakfast cereal with milk
  • Cereal bars
  • Natural or Greek yoghurt and fruit
  • Fruit (bananas, particularly)

"For preparing, a banana is my favourite thing to recommend. Plus it's really convenient, particularly in the city -- there are fruit stalls all over the place so it's easy to access them," McLeod said.

"It depends on the time of day, but Weet-Bix or oats in a smoothie works really well. Or your lunch that day is a chicken and salad sandwich with some nice whole grain bread."

Fill your smoothie with carbs (fruit, oats, Weet-Bix) and protein (nuts, milk, yoghurt, protein powder).
Fill your smoothie with carbs (fruit, oats, Weet-Bix) and protein (nuts, milk, yoghurt, protein powder).

Post-workout or post-event

Equally as important (if not more) is your recovery nutrition after you've trained or completed the event.

"When it comes to choosing the best post-workout snack or meal, there is no one 'best' option or 'one size option fits all' approach, and recovery strategies should be individualised based on workload, body size, type and duration of the training just completed, goals related to body composition and personal preferences," Clark said.

However, there are some main goals that all recovery snacks or meals should have:

  • Appropriate refuel glycogen stores and rehydrate the body
  • Promote muscle repair and growth
  • Optimise adaptation from the training session
  • Support the immune system

"The focus should be on the composition of the snack or meal when it comes to macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats), fluid and electrolytes," Clark said.

A general rule of thumb, when it comes to carbohydrate intake post-exercise, is to consume 1.2 grams per kilogram of body mass per hour for the first four hours (e.g. 85 grams carbohydrate for a 70 kilogram person).

Whole grain toast with salmon and cottage cheese is a great post-workout or post-event food.
Whole grain toast with salmon and cottage cheese is a great post-workout or post-event food.

"The greatest benefits are seen when paired with protein and consumed within 30-45 minutes after completing your workout or exercise. This immediate delivery not only helps with the replenishment of glycogen stores in the muscle, but may also have a positive effect on the immune system as it helps down-regulate the hormonal stress response," Clark said.

"When it comes to protein requirements, consuming essential amino acids, in particular leucine, in the immediate recovery period is essential for promotion of muscle protein synthesis, critical for muscle recovery and adaptation.

"The general recommendation is to consume 20-30 grams of protein (or an equivalent of nine grams of essential amino acids if you're supplementing), which has been reported to maximise muscle protein synthesis in the first hour of post-workout recovery."

Post-workout or post-event meals and snacks

Some top picks for post-workout snacks or meals include:

  • A protein shake/smoothie -- protein powder with the addition of milk or milk alternative (e.g. almond milk, coconut milk etc.) and fruit
  • Two boiled eggs and a banana
  • Small tin of tuna on two whole grain rice cakes
  • Seasonal fruit salad topped with Greek yoghurt
  • Small tub (200g) Greek yoghurt with a teaspoon of chia seeds and sprinkle of nuts
  • Lean chicken and wholemeal salad roll
  • Small tin of tuna and one cup cooked quinoa
  • Buckwheat thins with natural peanut butter (or other nut butter) and banana
  • Hummus and one wholemeal pita bread
  • One small bowl lean mince Bolognese with pasta
  • One cup ricotta mixed with one teaspoon honey, sprinkle of cinnamon and apple pieces

"Yoghurt, milk, eggs on toast, and salmon with brown rice would be my go-to things to recommend to people because of the mix of protein and carbohydrates," McLeod said.

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