All food can provide fuel for day to day activity, work and exercise. But what food will help you perform at your best for all of these things? Food has a powerful impact on the way you feel, your energy levels and motivation. Meals don’t have to include lots of extreme ingredients or super foods it just a matter of getting the right combination of food to provide the body what it needs when it need it. So what are the best foods to fuel the body over an active day?
The basic principles to stick to for healthy eating day to day is to eat regularly in smaller balanced meals of fresh, whole foods through a balance of lean meats, wholegrain carbohydrates, plenty of vegetables and fruit and limiting processed food and excess fats.
Within 30 min after morning exercise or waking up, start the day with either a bowl of cereal and low fat milk; a low fat smoothie with fruit; or a piece of toast with a protein source such as an egg or low fat cheese to fuel the body for the day’s activities.
Without eating breakfast your metabolism slows down to conserve fuel which means accessing energy can be a slow and inefficient process and may lead to lethargy during the day or a reduction in muscle mass, especially if training at high intensities.
If you are training first thing in the morning, a small, low fibre, carbohydrate snack such as a banana; unsweetened juice; or toast with jam before training is beneficial to help fuel the activity ahead of you to get more out of your training.
Even if you aren’t hungry this meal is important for improved performance so it might be best to view this intake as a function to aid training performance rather than just food because it’s tasty. Alternatively have a fluid option such as juice, sports drink or low fat milk.
Each meal can have an impact on how you will feel later in the day. If you have a poor choice for snacks or at breakfast or lunch chances are you will be either falling asleep or making a b-line for the biscuit jar at about 3:30pm. Eating as soon as possible after exercise is also important to reduce cravings later in the day, and to help with muscle recovery.
Smaller, frequent meals over the day keep energy and blood sugar levels consistent and can help to avoid over eating large meals or picking at the wrong foods. Aim to eat something every 2-4 hours, any longer than this and the body might start conserving energy, or hunger pains might make quick convenience foods more appealing.
Snacks at morning and afternoon tea can be included between meals; rather than picking or grazing for the whole time prepare a snack which is suitable. These snacks and post training snacks should try to include both protein and carbohydrate as this can fill you up more than a sugary snack which offers little more than instant energy that quickly fades making you look for the next meal. Good choices would be some grainy crackers and low fat cheese; a tub of low fat yoghurt; or a piece of fruit and a small handful of nuts.
A balanced lunch and dinner should again have a protein and carbohydrate source along with additional salads and/or vegetables to meet your nutrient requirements for the day. Salad on its own is not enough and can just make you hungry. Skipping carbs can also increase afternoon sweet cravings or have you picking at night; so include a serve of nutritious carbohydrates like grain bread or potato to make a balanced meal and avoid the sweets later instead.
A daily diet plan for competition day will be based around when you are starting and determining eating times around that time.
Note. Portions will vary depending on the size and gender of the athlete.
(approx 2-3 hrs before race start)
|Choose from -
› Cereal and/or toast + fruit
› Fruit and low fat yoghurt
› Smoothie + toast
|Eating earlier will give the meal a chance to digest so fuel can be available in the blood.
You don’t want to eat anything too different or too much more than what you would normally eat so the body is familiar with the intake.
|Choose from -
› Jam or honey sandwich on white bread
|If you are eating breakfast earlier than 6am you might like to have a top up high carb, low fibre snack|
8:30 - 9am
(1-1.5 hrs before race starts)
|› Sip on a sports drink or water||This will help to hydrate and top up carbohydrate stores. You might like to include it between your warm up and starting the race.|
Race starts 10am
|Choose from -
› Sports drink
› 200g low fat yoghurt
|Consuming some fuel as soon as possible after finishing will help the recovery process. Some fruit or sports drink will help prevent further muscle breakdown until your next meal which should include a protein source.|
(1.5-2 hours post race)
|Choose from -
› Ham or chicken sandwich/roll
› Chicken and tomato pasta
› Mixed salad with tuna and a roll
|In high intensity activity the body is still recovering for hours after the session so putting good food in now is important as its what will be repairing the muscle damage.|
|Continue on the day as normal, eating regular healthy balance meals.|
This information is a generalized consideration for healthy active individuals. Food choices and meal plans may change for individual cases and to take into consideration personal goals and dietary requirements. For more information specific to your needs it is best to speak with a dietitian.
This advice is from Sally Walker, an accredited practicing dietitian, sports dietitian and exercise physiologist. She is currently the dietitian at the NSW Institute of sport where she helps some of the state’s top athletes get the right fuel for recovery and to perform at their best.
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