Confused about the perfect foods to eat to ensure top performance, and even the best time to consume them pre or post workout? We spoke to Kevin Currell, Head of Performance Nutrition at the English Institute of Sport, for his advice on the fuel your body needs for both performance and repair.
To maximise the performance of the human body you have to treat it like a Formula One car. This means filling it with high octane fuel so it can go as fast and efficiently as possible. After you perform, you need to put the right nutrients back into the body so it can refuel and repair itself.
For many sports, performance is determined by producing as much force as possible for the duration of the event. To do this the muscle needs to be able to contract powerfully, and the fuel your body uses to do this is called muscle glycogen. In fact, you can think of muscle glycogen as your body’s fuel tank. Before you start exercise you need to make sure it has sufficient fuel to produce the many powerful contractions your muscles are going to perform.
Just as a Formula One car, the best time to put fuel into the muscle is before you exercise. Before any exercise session where you’re looking for top performance levels, you should look to eat a meal which is predominantly based on carbohydrate foods. Carbohydrates are the high octane fuel of the nutrition world and provide the most effective way to ensure there is sufficient fuel in the tank to perform at your best.
Slow releasing carbohydrates are the most effective foods to eat 2-3 hours before you need to perform. Slow releasing carbohydrates could include foods such as a wholegrain bagel with salmon and maybe a little avocado, through to a quinoa and chicken salad. If you have a sensitive stomach, keep things even simpler and just have a bowl of porridge. If you get close to the exercise and haven’t had the chance to have a meal you could snack on a flapjack an hour before exercise.
Performing many powerful contractions to perform at your best will deplete the muscle of its all-important energy stores and potentially cause structural damage to the muscle. The food you can eat after exercise will need to replace the energy and help repair the muscle.
Consuming carbohydrates after training will help restore muscle glycogen concentrations quickly and effectively, and you should aim for 1g per kg of body weight after exercise to maximise the restoration of muscle glycogen. Timing is important if you have to perform again within 8 hours of the exercise. If you aren’t doing anything until the day after, don’t worry and just get some carbohydrates in when you can.
Protein intake will not only make the carbohydrate you consume get into the muscles more effectively, but will also promote the repair of the muscle. Protein directly stimulates the formation and repair of muscle fibres, with whey protein being the most effective source of protein to do this.
When you have finished an exercise session, a pint of milk with a banana is about as effective a recovery drink you can have. It’s simple, cheap and available wherever you go.