Food for Fitness

By Paula Kimmel on February 28, 2011

When embarking on any exercise programme, it is extremely important to consider your diet. Ensuring you take in the right amount of the energy rich foods, protein and water will support your fitness activity, improve performance and aid your muscles in remaining in tip top condition ready for the next time.

With this in mind, it is therefore important to ensure your diet is balanced. There is no doubt that pasta is an ideal slow release energy food. It is an excellent complex carbohydrate and a source of glucose which is extremely important for the brain, red blood cells, muscles and organs; it also contains iron, B vitamins and niacin.

Although carbohydrates such as pasta can provide the energy to see you through your activity, protein is equally important and is needed on a daily basis; proteins are the building blocks of a healthy body. Not only does protein build muscle and is a source of energy, it repairs the body’s cells. When you take part in any exercise programme, your blood cells and muscles can suffer damage. If your diet contains proteins from lean meat and fish, you will recover faster and feel fewer after effects.

Animal protein contains all 9 complete amino acids which the body needs for growth in order to function. Plants do not contain the full range of essential amino acids, so what can vegetarians do to ensure their diet is balanced? Foods such as beans, nuts, meat alternatives such as Tofu and Quorn, soya, pulses, grains and dairy products all contain protein. By eating a combination of several types, such as rice and beans, it is still possible to take in the 9 amino acids so essential for a healthy body.

Once you have the correct mix of carbohydrates and protein, it is then important to understand what to eat before, during and after exercise. Getting the mix right can greatly improve your performance as well as ensuring your energy stores are not depleted too quickly.

It takes one to four hours to fully digest food; exercising too soon after consuming a meal may result in nausea or cramping. It is important to consider that different foods digest at different rates, but once you’re aware of how your body reacts to certain foods, you will then be able to recognise what you can eat and when.

For early morning training sessions, or if you’re in need of a snack, try easily digestible food such as apples, grapes, peaches, oranges, slice of fruit cake, yogurt, a slice of toast or cereal, all of which can be eaten up to an hour beforehand. Bananas are ideal for a quick refuel and make excellent post exercise snacks too. You can also use sports drinks or energy products such as gels and bars.

A main meal eaten four hours before can include fresh fruit, bread, bagels, a baked potato with tuna, baked beans or cottage cheese, pasta with tomato sauce, an energy bar, cereal with milk, rice with vegetables and lean meat.

After exercise, it is vitally important to take in two things, (as well as water), protein and complex carbohydrates. They must be taken an hour after exercise, half an hour if possible, in order to refuel, recover, repair and to prepare yourself for the next challenge.

About: Paula Kimmel is a keep fit enthusiast and owner of We Fit In, the leading on-line store for fitness wear for ladies in sizes 12 to 24.

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