Using your diet to fuel for fitness and energy

A few nutrition tips that will help you maximize your energy.

By Simon Jennings, Reg. Dietitian

Whether you are devoted to the gym or like to workout in the great outdoors I have a few nutrition tips that will help you maximize your energy.

1. Carbohydrates are your friend. Low carb diets have become very popular but will not give you adequate energy for exercise. Just to be clear, by ‘exercise’ I mean activity more strenuous than a leisurely walk (think biking, hiking, running, a fitness class, etc). And by ‘low carb’ I mean significant restriction of grain based foods. Carbohydrates are stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen. Glycogen fuels our muscles during activity. By eating whole grain carbohydrates with each meal and snacking on fruit you’ll help ensure that you have adequate glycogen stores for long lasting energy.

2. Choose the right type of carbohydrates. Of course you should limit ‘bad carbs’ like pop, chips, and sugary foods. Instead fuel your body with ‘good carbs’ such as whole grain bread, quinoa, oatmeal, fruit and vegetables. These low glycemic carbohydrates will provide more sustainable energy and appetite satiety. Where as high glycemic foods, like white bread, white rice or sugary foods can create energy highs and lows, and leave you feeling hungry half way through your activity.

3. Pay attention to the timing of your meals. Try to eat a meal with carbohydrates and a small to moderate amount of protein 2-4 hours before exercising. Adjust the size of your meal depending on how much time you have. The closer you get to ‘go time’ the more important it is to have smaller amounts of food that are easy to digest. Choose foods that are lower in fat and fibre as they slow digestion. For early morning workouts or times when you’re eating 30-60 minutes before exercising have a small snack that is primarily carbohydrate such as a banana and a glass of milk, whole grain crackers with a little peanut butter, or a smoothie with fruit and milk.

4. Hydrate! Carry a water bottle and drink from it throughout the day. Consume ½-1 litre of water in the 4 hours before your workout. It is also important to hydrate during and after exercise.

Here are some example meal ideas for two – four hours before exercise: Oatmeal with berries and milk or yogurt; Whole grain toast with peanut or almond butter and banana; Egg(s) and whole grain toast; Breakfast wrap: scrambled eggs, green onion, red pepper and salsa; Greek inspired salad made with chicken, feta and quinoa; Smoothie made with banana, frozen berries and plain Greek yogurt; Cottage cheese with fruit and a whole grain muffin; Whole grain wrap with veggies, lean meat and cream cheese; Lean meat or fish (2-3 oz.) with brown rice and veggies