No matter the lifestyle, we all need a diet that provides all the nutrients necessary for muscle growth, maintenance and repair. But before an intense activity session, it is best to refuel the body by following some proven nutritional rules.
While choosing the foods, we should take into account many factors: individual body constitution, the nature of metabolic processes, energy consumption, age, stage of sports training, and climatic conditions. The preparation of diets, compatible with these factors, enable reaching high performance and rapid recovery of the body.
Mind that different kinds of activities and sports will require a slightly different nutritional approach. For instance gymnasts diet is one of the strict diets in the sports world.
However, basic rules to follow are quite the same when it comes to a healthy diet for being physically active. Let’s see what these nutritional basics for physically active people are.
The first requirement is an adequate intake of carbohydrates to keep blood sugar levels at an optimal level so as not to lack energy. Some of the carbohydrates consumed are stored in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen. During intense and prolonged exercise, this glycogen is the main source of energy for muscles, but these reserves are limited. A diet high in carbohydrates will keep them at a high level.
To meet their carbohydrate needs, some athletes will take carbohydrate gels or bars, during long-term effort (e.g.: mountain bike raid), which can be quite suitable. However, it is essential to have tried them before; intense exercise can decrease the taste for solid and too sweet foods.
Before a workout
At least 2 hours before moderate physical activity eat a light protein meal, but above all rich in carbohydrates that do not lead to a rapid rise in blood sugar (pasta, cooked beans, lentils, yoghurt, roasted peanuts, rice brown, skim milk, etc.). This guarantees you a sustained and regular supply of glucose. In the absence of a complete meal, less than an hour before the workout session, take a snack rich in carbohydrates that quickly increase blood sugar (bowl of instant rice, white bread, crackers, fresh fruit, muffin, raisins, a bowl of cereal with 1% or 2% milk, etc.).
If you are moderately active, the meal after your workout does not need to be changed. On the other hand, if you practice vigorous activities almost every day, it is better to quickly renew your glycogen stores by ingesting around 50 g of carbohydrates as soon as possible after exercise. With subsequent meals, you may increase your carbohydrate intake a bit. High-performance athletes resort to a glycogen overload diet.
Protein and fat intake
If you are very active, nutritionists recommend increasing the consumption of protein foods (meats, fish, shellfish, legumes, tofu, soy beverage, etc.). As for lipids, there is no need to add more. Choose good food that is a good source of lipids, rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (natural vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, fish oils). Limit the consumption of saturated fats of animal origin and trans (hydrogenated) fats, which are harmful to the cardiovascular system.
Don’t forget the water!
Water is a carrier of nutrients. It delivers carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals to your body. Water also serves as a lubricant, ensuring, in particular, a smooth sliding between the different tissues.
It maintains body temperature, provides electrolytes and carbohydrates when added to it, for example, when taking a rehydration drink.
Finally, everyone who is active should drink enough water to keep optimal body performance.
Before the activity – Drink 400 ml to 600 ml of water 2 to 3 hours before a moderate to vigorous exercise session.
During the activity, if the activity lasts more than 30 minutes, drink small amounts of water (100 ml to 300 ml) every 20 minutes. If the workout lasts more than an hour, a homemade or commercial energy drink containing a little salt and 4 g to 8 g of carbohydrates per 100 ml of drink will prevent you from losing energy.
After activity- estimate your water loss by weighing yourself before and after the session. If you have lost 500g, that’s approximately equivalent to 500ml of water to drink.
Foods not recommended for athletes
In the overall diet of athletes, no food should be banned. However, around training sessions, we recommend adopting the right reflexes for a successful sports meal. Thus all foods that are difficult to digest or that can cause gastric discomfort should be avoided: fats, spices, coffee, etc.
Whether they are good or bad fats, it is better to limit their consumption before and during training. The lipids require a long work of digestion which favours gastric discomfort during the effort. However, in the hours following exercise, it is highly recommended to consume good fats such as olive, flaxseed, rapeseed or walnut oil. Oilseeds and fatty fish are also particularly suitable because of their high content of Omega-3
Spices or foods that cause gas can cause stomach discomfort during exercise. They should therefore not be part of the sports meal just before training. Don’t try new foods before sports activities and don’t choose foods that are used to causing discomfort such as cruciferous food.