You know that exercise is good for you – but with so much conflicting advice out there, how do you know that you’re fuelling your body properly when it comes to nutrition and exercise?
When it comes to making sure your body can perform at its best and recover properly, both pre-workout snacks and post-workout meals are important and can make a huge difference to your workout routine - be it running, weight-lifting, yoga, or something completely different.
We asked Dr Hazel Wallace – author of The Food Medic For Life: Easy Recipes to Help You Live Well Every Day and a qualified personal trainer – for her top tips for keeping your body in peak condition. It’s time to fuel up your fitness the delicious way…
Easy does it
"Take new exercise plans step by step. Look at your diary and see what you can fit into your lifestyle in a way that’s achievable and not overwhelming. It might be getting up 30 minutes earlier three days a week, or scheduling in gym sessions. Building a habit is the most important thing – you want to be fit for life, not just for six weeks!"
Set a time
"There isn’t an ideal time of day for fitness. It depends on you and your lifestyle. I prefer to exercise first thing because I know my day is likely to become busy, which often means I end up sidelining any sort of fitness regime. However, you might really enjoy training in the evening to unwind after a long day."
"There are no set rules for what foods are best to fuel your body. That’s because we don’t eat nutrients, we eat food – and most foods contain a bit of everything. For example, oats are seen as a carbohydrate but they also contain protein and fat. To get a balance of nutrients in each meal, aim for a palm-sized portion of protein, a fistful of complex carbs (which take longer to digest) and two handfuls of veg, plus healthier fats such as a drizzle of olive oil or half an avocado."
"Carbohydrates and protein are equally important if you’re exercising. Carbs provide energy, while protein helps to build and maintain muscle mass. If you’re marathon training, then carbohydrates are going to be more important in your diet than for most people, while if you’re lifting weights and keen to gain some muscle, you’ll need to focus on a higher protein intake. However, for most casual gymgoers, meals around workouts should contain that balanced combination of protein, carbs, healthy fats and fruit and veg."
Get a boost
"While they’re an important source of energy for your body, not all carbohydrates will provide a sustainable amount. For example, sugar gives a surge in energy for a short period, while porridge oats provide a more long-term supply of energy due to their high fibre load. If you want to stabilise your blood sugar levels and prevent dips in the day, choose good-quality complex carbohydrates at each meal – oats, quinoa, wholegrain bread, wholegrain pasta, beans, pulses and potatoes."
"If you’re following a plant-based diet, particularly a vegan one, it’s important to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs. Certain nutrients are a bit trickier to obtain from a vegetarian or vegan diet, including iron, zinc and calcium – but lentils, tofu, chickpeas and cashews contain zinc and iron, while almonds provide calcium*. However, plant-based diets tend to be richer in fibre, folic acid, magnesium and vitamins C and E, and contain less saturated fat than meat-based diets."
Fuelling your body? Make it easy...
1. Plan plan plan!
"It’s time to go old school and write out a shopping list so you can plan your meals for the week, then you’ll know exactly what to buy. If you’re short on time, type it in the notes on your phone when you get a spare minute or two."
2. Take shortcuts
"Processed and packaged foods tend to be less nutritious than whole foods in their raw forms but it’s almost impossible (and totally impractical) to cut them all out. In some cases, though, the processed or packaged version is just as good as its raw alternative – so use your own judgement. Some of my favourite time-saving foods include frozen fruit and vegetables, microwavable packets of grains and pulses (such as lentils), cartons and tins of beans and chickpeas, carrot batons and other chopped veg, houmous and nut butters."
3. Add some colour
"Eating healthily and staying fit can be enjoyable and easy to incorporate into a busy life. An effective way to do this is to add some colour to your plate; the more colourful your plate, the greater the nutrient profile… and the health benefits. I love layering salads in jars with crunchy red peppers, ribbons of carrots and edamame beans."
4. Double up
"Cook once and eat twice by doubling up on your portions when you prep food. Serve up half and allow the other half to cool before popping it in a plastic food container and refrigerating it. Have it for lunch
the next day, or save it for dinner. Simple! This is an easy way to prepare meals, and avoids long cooking sessions – and the cleaning aftermath – every evening."
"Avocados are so popular nowadays, and celebrated for their high healthier fat content. I like mine mashed up with lime and chilli flakes on toast.
"Kiwi is a great source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that protects cells against damage from free radicals, which are linked to ageing and degenerative disease.
"Use frozen fruit and veg mixes to get a variety of nutrients into your day quickly and cost-effectively. Blitz with a scoop of protein powder and a tablespoon of oats for a smoothie to enjoy at home or on the go."
*For more info on which foods are good sources of nutrients for those on a vegan diet, visit vegansociety.com.