Eating and Drinking
It may well be all the eating and drinking that has led you to the gym but now is not the time to stop. The trick is to know what to eat and drink before, during and after training.
Fair enough, but if you’re trying to starve yourself and sweat your little cotton socks to a pulp all at the same time, then you’re on a highway to fatigue, grumpiness and burn out. Yes we all want to burn off our fat reserves, and putting more fuel in as we exercise may seem counterintuitive, but if you want to get the most out of your gym sessions you should learn to snack for success.
The following recommendations are aimed at those doing cardio/calorie-burning exercises. The standard wisdom in the body-building world is that you can burn fat, or you can build muscle, but trying to do both at once is counterproductive. You’re better off burning fat first before moving on to muscling up.
If you head for the gym first thing before work, then the usual recommendation is a light breakfast based on carbohydrates (like cereals). Breakfast bars and sports bars can provide a good balance but be careful because a lot of breakfast bars have a very high-fat content. Sports bars usually provide a balance of carbs, protein and fat, but are high calorie so snack on them all day and you might as well have eaten all the pies.
A lot of people find it hard to stomach anything before a workout which isn’t a disaster (unless your workout is a three-hour run). It’s probably more important to consider what you shouldn’t eat, rather than what you should. Big no-nos include:
Sugar – Ignore anyone telling you that a chocolate bar is great before you play. Sure it contains loads of energy, but a lot of it is in the form of sugar. You’ll get a short, sharp, sugar high followed later by a sugar low. Combine that with the natural trough that follows a hormone and adrenaline-charged workout and you’ll leave the gym grumpy and blue.
Protein – Yes it’s the building block for making muscle but it’s also a pig to digest. Take it easy on the high-protein foods before a session.
Drink! As Father Jack used to say to Father Ted. Of course, he also used to roar ‘Girls!’ and ‘Feck!’ but we’ll leave those till later. In the course of an hour’s intense exercise, you can lose a kilo of bodyweight. Sounds good, but beware: that kilo is all water and if you don’t put this back into your system your cells malfunction and your blood volume decreases. So drink, but to rehydrate in a hurry you should opt for so-called isotonic sports drinks.
The essential ingredients in a sports drink are 6-8 percent carbs (usually in the form of glucose) and ‘electrolytes’ (usually sodium) to replace the minerals lost through sweat. Manufacturers make all sorts of claims for rival sports drinks but the key thing about isotonic drinks is that they are absorbing much faster than water because they more closely match the mineral balance of our body fluids. Incidentally, this also makes them nifty for morning-after rehydration – not that a dedicated athlete like yourself would know anything about that.
Endurance athletes also favor energy gels which may be isotonic or may need to be washed down with water. These provide energy on the go but you’re unlikely to be needing them unless your intensive sessions are over an hour long.
Shoving food into your face immediately after exercise may seem to miss the point but it’s an important time to eat. First, you want to avoid the energy trough that can follow a workout because your long-term motivation is going to be a lot better if you end up feeling great all day. Second, the body is a complex thing and if you make huge energy demands on it and then don’t feed it you may be sending it the wrong messages.
If your body believes times are hard with lots of work and no food it may even try to hold on to fat reserves. Reassure it that there’s grub aplenty by guzzling a sports bar, a sports drink or a banana after your work-out to give it some easily digested carbs to get going on.