To get the most out of any physical activity, you need to give your body the nutrients it needs to function and before sports, carbs are where it’s at. And after too, in fact. Our bodies have evolved to look for energy from carbs first, but we can’t store a great deal: there’s some in our muscles and some in our liver, and there’s some glucose in our blood – our blood sugar. But because we can’t store very much, it’s important to get regular intake through the diet. This is especially important before exercise as you are about to make additional demands of your body.
The primary carbohydrate we are talking about when we talk about energy metabolism is glucose. Most of the carbs you eat like bread, potatoes, pasta etc. are broken down into this simple sugar which can then be used by the body to make energy. Glucose (or its storage form, glycogen) is the starting point for energy production, so an adequate intake of carbohydrate is necessary to maximise and replenish stores.
If you don’t replenish your carbohydrate stores after training, when you start your next session you will begin with lower levels which may ‘run out’ before the end of your game or session. A high carbohydrate diet will increase glycogen stores meaning that you can work harder, run faster, and perform better for longer. Conversely the reverse is true for a low-carbohydrate diet.
There are several factors affecting replenishment. The time it will take to replenish stores will vary on the amount of activity you have done. For example, it can take up to two days post-training and up to seven days after a marathon. In the first 1-2 hours after exercising, the body is most efficient at replenishing stores. If you miss this window of opportunity then it’s a much slower process. Not too much of a problem if you only play once a week, but a serious hindrance if you play netball in the evening and then cycle 45mins to work and back the next day.
So, bearing all this in mind, to get the most out of your body during your activity you need to feed it well before and after. In an ideal world a couple of hours before you start you should have a meal with some low-glcaemic index carbohydrates. This means carbs that are slow-release such as oats or brown rice. These wholegrain carbs take a long time to digest so by the time you start you will get a steady drip-feed of glucose into your blood stream to draw on straight away. Depending on the duration and intensity of your activity you may also want to add in a higher-GI snack an hour before to give an extra boost. If you are playing a full game of 5-a-side where there is almost no down-time, I would definitely recommend this! If you don’t manage to get the timing quite right, you could always fall back on an isotonic drink during your game which will hydrate and give you some very quick-release carbs to use almost instantly.
Then after you finish, straight away have a carbohydrate snack. Now, because you want to get the glucose into your blood stream as quickly as possible to catch that window of opportunity, it’s no good having oats at this point. This is when you want to eat white bread and jam. Something high-GI to get the carbs to your muscles and converted to glycogen as quickly as possible so you are good to go for the next session.
Try it, I promise you’ll be impressed.
Example Carbohydrate Foods for Exercise – Best Nutrition for Sports and Exercise
Pre-training meals (~200-300g Low-GI carbohydrate)
Porridge made with milk, a small handful of dried fruit & a banana 2 slices of wholegrain toast & peanut butter
Pre-training snacks (~20g carbohydrate)
Cereal bar Yogurt Banana 2 oatcakes
Post-training foods (50-60g High-GI carbohydrate)
200ml juice & a bagel
2 rice cakes & a yogurt
Cereal bar (rice crispy style instead of oats is better as higher GI) & a banana
2 slices toast (not wholegrain) & jam/honey
250ml juice & 1 bar of chocolate
500ml lucozade sport & 1 banana
100g white rice
Best Nutrition for Sports and Exercise
BY - Jo Travers
5 July 2016