Following healthy eating guidelines alone can support an active lifestyle. However, when exercising, your body will use up more energy. Unless you are trying to lose weight, you may find that you need to eat more food to give your body the extra energy it needs.
Eating well for physical activity and sport can have many benefits including:
- Allowing you to perform well in your chosen sport or activity;
- Reducing the risk of injury and illness;
- Ensuring the best recovery after exercise or a training programme.
A healthy diet for sport and exercise should contain plenty of starchy foods, plenty of fruit and vegetables, some protein foods and some dairy foods. It is also important to stay hydrated.
Foods for fuel and exercise
The main role of carbohydrates is to provide energy.
Starchy foods are an important source of carbohydrates in our diet. Wholegrain varieties also provide fibre, which is important for digestive health, and a range of vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, iron, calcium and folate.
Protein is also important for health and physical activity. The main role of protein in the body is for growth, repair and maintenance of body cells and tissues, such as muscle.
Different foods contain different amounts and different combinations of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). Essential amino acids are those that the body cannot make itself and so are needed from the diet.
Fat is an essential nutrient for the body, but it is also a rich source of energy. Consuming too much fat can lead to excess energy intake which can lead to weight gain over time. It is important to follow current healthy eating guidelines, ensuring fat intakes are no more than 35% of total energy intake from food, with saturated fat intakes not exceeding 11% of total energy intake from food.
How to stay well hydrated
Sufficient fluid intake is essential for exercise and optimum recovery. Exercising causes the body to get warmer, so the body tries to cool down by sweating. This causes the loss of water and salts through the skin.
The amount an individual sweats varies from person to person and depends on:
- Intensity and duration – longer and higher intensity exercise can cause greater sweat loss.
- Environmental temperature – in hot, humid conditions sweat loss can increase.
- Clothing – the more clothing that is worn, the quicker you are likely to heat up which may cause greater sweat loss.
- Genetics – some people are just more likely to sweat than others.
Putting nutrition into practice
- The timing of eating and exercising can be important for how you feel and perform during your chosen activity. The body needs the correct fuel in the tank to perform well, however you want to avoid feeling too full or too empty during exercise.
- Individuals vary in their preferred timing of food intake and amount that can be eaten before exercise. Some may find two hours is plenty of time to digest their meal, whereas others may feel uncomfortable when taking part in activity and need a bit longer. Experimenting with what, how much and when will help decide what suits you best!