First of all, you need to understand the underlying principles of metabolism, so that you can apply the basic rules of sports nutrition. Our metabolism is the foundation of all the biochemical processes in our body. Metabolism includes not only digestion but also respiration and the generation of energy.
Therefore, for our body to function well it needs to be able to perform proper metabolic processes. During metabolism, the components of nutritive substances are adapted and transformed in our body cells. That is why our body continuously requires nutrients. They serve as sources of energy, among other things.
Which Nutrients will Increase my Performance?
But which nutrients does our body need when we exercise? The following applies as a rule of thumb for calorie intake when training. About 50% of your energy requirements should be provided by carbohydrates, 20% by fats and 15% by proteins. It is necessary to concentrate primarily on the quality of nutrient material. Because one carbohydrate is by no means the same as another carbohydrate.
Carbohydrates are the most important source of energy in sport nutrition. However, the body can store only a limited quantity of this nutritive material in its glycogen stores so that they are then ready for delivery on demand.
The “good” carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index are particularly valuable. That means they do not allow the blood sugar levels to peak, while still delivering energy to our body over a longer period of time. They can be found in whole grain breads, durum wheat noodles and legumes, among other things.
On the other hand, products made of white flour or sugar contain “bad” carbohydrates. They contribute to weight gain over the long term and provide only a brief rush of energy.
Like carbohydrates, fats also serve as a source of energy. Since, in comparison with the two other nutrients, fat is the slowest to be digested, you should generally avoid fatty meals before exercising. If your body is more occupied with digestion on the football field, your performance will automatically be reduced.
Polyunsaturated fats such as Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids enjoy a special place in sports nutrition as they strengthen the heart and the circulation. These can be found mainly in cold water fish such as salmon and mackerel as well as in vegetable oils.
A sufficient supply of protein is primarily associated with muscle development when exercising. But even if you don’t want to gain muscle mass, proteins help in the regeneration of stressed muscle fibres, and should therefore also be included in the diet of amateur sport enthusiasts.
Eggs, lean meat, milk products and legumes serve as rich sources of protein.
What you should Eat before and after Exercising
Generally speaking, there should be a gap of at least three hours between the last main meal and the start of sports training. Eat bread or noodles to ensure you are well stocked up on carbohydrates. The best way to do this is in the form of a wholesome meal on the previous evening or long enough before training. For example, you can have a noodle party on the evening before a marathon.
Nevertheless, you should never start exercising on a rumbling empty stomach! A handful of nuts or a few pieces of dark chocolate are definitely permitted just before exercising.
In order to strengthen your muscles, the best time to consume proteins is after exercising. In an interview with „Spiegel Online“ (in German; "Spiegel" is a German weekly news magazine), Petra Platen, Chair for Sports Medicine and Sports Nutrition at the Ruhr University, Bochum, recommends planning several protein snacks after exercising, preferably every two hours. For example, you can simply drink some skimmed milk.
Don’t forget to Hydrate while Exercising
However, you should also ensure a good supply of nutrients during training, as your body needs an increased amount of fluids when exercising.
The problem here is that if you lose one percent of your body weight in water, your performance decreases measurably. Therefore, do not think about drinking only when you feel thirsty, as your body absorbs the water with a delay.
It is better to drink water regularly during the day so as to maintain your fluid balance over time. And another reason to hydrate regularly: when playing sports or exercising, nutrients can get to their intended places in your body only when the fluids are balanced!
Water rich in sodium is particularly suitable for sportspeople. When exercising, you may like to drink isotonic drinks that also provide carbohydrates. This delays exhaustion. A fruit juice spritzer mixed in a ratio of one to one is suitable after a strenuous workout.
The Correct Nutrition for every Sport
Various kinds of sports challenge your body in different ways and this should also influence your choice of food!
Before exercise/playing a sport: Carbohydrate-rich meal, such as noodles
While exercising/playing a sport: Water or isotonic drink
After exercise/playing a sport: Apple spritzer with a pinch of salt
Before exercise/playing a sport: Carbohydrate-rich meal, such as wholegrain bread
While exercising/playing a sport: Water, Muesli bars
After exercise/playing a sport: No fat!
Before exercise/playing a sport: Easy to digest meal, such as scrambled eggs
While exercising/playing a sport: Water
After exercise/playing a sport: For a marathon: Carbohydrates / For weight loss: Protein
Before exercise/playing a sport: Easy to digest meal, such as fruit or yoghurt
While exercising/playing a sport: Water
After exercise/playing a sport: Protein-rich meal, such as milk products
Football demands not just constant concentration but also subjects your body to intervals of high stress. To combat this, stock up on your stores of carbohydrates with your last main meal before the game. Drink 250 ml of water 10 minutes before kick-off. This will ensure that the nutrients reach the blood circulation in time. Tank up on energy at half-time! That is best done with one or two glasses of an isotonic drink and a few pieces of banana.
It is of particular importance to regain your water and electrolyte balance after the game. To make your own isotonic sports drink mix apple juice spritzer with a pinch of salt to balance the loss of sodium. You can again reward yourself with a carbohydrate rich meal two to three hours after the game.
Similar demands are made on your body by sports such as handball, ice hockey or basketball.
Pay particular attention to ensuring that your store of carbohydrates is well filled. Bananas, muesli bars and sports drinks should always be in your pack on longer routes. It is important to always remember hydration after an intensive round of training. It is best to drink isotonic drinks or even a classic apple juice spritzer. Avoid eating food that is difficult to digest after a round of training.
Your pre-running meal should, above all, be easy to digest and low in dietary fibre. Scrambled eggs or even wholegrain toast with honey are a good choice. Dehydration can be an invisible killer of motivation when running. „The right food before running“
So keep your fluids balanced over the whole day. You can allow yourself about 0.1-0.2 l of fluids approximately every 20 minutes while jogging. A word of caution here: drinking hurriedly will only lead to a heavy stomach.
After the run, it depends entirely on the target you have set for yourself. If you are preparing for a marathon, you should ensure your glycogen stores are kept full. If you are running to lose weight, the focus should rather be on high value protein.
If you prefer to work out on the weight bench at the fitness studio, you should also adapt your nutrition accordingly. If you experience an attack of hunger just before exercising, you can comfortably have a banana, apple or yoghurt (sugar free) with some oats.
The correct supply of protein is important mainly for muscle development. Therefore, you should eat high value proteins such as lean meat, dairy products and legumes after exercising.
It is a myth that you have a very brief time frame to eat. A tasty omelette will provide full benefits even two hours after a visit to the fitness studio.
Protein shakes make only limited sense, especially for sport enthusiasts. The need for protein that develops in your body after a normal training session can be fulfilled without any problem by balanced nutrition. But if you like to follow numbers and want to fall back on a natural protein bomb, simply try a small bowl of cottage cheese after exercising.
Would you like to give yourself some extra motivation for exercising? Then get yourself an individually printed jersey with the number of your favourite sportsperson! How about football, handball or cycling, for example?
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