The body is constantly using fuel to repair the muscle damage created in training and competing; this is how muscles grow and adapt to help increase strength as you develop as an athlete.
Having appropriate fuel present for muscles to use in training can help reduce muscle soreness and fatigue, which helps you back up for the next training session and perform at your best.
One meal alone cannot provide all the fuel needed to both recover from your last session and prepare you for the next training session you have. You need to consider each meal you have over a whole day as contributing to your training and performance, through continuous refuelling and repair, so energy is ultilised efficiently and effectively when the body needs it so you can reach your training goals.
When should I eat carbohydrates?
Carbohydrate is the preferred and most easily assessable fuel for high end activity – consume the most when you are most active!
A light meal containing carbohydrates prior to training can enhance performance, the more fuel present, the more you can push yourself and get the most out of your training session.
The body needs carbohydrates again to replace what has been used so it’s available for the next training session; and to assist with muscle repair and recovery.
When should I eat protein?
Loading up on just protein doesn’t mean it will all turn into muscle – any excess protein not used to repair muscle will be oxidized as fuel or will just end up stored as fat.
Regular amounts over the day
After heavy or multiple training sessions, the body regularly needs protein for ongoing muscle turnover. One meal alone cannot deliver all this at once – protein needs time to turn into muscle.
Having a balance of protein and carbohydrate in your snacks and meals – especially around training – will replenish adequate protein as it’s needed. This also gives muscles the best chance for recovery before you put them through their paces again.
Timing of day to day meals
Smaller, frequent structured meals over the day keep energy levels consistent and can help to avoid over eating large meals or picking at the wrong foods at the wrong times or if you are hungry or tired.
Meals and mid meals consumed at regular intervals are more beneficial for protein and carbohydrate delivery so the body uses this fuel for adaptation as it becomes available. It can prevent muscle wastage and can help maintain consistent body weight. If you are training heavily or aiming to gain weight you want to aim to eat something every 2-3 hours, if maintaining body comp or in a light training period aim to eat every 3-4 hours.
Try not to go longer than 5 hours without eating as this can effect energy levels and have a flow on effect which leads to fatigue or over eating at times when the body doesn’t use fuel as efficiently, which generally is late at night right before bed!
Timing of meals around training
3-4 hours before exercise consume a healthy and balanced main meal including a protein, high fibre carbohydrate and some good fats, so it has time to digest. When you exercise blood moves to the working muscles so leaving a bulk of undigested food in the gut may cause discomfort.
1 to 2 hours before exercise have a small snack higher in carbohydrates, low in fat and low in fibre to reduce the risk of stomach discomfort or upsets.
Less than 1 hour before sip on water or alternate between water and sports drinks if going into a high intensity or long duration event. If training continues longer than 60 minutes carbohydrate levels may need topping up to maintain energy levels and peak performance.
Eating ASAP after training is the key time to eat and start the recovery process to repair the body. Avoiding this opportune window for carbohydrate and protein delivery can slow down or delay the recovery process and the body’s ability to adequately accumulate stores for the next training session.
Aim to consume a quick snack in this 30 minute period containing approximately 10g to 20g of protein and work towards 1g per kg body weight of carbohydrate to around 60-70g depending on totally body size. If meal patterns are not resumed within 2 hours have another protein and carb rich snack to continue the recovery process.