What do we mean when we say fuelling for performance?
Well, like a car, the human body needs fuel to function and the right amount and type of fuel is equally important in humans as it is in cars.
For us, food is our fuel. Everything we eat and drink provides our body the necessary nutrients, energy and building blocks to keep us ticking day after day. When we exercise, we use up this fuel much quicker than usual as we move and break down and damage our body – in positive ways of course.
We also see an initial reduction in our ability to keep up that level of exercise in the short term. Try completing your HIIT workout twice without adequate rest in between. That’s just not going to end well for us, right! The second time round is naturally going to show a reduction in performance either from fatigue or by simply running out of fuel.
Put simply, we need adequate recovery time to refuel and repair!
Those 23 hours we’re not exercising that day are just as important as the 1 where we are and it’s where all of our fitness gains are reinforced. There’s no point smashing yourself for 45 minutes in a really intense HIIT workout if you are not going to back it up with the recovery and fuel your body needs to repair, ready to go again tomorrow.
Optimising the food and drink you consume around your physical activity (and during) is probably the most important and complex part of a healthy and active lifestyle so first of all planning is essential. Planning for activity in the first place is a great starting point but the next step is to look at your nutrition and diet to facilitate your next best performance.
Our nutrition and diet creates the foundations for our performance and recovery and often we use these terms interchangeably when in fact they are actually very different.
Diet is what we eat. Nutrition is what that diet consists of.
To help you understand that a little better. As part of our diet we might eat a burger. Nutrition is the breakdown of the macronutrients that your burger is made of. This same concept also applies to food supplements too and a big part of the sports nutrition offering is to address deficiencies or to support the body with extra amounts of the essentials nutrients just in convenient ways.
For some, simply looking at calorie intake is enough for them to consider themselves optimally fuelled for performance. They’ve matched calories in with calories out or created a deficit (or surplus) for example. However, as we have discussed previously on the U Perform blog, not all calories are equal. They are actually made up of sub groups called macronutrients, which are: carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.
And all 3 of these macronutrients play crucial roles in the 3 stages of fuelling for performance:
BEFORE | DURING | AFTER
Whether you are preparing for a gym session, bike ride, 5km run or even a marathon, you’re going to need fuel in the tank to get this done. But this is where it can get tricky, as the amount and type of fuel will change dramatically depending on the type of activity you are about to take on.
For example, a half hour low intensity run will require far less fuel than a high intensity HIIT workout, swim, bike ride or a longer and more intense run workout.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING.
Our gut and digestive system takes time to process the food we eat and exercising whilst this is going on can be an uncomfortable experience to say the least. A balanced meal rich in complex carbohydrates (pasta, rice for example) and protein as well as some fruit or veg, 2-3 hours prior to exercise would be sufficient.
And if you feel like you need a snack a little closer to the time, that final 30 minutes before your workout would be a good time to take on a light snack like a banana or carbohydrate energy gel or drink to name a couple of examples.
If you are exercising early in the morning however, your last meal might be the night before and no one wants to get up even earlier in the morning. This might leave you a little worried but never fear, there is something you can do…
It is possible to practise fasting for your morning workouts. This means exercising without having eaten anything in the hours prior to your workout. Done correctly, this is a great way to train your body to use natural fats stored in your body first as an energy source.
Word of caution, it is best to keep these workouts under an hour and of a moderate intensity as exercising on an empty stomach can be quite difficult and certainly takes some getting used to.
If you plan on completing extended periods of activity first thing in the morning you may need to start fuelling once you pass the hour mark.
Keep reading as this next section will cover the dos and don’ts of fuelling DURING exercise.
As we touched upon in the previous section, the longer the time spent active, the higher the energy demands will be and we will need to put fuel in as we go.
Important considerations should be duration of course, but also intensity, as the types of food you hope to consume should match the activity and the stresses your body is already experiencing.
The last you thing you want to be doing is eating a loaded baguette with all the trimmings whilst you are midway through a high intensity run session.
It is important to top up little and often rather than take large amounts in one go. Leaving it to the last minute like this is also a recipe for disaster. If you are starting to feel hungry or thirsty during a longer period of activity then often you are already too late and risking ‘hitting the wall’. That infamous feeling that at least every runner has experienced at some point on their running journey.
There are so many tasty and convenient products on the market that are absolutely perfect for giving you that energy boost you need to get you through to the end of your workout. Energy gels, drinks and bars are probably the most common and are the best friend of any endurance or multi-sport aficionado.
Some might even contain caffeine for that extra boost and the training ground is the best place to trial it out. It’s not a good idea to try anything new on a competition day for example as tempting as it might be.
But that’s not to say that normal food can’t be an option too. Bananas are always a great choice. Rice cakes and flapjacks are popular too!
With anything in sport and in life, one size does not fit all. It is a long term process of trial and error to find what works best for you. This should never be a source of worry for you. Exploring your strengths and weakness, finding and pushing your limits are all part in part of living an active and healthy lifestyle and should be an enjoyable experience.
You’ve put in the work, now it’s time to secure those hard earned fitness gains. And that’s where protein comes in. Protein is the building block of the body and is crucial for the recovery and repair of all the structures that keep us moving.
Protein consumption and timings is a complex game but we would always recommend a high protein meal or snack as soon as possible after exercise or physical activity. Protein contributes to the maintenance and growth of lean muscle mass, so you are going to want to give your body the best shot at making those gains as soon as possible.
The current recommendation is at least 20g of high quality protein to facilitate that recovery process straight away. This can be from traditional food sources like meat, fish, egg or even plant sources. Or you could use a protein shake like our active whey & collagen for a quick and easy way to get a high quality serving of whey protein AND collagen peptides immediately post exercise.
To summarise a little, if we don’t pay attention to the fuel we are putting into the engine before, during and after those periods of physical activity we simply increase the risk of injury, illness or just not getting the performances we expect or deserve. And no one wants any of those, right!
Thanks for reading! As always, leave us a comment down below if you found this helpful or if you have any questions for us. Make sure to share this with someone who you know will benefit from reading this. The U Perform family loves sharing ideas and encouraging each other!