Clever meal timing is a crucial factor in athletic performance
While many athletes go through a bit of trial-and-error with their diet until they come up with a plan that works for them, there are a few key points that all athletes should keep in mind when trying to match their meals and snacks to their activity.
Carbohydrates are primarily what the body relies on for energy. The body needs a fairly steady source from the diet, since there’s only so much carbohydrate the body can store – in the form of glycogen – in the muscles and the liver.
It’s important to ‘top off the tank’ with some carbohydrate before an athletic event. In choosing what to eat, all athletes need to consider how much time they have to digest before they start an athletic performance or event.
- Foods high in fiber and fat delay digestion time so save them for after your big event.
- Light or liquid meals digest more quickly than solid ones.
- During continuous activity that lasts longer than an hour, athletes need to keep the carbohydrate coming in. Specially designed sports drinks are ideal for this purpose, since they provide fluid and salts as well as the right amount of carbohydrate to keep muscles well fueled; some also provide small amounts of protein that help with muscle recovery.
- Post-exercise, athletes must consume plenty of carbohydrate to replenish the stores in their liver and muscles. Ideally, athletes should try to eat within 30 minutes or so after their event or workout is over. Fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans and dairy products are all terrific recovery foods. This is the time to load back up on the higher fiber carbs since digestion time is no longer a concern.
- Whey and casein – proteins derived from dairy products – are also needed after exercise to help promote muscle recovery. A protein smoothie made with milk and fruit, a sandwich on wholegrain bread with a glass of milk, or some yogurt with a piece of fruit are all excellent post-exercise meal ideas.
Your at-a-glance what to eat and when guide for superior athletic performance
More than 3 hours to your event?
If you’re planning ahead, then eat a regular, balanced meal no less than 3 hours before your event
Between 1 and 3 hours to start time?
If you have only an hour or two before your event, then enjoy a lighter, solid meal, maybe some cottage cheese and toast, or a bowl of low fiber cereal.
Less than 1 hour until you compete?
For athletes who have only an hour or less to digest before an event, choose something that will be easy on your stomach such as a smoothie or a yogurt.
During the event?
Keep topping up – use a specific sports hydration drink.
Just completed the race?
Dig into some healthy snacks like fruit, raw vegetable sticks and hummus or a protein smoothie
When you’re doing strenuous exercise, paying attention to what you eat – and when – can have a big impact on your athletic performance so don’t let eating become an afterthought.
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