Top nutrition tips to consider before exercise

Having something to eat and drink prior to exercise will fuel and hydrate your body for an exercise session ahead. By doing so, you are able to maximise your performance and get the most out of the session, in terms of both the intensity and the quality of the activity. Keep reading to find out our top nutrition tips to consider before exercise.

The advice below is generalised for the recreational exerciser and specific nutrition requirements will differ depending on the level of intensity and duration of physical activity.

How do you prep for a workout?

Generally, the majority of people can stomach a main meal around 2 to 4 hours before exercising and a small snack 1 to 2 hours before exercising. This meal or snack should contain a source of carbohydrate that’s low in fibre, easy to digest (i.e. not too high in fat) and sits comfortably in your stomach. There is no one size fits all approach to this – see what works best for you and your goals. Think about pre-training nutrition as fuel to fill up your energy tank.

Here are a few carbohydrate-rich snack ideas that you might like to choose from:

  • A piece of fruit – e.g. a banana, a few fresh dates; or
  • A small bowl of cereal with yoghurt or milk; or
  • A slice of raisin toast with a thin spread; or
  • A crumpet with a thin spread of honey; or
  • A fruit smoothie

If you can’t tolerate food first thing in the morning, prior to exercise, that’s okay! Consider having some quality carbohydrates the night before to ensure your muscles are topped up with glycogen. Glycogen is how carbohydrates, broken down into glucose, are stored in the liver and in muscles.

Hydration is extremely important

Be sure to sip on fluids prior to exercise to ensure you are well hydrated for the session ahead. Water should be the drink of choice for most people.

If you are competing, make sure your pre-exercise nutrition and hydration strategies are trialled and tested prior to race day to ensure they work for you. Trialling the types and also the timing of foods and fluids during training and practice sessions will help you maximise your performance on race day. For personalised and tailored sports nutrition advice, find an Accredited Sports Dietitian near you.

Make sure you check out next week’s newsletter where we will cover some top nutrition tips to consider during exercise!

Written by Carly Booth, Accredited Practising Dietitian from Nutrition Australia Qld, a non-profit, community nutrition organisation that provides education, support and training to shape the health and wellbeing of our community to make informed food choices.

Are nutrition and hydration important when you exercise?

Australia’s Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that we’re active on most, preferably all, days of the week. With that in mind, it’s incredibly important to consider how we fuel and hydrate our bodies. So, are nutrition and hydration important when you exercise?

There are three key macronutrients that make up the foods that we eat, all of which are essential in a healthy, balanced diet. These macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein and fat. Each of these macronutrients provides us with energy and plays a crucial role in the body through a wide variety of important functions.

nutrition and hydration important - healthy bowl
Let’s break it down

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy, especially for the brain. Dietary fibre is a type of carbohydrate and is responsible for keeping the digestive system healthy by supporting gut health and bowel health. Protein is responsible for building and repairing the muscles and tissues in the body, while fats are used in the body as an energy source. They store and transport fat-soluble vitamins and also play a crucial role in hormone production.

What might be a surprise is the importance of water. Water is essential for most of our body’s functions such as regulating body temperature and blood volume. As water can’t be stored in the body, it needs to be regularly replenished to make up for losses through sweat and other functions.

Related: Top tips for healthy eating

Each of these macronutrients can aid in maximising our performance when we are physically active. The amounts of these nutrients that we need is unique to each person and will depend on the type and the intensity of the exercise that we do.

Examples of food sources for each of these macronutrients
Carbohydrate-rich FoodsProtein-rich FoodsFat-rich Foods
– Starchy vegetables, including legumes/beans
– Fruit
– Grain (cereal) foods, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
– Milk and yoghurt
– Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
– Milk, yoghurt and cheese
– Choose unsaturated (healthy) fats like avocados, nuts and seed, olives, cooking oils made from plants or seeds, fish
– Avoid saturated (unhealthy) fats like butter, coconut oil, processed meats, cream, ice cream, processed foods

When considering nutrition and hydration strategies surrounding exercise, it can be useful to think about three windows of opportunity: before, during and after exercise. Each of these time points is occasions to fuel and hydrate our bodies. With that being said, the intensity and timing of exercise can significantly influence our nutrition and hydration needs.

Written by Carly Booth, Accredited Practising Dietitian from Nutrition Australia Qld, a non-profit, community nutrition organisation that provides education, support and training to shape the health and wellbeing of our community to make informed food choices.

Top tips for healthy eating

So, what exactly is healthy eating?

Before we talk about healthy eating, let’s talk about the Australian Dietary Guidelines. They are a great guide to food and nutrition as they provide a framework for healthy eating for the general population. These guidelines aim to promote health and wellbeing and also reduce the risk of diet-related conditions and chronic disease. Based on scientific evidence, the guidelines are comprised of five key components:

  1. To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious foods and drinks to meet your energy needs
  2. Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five food groups every day:

    – Plenty of vegetables, including different types and colours, and legumes/beans
    – Fruit
    – Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties, such as bread, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa, and barley
    – Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
    – Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat
    – And drink plenty of water
  3. Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars, and alcohol
  4. Encourage, support and promote breastfeeding
  5. Care for your food; prepare and store it safely

In conjunction with the Australian Dietary Guidelines, another useful tool to be aware of is the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. This is a food selection guide that visually represents the proportion of the five food groups recommended for consumption each day. It also visually represents the foods to use in small amounts (i.e. cooking oils) as well as the foods and drinks to consume only sometimes and in small amounts (i.e. discretionary foods). A guide to the recommended number of serves that an adult should be consuming per day, as well as what a serve actually looks like, can be found here. By eating the recommended amounts from the five food groups and limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, added sugars, and added salt, you will be getting enough of the nutrients that are essential for good health.

What's on your plate healthy eating

What does this look like in a meal?

We have put together the following resource which outlines how to plan and build a balanced plate. An easy way to think about this is to divide your plate into the following sections:

  • Start by filling ½ of your plate with colourful vegetables
  • Then fill ¼ of your plate with starchy vegetables or wholegrains
  • Fill ¼ of your plate with a lean protein source
  • Add a small amount of healthy fats

Give this method a try when preparing your next meal – can you build a balanced plate?