Training and what you do in the gym is important. However, without the right fuel in your body’s engine you’re likely to struggle to get the results you want (particularly as your body ages). In the same way that if you fill a car with the wrong fuel it will run poorly and be less efficient, if you fill your body with the wrong food and substances it is unlikely to perform at its best. Also, like a car, if you use your car for longer it will need more of the appropriate fuel to keep going.
It’s easy to skip meals thinking it’s good to help you reduce calories, particularly as it’s so ingrained in our culture that cutting food and calories is the answer to getting into shape. However, bottom line. If you’re not getting the fuel you need, your body will struggle to work at the intensity you need to improve and worse may start to eat itself (catabolism) which could also negatively impact your progress. Not fuelling correctly can also increase your risk of health issues and serious injury.
In the same way that “weight” is less important than “body composition” quality of calories is almost more important than the quantity. Of course, if you over eat any kind of calories without appropriate exercise you are likely to just get fat. However, it can be surprisingly difficult to eat enough good quality calories let alone appropriate MACRO splits if you are training regularly and intensely enough.
It’s worth noting here that there is a time and place for skipping meals or “fasting” for periods in a good training and nutrition program. However, it’s generally more important to concentrate on your ideal MACRO calorie split based on your desired size and training levels at least until you are starting to get close to 10-12% body fat (for men, a few % higher for women). Not to mention that for most people monitoring every calorie and macronutrient to the Nth degree isn’t essential. You just need to be in the ballpark unless you’re noticing consecutive changes in weight over a few days adding up to more than 3-4kg. In other words, you’re weight can change 1-2 kgs throughout a day, but it tends to stay in the same ballpark e.g. 82kg in the morning and 84 just before bed due to food consumption and water. However, if over a few days it drops or increases by 4kg or more and it’s not intended you may need to check your calorie intake or just eat a little less or a little more and see what happens.
For reference – the NHS says on it’s website that the safe weekly rate of weight loss is between 0.5kg – 1kg (1lb – 2lb) a week. So if you want to lose 10kg aim for 10 -12 weeks!
The chances are, if you’re reading this, you probably need to focus on ensuring you’ve got enough gas in the tank to train well, but what does that actually mean?
The best way to assess this is ultimately to listen to your body and try to learn how it responds and trains based on the food you eat. However, here are some guides that should work for most people:
- The longer you are training for the more carbohydrates you are going to need. Particularly if it’s mostly cardio and/or more than an hour. For example, if you are doing a long bike ride or run, you are going to need plenty of good quality slow release carbs like oats, wholegrains and vegetables. Faster acting sugar carbs are also going to be helpful, particularly if you need faster release energy just before or during a long work out (e.g. eating on a bike ride). Bananas and other fruits are great, but you often see cyclist scoffing flapjacks too!
- While protein is generally recognised as more important in anabolic, strength and power orientated exercise, it makes sense to eat some protein whatever you are doing. Remember, you don’t want to break down your hard-earned muscle. Just be careful not to eat too much too close to your training as the body requires more to digest protein and the last thing you want is for your stomach to feel uncomfortable during exercise.
- Avoid feeling full when you start your training. It’s hard to workout to full intensity while your digesting a full belly of food. As a general rule of thumb, eating a good meal rich in quality protein and carbs 1 -3 hours before training will work – see below for an idea. If you really feel hungry close to a work out stick to a few small bites of a banana although this should just be a “top up”. Note: training on a relatively empty stomach can be a good thing as long as there is plenty of energy in the back of the tank.
- If you are feeling depleted and like you’re going to struggle to complete your workout half way through, it’s probably a sign you need more fuel next time. Your work out should be hard. However, if you slept ok the night before and you’re not over training, yet still struggling to work intensely for 40 – 60 mins you may just need a few more oats!
Here is one of my favourite pre-workout meals, typically eaten 1.5 – 2.5 hours before training. This works for a good 1 hour session or doing a full Tough Mudder, just increase the portion size depending on the level of activity:
- 2-3 Free range eggs (Cooked anyway you like)
- 30 – 40 grams thick rolled oats with skimmed milk to taste. Add 5 – 10 grams of brown sugar, honey or any unrefined sugar (don’t use refined white sugars). You can also add a little whey protein to the milk, particularly important if you are using a milk alternative with less protein per 100g.
- Portion or 2 two of fruit – e.g. banana, apple, blueberries, strawberries, etc…
- 1 cup of good quality coffee with a splash of milk