If you find yourself lacking energy when working out, it probably means that you’re not eating the right foods.
Just like a vehicle, your body needs fuel to keep running smoothly. Not just any type of cheap fuel but a high-quality one.
Whether you’re training for strength or doing a HIIT workout to burn fat, a well-suited diet will help you reach your goal quicker.
Planning your carbs, fats, and protein intake will enhance your performance and help you with your post-workout recovery and injury avoidance.
Here are the best foods to fuel different types of workouts so that you can match your nutritional profile with your exercise routine and feel on top of the world.
Strength workout: bulk up on protein
Powerlifting, weight lifting, and muscle isolation make for a great strength workout that improves your endurance and helps you gain muscle mass.
But the exercises alone aren’t enough, and a balanced diet is necessary to win the bulk-up game.
Muscle tissue is primarily composed of proteins and water, thus it’s important to increase your dietary protein and water intake.
It’s been proven that strength training athletes require higher protein intake than sedentary individuals.
The ideal daily dose is estimated to be 1.6 to 2.8 g/kg, but 1.0 g/kg of protein will also suffice given that the current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of protein for the standard population is 0.8 g/kg.
Protein is not the only macronutrient that comprises a balanced diet for strength training.
Dietitian Lisa Booth recommends consuming 5–8g/kg of carbohydrates, and 30% of the total daily calories should come from fat, along with the advocated protein intake.
The timing of your meals is also important in terms of muscle building.
Protein will be best synthesised when consumed with healthy carbs immediately after your workout, but make sure you spread out your protein intake throughout the day.
A great meal that meets the strength workout macronutrients breakdown is a lean beef stir-fry. Lean beef is an excellent source of protein, as well as vital minerals such as iron and zinc.
Combined with a mix of fresh veggies and rice, which is rich in healthy carbs, you will savour this tasty and nutritious meal.
Other protein-packed staple foods that make for wholesome meals are eggs, fish rich in omega-3s, legumes, and skinless chicken breast.
Simply combine them with healthy fats that come from avocados and olive oil, and add a small portion of carbs, such as sweet potatoes, quinoa, or beetroot.
And if you’re worried that your dish might turn out too bland, remember that it’s all about the spices!
If you’re looking for a morning workout boost, opt for a heart-warming oatmeal.
Chassidy Smothers, an athlete, swears by her peanut butter oatmeal, which she calls “an ‘upgraded’ bowl of oats with a heaping scoop of chocolate protein powder and a tablespoon of peanut butter.” Omelettes, protein pancakes, and egg muffins are also great start-of-the-day options.
For all the ‘snackers’ out there, make sure you stock up on healthy nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts, as well as fruit.
HIIT workout: fuel up with carbs
As High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is gaining more popularity amongst fitness devotees, the notion that carbohydrates will hinder your progress is also becoming widespread.
However, carbs are our primary source of fuel, especially during high-intensity workouts when our body’s capacity to oxidise fat and carbs increases, as shown in a study.
Carbs come in two forms: simple and complex carbs. The first ones are also known as fast carbohydrates because they’re quickly digested and provide you with instant but short-lived energy.
Fruit, especially that with high sugar content, fruit juice, and honey are some examples of fast-burning carbs.
Complex, slow carbs, on the other hand, are digested and absorbed slower, providing for sustained energy levels over a longer period of time.
Think porridge, brown rice, potatoes, and whole-grain bread.
Ideally, a HIIT food plan will contain plenty of complex carbs. If you consume slow-burning carbs right before your workout, such as a chocolate bar, you will be burning the sugar from your snack rather than actual fat.
Of course, the optimum meal plan for such training would include a combination of carbs, proteins, and healthy fats.
While the strength workout diet focuses on large amounts of protein intake throughout the whole day, the HIIT one requires a balanced diet with an emphasis on carbs to fuel your body and help you with muscle recovery.
A great pre-workout meal to consume about three to four hours before your session is scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast, a breakfast smoothie packed with fruits, oats and chia seeds, or lean chicken and brown rice.
If you need a quick energy boost right before your workout, go for Greek yoghurt with berries, a fruit and nut butter, or a trail nuts mix.
To satisfy your post-workout cravings, you can enjoy a highly nutritious snack within 20 minutes of finishing your workout, such as a protein shake, sliced apple with some nut butter, or a rice cake with peanut butter and banana.
After about two hours, you can indulge in a savoury meal, such as quinoa and vegetable with lean meat, an omelette with veggies, or a jacket potato with tuna and sweetcorn.
Low-intensity workout: bring in the fats
Low-intensity workouts such as walking, swimming, pilates, and yoga produce little to no impact and keep your energy levels stable throughout the whole session.
Nevertheless, they are great for building strength, burning fat, and improving general health.
Because less energy is exerted, you will not need that many carbs to provide you with endurance.
To make it easier for you to count your carbs intake, simply stick to one carbohydrates-based meal a day. Nevertheless, protein is essential to help your muscle tissues recover and grow.
The main nutrient that will fuel your body during a low impact workout is fats.
Although they also have a bad reputation similar to carbs, fats aid many of our body’s functions, including muscle movement, vitamin and mineral absorption, and cell building, according to Harvard Medical School.
The Harvard experts advise focusing on healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), limit saturated fats such as whole milk, cheese, and commercial baked goods, and avoid trans fats such as margarine and hydrogenated vegetable oils that appear in mass-market cookies and pastries.
Those healthy fats we mentioned are comprised of delicious goodies such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, omega-3 fatty fish, flaxseeds, and sunflower seeds.
In order to make a balanced meal plan that complements your low-intensity workout, go for a protein-rich breakfast, such as soya yoghurt with nuts and fruit or a crab and asparagus omelette.
For lunch, you can have an avocado on toast or salmon with a salad with seeds. Finish off the day with a pesto panini or chicken and grilled vegetables.
Snacks-wise, give in to the temptation of a small dark chocolate bar or carrots dipped in hummus.
For low-intensity workouts, it’s not vital to eat a snack right before your workout, but if you feel like you’re getting very fatigued mid-session, have a little snack beforehand.
Nutrition and exercise go hand in hand, and if we get the balance right between our workout goals and our diet, we are bound to thrive.
Although experts are constantly advising us about the best food practices, it’s our bodies that dictate our choices.
So listen to your body and make sure you have lots of fun on your journey to optimal health!