In the quest for understanding food and fitness, there’s no shortage of information to digest. It’s more like information overload. Even the brainy among us are left scratching our heads.
To break down the basics, we recently caught up with Amy Giannotti, Dietitian, Sports Dietitian, Personal Trainer, Running Coach and athlete. Amy is the author of her own e-book, Fit Fabulous Foodie and the creator of healthy breakfast staple, Amy’s Grains. She specialises in weight management, hypertrophy, eating disorders, allergies and intolerances, vegan/vegetarian eating, pregnancy and sports performance.
It’s fair to say that when it comes to training and nutrition, this woman knows what she is talking about!
Watch: not turning up to the gym? Sam Wood gives us five exercises you can do anywhere. Post continues after video.
Food is fuel.
We asked Amy to describe her personal philosophy:
“There are over 35 different nutrients and they all have essential roles within the body. That’s why we need to eat food, to get all of these nutrients or “tools”. If you are meeting 100 per cent of your nutrition requirements, it’s like putting ‘premium petrol’ in the tank. If we are deficient in some nutrients we can’t expect to function at our best.”
Finally, something we can all understand. It’s a pretty simple concept when you break it down. We use premium petrol in our cars so they run cleanly, efficiently and powerfully. So why wouldn’t we do the same with our own bodies? (Post continues after gallery.)
Running on empty.
To eat or not to eat pre-exercise, that is the question. It really depends on when you exercise, and also on how much time you have before exercise. Here’s what Amy has to say:
“When you wake in the morning you have depleted your liver glycogen* stores overnight and all you have left is what’s in your muscles. It’s a great idea to top up these levels because after 45-60 minutes of moderate to high intensity exercise, glycogen starts to become depleted and your body will have to switch to different fuel sources like proteins or fats.
That may sound good, but you won’t be able to maintain high intensity work as those fuel sources are more energy demanding. You’ll end up hitting a wall, feeling flat and lacking energy. If you’re operating like this, you’re not going to improve your fitness, endurance or strength as effectively.
In general, before exercise or training you need carbohydrates. You don’t need protein or fats, and how much time you have before waking and training will determine what’s best for you. If it’s less than 1 hour, a carbohydrate rich snack such as a small banana or piece of toast would tick the boxes. This will help delay fatigue by preventing glycogen depletion. If you can start later, having a meal containing low GI carbohydrates 1-2 hours before is ideal. You might have multigrain toast with banana, eggs on toast or Amy’s Grains with yoghurt and fruit.”
We probably wouldn’t recommend downing a giant bowl of curry and going for a 10k run. That might not end well for you or your running buddy! If you are trying to get back to a healthy weight, you need to fuel your body correctly to keep up high intensity exercise. Drastically slashing your nutritional intake can become unsustainable. We need fuel to burn.
Carbs are not ‘the enemy’. They are essential to a sustainable fitness regime.
Sustaining when training.
Do we need to eat during training?
“You only need nutrition during training if it’s greater than 60-90 minutes of moderate to high intensity continuous exercise, something like marathon training or endurance cycling. This is because glycogen depletion could be a limiting factor on your performance. In an everyday diet, we want to promote low Glycemic Index (GI)* foods because they are better for satiety, long term heart health and stabilising blood sugar levels. The exception to this is endurance exercise and training for a ‘performance benefit’. In this instance, high GI foods like a sports drink, or gels can be preferable. The carbohydrate they contain requires minimal digestion and is available in the blood stream and to the working muscles fast.”
If you are doing moderate to high intensity exercise for 60 minutes or less, you should be good to go without food while training.
Recover in style.
What should we be eating after training? And when should we be eating it?
“Post training, we want protein plus carbohydrates within 30 minutes of finishing exercise. It’s the ‘30-minute window of opportunity’ for a speedy recovery. That’s when glycogen synthesis and protein synthesis is the highest. There are more ‘workers’ available in the body. So if you can get those nutrients in, it’s working more efficiently. This helps promote a speedy recovery which is beneficial if you have another training session within the next eight to 12 hours. Adequate refuelling supports our immune system and helps prevent us from getting sick.”
Planning is so important. If you are on the go, make sure you pack something to fuel your body post-training.
It’s a jungle out there. With so much information and conflicting ideas about fueling your body, it’s no wonder we are confused. Thank you Amy for coming to our rescue! We can’t get away from the fact that our bodies and their vital functions are complicated, just like us. But little by little we can begin to understand how it all works.
Keep learning, and you will be on the path to a healthy and happy life.
What food do you like to eat before and after a workout?
*Glycogen & Glycemic Index. Here is the lowdown:
Glycogen: Carbohydrate is the bodies preferred fuel source during exercise. The body stores carbohydrate in the body in a form known as glycogen. Glycogen is found in the muscles and a smaller amount in the liver. As there is only a limited supply endurance athletes aim to prevent glycogen depletion during exercise as this leads to fatigue and prevents the athlete from maintaining high intensity work. By consuming carbohydrate (e.g. Gels) during the event and topping up blood glucose levels they help ‘delay the time to fatigue’ or help preserve glycogen. Carbohydrate loading is also a method commonly practiced by endurance athletes where they aim to supersaturate their glycogen stores with a high carbohydrate diet and exercise taper 48 hours before their event.
Glycemic Index (GI) is a measure of how carbohydrate in food is broken down to glucose and released into the blood steam. It is a scale often described as low or high but also has number rating of 0-100. It indicates how quickly your body converts carbohydrate into glucose (the simplest form). Low GI foods are digested slowly, causing a gradual rise and drop in blood glucose levels. This keeps energy levels more stable and also helps with satiety (fullness). High GI food cause a quick increase in blood sugar levels followed by a rapid drop.