Boost your energy for a better workout

If you’re not eating the right food, you won’t be getting the best results. Susie Burrell explains how to eat for energy.

To get the most out of each workout, your nutrition needs to be taken seriously. Most of you are already doing the right thing when it comes to food, but when you eat the same things every day, it’s easy to forget some of the key dietary principles that help regulate your energy levels.

If you’re eating well but still not feeling your best each time you hit the gym, here are some simple ways to boost your energy the natural way, with the right mix of fluid and foods.

01 Get enough carbs 

Unless you’re on a ketogenic diet, your body will be using carbohydrates as your primary source of fuel. In a quest to lose body fat we sometimes restrict our carb intake, and while some degree of restriction can increase fat metabolism, consuming too few carbs can also slow down your metabolic rate and leave you feeling tired and lethargic. A woman who trains for 1 hour each day will need at least 120-140g of carbs each day, with men needing at least 160-200g. This means consuming a carb-rich food with each meal, and ideally a serve of 20-30g of carbs in the hour before your training session.
Keep track of your total carb intake with a fitness app like MyFitnessPal.

02 Get choosy with your carbs

Choosing the right types of carbs is also important for your energy. High GI carbs are carbs that are digested quickly, such as white bread, rice crackers, white rice, lollies, dried fruit and juices. They give you a rapid increase in your blood glucose levels, which can leave you feeling tired, irritable and craving sugar. On the other hand, low GI carbs like wholegrain and sourdough breads and crackers, legumes, sweet potato, pasta and dairy foods help to regulate your blood glucose levels and keep you feeling fuller for longer. Base your diet around low GI carbs and leave the high GI carbs for when you need a quick burst of energy, like during an endurance race.

03 Don’t forget to hydrate 

Lethargy is often blamed on food, when it’s how much we’ve had to drink that’s the issue. The average person is walking around dehydrated because thirst is not as strong a sensation as hunger. It can be easy to become dehydrated when we’re busy, drinking a lot of coffee, training a lot and not paying attention. A tiny 1-2% loss of body fluid, or less than 1kg of fluid weight can cause dehydration, with symptoms of dry skin and mouth, listlessness, fatigue, mental fogginess and increased perceived exertion. The simplest way to feel and perform at your best each day is to drink more water. The average adult will need at least 1-1.5L of fluid each day, and an extra 500ml to 1L for every hour of hard training they do.

04 Focus on recovery

Being committed to your training means taking your recovery seriously as well. Nutrition principles for recovery begin with consuming some protein and carbohydrates within
30 minutes of finishing a high-intensity workout. A protein shake and a banana immediately post-workout will do the trick. If you forget to pack a snack, your recovery will also benefit from a protein energy bar, bounce ball or some fruit and nuts straight after your session.

05 Timing is everything

We often eat lightly during the first half of the day, only to find ourselves starving in the afternoon, overeating at dinner and going to bed on a full stomach. This wreaks havoc on our blood glucose regulation, which is key for long-lasting energy. Time your meals so you eat a serve of carbs and protein every 3-4 hours, and eat a substantial meal mid-late afternoon to give you fuel for late afternoon training sessions.

06 Take a meal off

People who take their diet and training seriously can sometimes be too strict, and are afraid to go off their program. It’s important to remember that it’s consistency, not perfection, that will give you results, and sometimes consuming a few more calories than what you’re used to will actually have metabolic benefits, especially for optimising fat metabolism. An occasional meal off or a few drinks will not undo all your hard work — rather, it may help you keep on track to achieving your goals, without feeling deprived.

07 Use caffeine well 

Caffeine is one of the most popular substances used to boost energy, concentration and performance. But the wrong timing and amount of caffeine can leave you feeling tired and lethargic. The energy-boosting effects of caffeine last for about 45 minutes after you take it, which are followed by a big “down”, especially if you’re used to double shots. Pre-trainers or a single shot of coffee are best enjoyed as close to your session as possible. Try to limit your intake to 100mg of caffeine for optimal energy regulation.