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Improving Athletic Performance

מאת: Erela Wilensky, Naturopath |

Our body is like a sophisticated machine – only if we know how to provide it with the right nutrients at the right time will we be able improve our achievements and conquer our goals with greater ease.

Our nutrition is crucially important not only to sculpting our body but to bettering the metabolism, increasing muscle mass, preventing states of weakness during physical activity and in addition, a balanced diet helps the body recover faster and with greater ease after exercise.

Well planned nutrition is important not only for Olympic athletes, but also for everyday athletes, who exercise to lose weight, develop muscles, participate in competitions and even to maintain their general health.

So why is it important to eat before exercising?

While exercising, the body is under exertion and in the hours following exercise, recovery processes take place in the body. Eating properly and in an organized fashion before exercising has a considerable impact on the effectiveness of the exercise.

In order for us to be able to have a good, strong exercise session, we must choose wisely which foods to “fuel” our body with. Eating properly before exercise will ensure our ability to exert our body for an extended period of time, while feeling light and preventing any discomfort in our digestive system.

When is the best time to eat before exercise?

Eating 2-4 hours before exercise will help in increasing glycogen levels in the muscles and in the liver resulting in improved physical performance.

What are the best foods to eat before exercise?

Carbohydrates are best food group for consumption before exercise, since our body uses energy both from the glycogen stores in our body (in the liver and muscles) and from the food we eat before exercising.

Carbohydrates – in a nutshell

Simple carbohydrates are sugars found primarily in foods such as sugar, chocolate, cookies, honey, jam, fruit, etc. These carbohydrates are quickly absorbed by the intestines, which is why they raise the blood sugar level quickly.

The disadvantage of simple carbohydrates is that this blood glucose spike will drop just a fast, and therefore, they are ineffective for a long and strenuous workouts.

Complex carbohydrates, such as legumes, sweet potatoes, rice, corn and whole grain bread, are an additional form of carbohydrates, which consist of starches built from long chains of simples sugars. The digestion of these foods is an extended process and the absorption and release of the sugars into the blood stream is slower, and accordingly, there is no immediate and sharp increase in the blood sugar levels, rather a slow and moderate increase, allowing energy support for an extended period of time.

Is it necessary to eat and drink while working out?

There is no need to eat or drink during a short, hour-long or less workout, assuming we made sure to eat and drink a carbohydrate meal about three or four hours prior to exercising and replenish the glycogen stores. On the other hand, during a workout, which is over an hour long, and has a medium or higher intensity level, consuming carbohydrates can be effective and even delay fatigue, allowing us to exercise at a higher intensity level.

What food or beverages should be consumed during exercise?

Once again, carbohydrates are the better choice, only this time, preferably carbohydrates with a medium to high glycemic index since they need to raise the blood sugar level and reach the muscles quickly.

They can be consumed as solids or in the form of a beverage, with the beverage having the added advantage of providing a continuous supply of both fluids and energy. One can prepare home-made beverage intended for consumption during exercise in advance (mix 200 ml fruit juice with 800 ml water and 1 gram salt).

The purpose of the post-exercise meal

The main purpose of the post-exercise meal is to support optimal recovery, renew the glycogen stores, encourage muscle building and improve physical performance.

What is the “window of opportunity” meal?

The term “window of opportunity” describes the state in which the muscle building metabolic rate is very high; accordingly, the meal after the end of an exercise session is no less important the meal consumed before exercising.

This window of opportunity begins at the end of the workout and continues for the next two hours.

A properly timed meal with a smart combination of protein and carbohydrates will result in the renewal of the glycogen stores and faster muscle building and recovery. This will allow us, in a relatively short period of time, to partake in another, high-intensity workout without feeling muscle pain or weakness.

Ergo, eating at the correct metabolic stage is an integral part of improving physical fitness.

Renewing glycogen stores

The post-exercise meal helps in renewing the glycogen stores depleted during exercise. Therefore, immediately following the workout, the recommendation is to eat carbohydrates with a high glycemic index such as dates, raisins, figs, beet, carrot, pumpkin, rice, etc.

Muscle building – what kind and how much protein is necessary?

The recommended amount of protein is 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight.

The protein requirement for athletes is considerably higher. Endurance athletes such as long distance runners need 1.4 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight, whereas athletes partaking in resistance training and strength training need 1.7 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight. Foods considered rich in protein are meat, fish, dairy products and soybean products. The combination of grain and legumes will also result in full, high-quality protein.

The food you choose to eat before, during and after exercising, and the timing of the meals will affect your performance, strength and endurance. Well planned nutrition will help you conquer new goals and targets.

Good luck!

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