It's that time of year again when everyone's talking about getting active and being adventurous. The summer series of fun runs, ocean swims and cycle races have kicked off. And for the more competitive minded, there are marathons, triathlons and many of the more gruelling ultra-endurance events just around the corner. If you've signed up to one of these, maybe it's time to rev up your nutrition too.
Here are some tips and tricks to help you feel energised…
Know your goals
What you should eat depends on your goals. Are you aiming to lose weight, get fit, win races, or simply make the most of the summer? If you're exercising every other day for an hour or less, then your usual diet should be sufficient to take care of your energy requirements, although, you may want to drink a little more water in this warm weather to stay hydrated. By reducing your intake of sugary foods and drinks, alcohol and managing your portion sizes, you'll also find it easier to maintain a healthy weight. Whereas, if you're more serious about your fitness and have taken on an event like an Ironman, then you need to ramp up your energy intake, particularly from foods high in carbohydrate.
Why is carbohydrate important for exercise?
When we exercise at moderate-to-high intensities, our body is mainly fuelled by our internal stores of carbohydrate found within our muscle – in the form of glycogen. The longer and harder we train, the more glycogen we burn through and, therefore, the more carbohydrate we need to consume from our diet to replace what we have lost. Foods such as wholemeal pasta, brown rice, whole oats, potatoes, kumara, wholegrain bread and fruit are great options as they provide a sustained release of energy. Fun fact, some heavy hitters may require 6 – 10g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight each day to keep them optimally fuelled.
What if you prefer exercising before breakfast?
No problem! By including carbohydrate in your dinner the night before, your muscles should have a plentiful supply of energy, particularly if it's at a light-moderate intensity. If you're planning on exhausting yourself, by getting up slightly earlier to have a light breakfast, such as toast or cereal, you will get a higher quality and more enjoyable training session.
Do you need supplements, like sports drinks and energy gels?
If you exercise for less than an hour, don't worry about gulping down sugary drinks or squeezing gooey gels into your mouth. However, if you're on-the-go for several hours, then sports drinks and gels can provide a convenient source of carbohydrate to help fuel your muscles. Other food options include jam sandwiches, muesli bars, dry biscuits, small muffins and jelly lollies. As a rule of thumb, aim to consume 30 – 60g of carbohydrate per hour, which is equivalent to a couple of muesli bars.
Plan and prepare when heading into nature
New Zealand is blessed with some of the most spectacular walks, mountain biking tracks and adventure trails. Having a clear understanding of the physical demands of your adventure is essential to ensure you bring enough fuel and fluid to not only enjoy yourself, but to return safely. Short walks on clearly mapped trails may only require you to bring a bottle of water. If you're planning on trekking for several hours or doing a multi-day hike, then you'll need 2 – 4 L of fluid a day and plenty of energy rich snacks. Since keeping your backpack light is a goal, foods high in fat can provide you with more energy per gram than carbohydrate or protein. Snacks may include a trail mix, filled with nuts, seeds and dried fruit, toasted muesli with made with reconstituted full milk powder, peanut butter sandwiches and energy bars.
Don't forget about other key nutrients
Nutrition is not only about fuel-in and fuel-out. To remain active, particularly as you age, it's important to consume a nutritious diet. Staying healthy is essential, after all, it's inspiring to see people being active, adventuring and competing well into their 70's, 80's and 90's. A diet high in fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds is a recipe for longevity. Foods such as lean meat, fatty fish and dairy also provide a rich source of key nutrients. Together, these foods can provide everything you need to be active, stay healthy and enjoy every day.
So, what are you waiting for? Let go of poor habits and start preparing for your next adventure by fuelling up with a variety of nutritious meals and snacks. It's not long until summer is over, so let's make the most of it!