Exercise and Snacking: A Guide
Should you snack before, during or after exercise? For a lot of us this questions leads to a dozen others – will it make me feel sick? Will I feel faint if I don’t? Will it help my endurance? The answer isn’t black and white as we're all different, but fundamentally, food is our fuel and we need it. To help, get to the bottom of these questions, we asked Issy Lowndes, nutritional therapist for her guide on what we should be snacking on, and when, when it comes to exercise, with particular focus on endurance fitness, such as running and cycling.
Everyone’s requirements and preferences vary, but understanding what food is doing in your body may help you understand when the best refuelling time is for, be it before, during or after exercise, or even a little bit of each.
Generally if you have a healthy, varied diet, you don’t need to alter your nutrition specifically for your exercise routine. It’s only if you’re a performance athlete or body builder, for example, that more precise additions need to be included. Having said that, getting your diet as healthy as possible is only going to help your exercise programme.
Assuming you have the general diet covered, snacking is an area that you can focus on to really help your fitness programme and, crucially, your recovery.
Starting with before exercise – you need to prepare your body: think of it as a bit like your car – neither can run on empty. However, you don’t want that full feeling either, so about an hour before your exercise, gradually start to take on some fuel and hydration. The important thing is not to feel sluggish, so easily digested foods such as fruit and veg, wholegrains are all good options. Avoid fatty foods as these take longer to digest and use up vital energy to break down, when you need that for your run, or ride.
Wild Trail (below) make their bars from only five natural ingredients. Photo credit: Wild Trail
If you only have five or 10 minutes before you go and need something quick, you can’t go wrong with a banana, but make sure you drink plenty of water, too. Bananas are high in the right amounts of glucose, fructose and sucrose that we need pre-exercise and convert to energy faster than any fat, or protein. In fact, a banana is arguably the best exercise-related snack food no matter when you eat it. Here’s why:
- It’s a ‘good’ high carb food – when you exercise your muscles use glycogen (a type of carbohydrate) and so eating foods like bananas helps replenish these stores, aiding endurance and recovery. One large banana provides approximately 30g of carbohydrates.
- It’s high in potassium, which plays an essential role in muscle function. During exercise, your body loses potassium through sweat, so the more you sweat, the more you lose. If you are low in potassium you can suffer from abnormal cramping and discomfort. A banana is the perfect way to keep those levels topped up.
- It’s rich in manganese, which helps with bone development and wound healing. It also supports metabolism, helping your body use the energy from the foods you eat. Therefore, manganese supports physical activity and performance by helping your body get the most from your food.
It is not necessarily practical to carry around a banana whilst running or cycling – nothing worse than a squashed banana – so during your run or ride, when you are needing a quick energy fix oat and dried fruit bars are brilliant – they are easily digested and high in fructose to convert into immediate energy.
Battle of the bars
Here are three of my favourite high energy snack bars and brands:
An old English phrase meaning good health, Rude Health happens to be a natural foods company, too, producing all sorts of easily digestible snacks. ‘The Beetroot’ contains a mix of fruit, veg, nuts and seeds and is wheat and gluten free, with no refined sugar.
A perfect choice for anyone with a nut allergy, these snack bars come in a range of mouth-watering flapjacks and high-protein snacks. A great option if you need a quick hit of energy.
Another favourite, these bars are gluten free, dairy free, contain no added sugar and are suitable for vegetarians and vegans. Available in various tasty flavours like Carrot Cake, Cacao and Apple.
These are perfect if you’d like to make your own. Ella started her own health food blog after being diagnosed with an illness called Postural Tachycardia Syndrome. It left her with an array of symptoms, including stomach problems, allergic reactions and chronic fatigue. Medication wasn’t working so she decided to take matters into her own hands. She learned about diet and lifestyle, changed the way she ate and began to record the results on her blog. Today she is a best-selling author and deli owner.
Remember to keep hydrated – little and often before, during and plenty after your workout.
When you have finished and are warming down, once again the wonder banana is brilliant, but you also need to focus on foods that will help your body recover. When you exercise you use up stores of glycogen in your body, so replacing these stores will help encourage muscle growth rather than breakdown, therefore enhancing recovery. Eating plenty of carbs and protein after your workout will do this. If you’re in a hurry though, these foods are ideal quick and easy recovery options:
- Hardboiled egg
- Brazil nuts
- Oat cakes with a nut butter or humous
- If you like the idea of smoothies – try signing up to Batch Organics, they are brilliant and super healthy: All the ingredients are selected for you – with a choice of flavours. All you need to do is whizz it up when you need it.
- Rude Health do smoothie oats that are very easy to prepare and ideal pre- or post-workout
Happy (healthy) snacking.