Nutrition for Exercise

We are all aware of how important food is for fuel in our bodies, but it can sometimes be hard knowing what foods to eat and when, when it comes to exercising. The Eatwell Guide provides us with the basic principles of eating to match our energy needs, which further applies when taking part in regular physical activity. When exercising, our bodies use up more energy so your regular healthy eating will not be enough energy.

Increasing your food intake to counter for the extra energy needs, may result in many benefits including:

  • Allowing high performance in your chosen sport or activity
  • Reduces the risk of illness or injury
  • Ensures the best recovery

There are a few simple steps that must be achieved: consume plenty of starchy foods, plenty of fruit and vegetables, some protein and some dairy foods, most importantly, stay hydrated!

Foods for fuel

The main role for carbohydrates is to provide energy. When they are digested, they are broken down into glucose to provide energy which can be used quickly and effectively. Carbohydrates are the most important form of fuel for exercise. The body also stores carbohydrates in muscles and the liver as glycogen, these can be converted back to glucose for use during exercise, but they are limited. Regular intake of carbohydrate-rich foods ensure you are able to perform at your best and reduce feelings of tiredness. Starchy foods are an important source of carbohydrates in our diet: whole grain varieties hold particular benefits with the addition of fibre, vitamins and minerals. Starchy foods should make up about ⅓ of what we eat, where as other sources such as fruit can provide the body with a quick source of energy. Competitive sports people may require more carbohydrates that the average gym user – which may be attained by the duration of exercise.

From British Nutrition Foundation

Another essential source of energy is fat. There is a taboo around fat that it is bad, which is excess can be true as it can lead to weight gain over time. However, it is essential to incorporate it into a healthy diet, ensuring that you get some energy from fats and upto 35% of supply. This fat should also try to be unsaturated fats. It is super simple to make swaps and change to unsaturated fats over saturated fats, as well as reducing fat intake in general.

Food for repair

Protein is also important for health and physical activity, the main roles of which are for growth, repair and maintenance of body cells and tissues. Different foods contain different amounts and combinations of amino acids which come together to build proteins. The body can make some amino acids by itself, but there are some that have to come from diet – these are found in animal products and plant sources (soy, tofu, quinoa and mycoprotein). The protein requires for an average adult is 0.75g per kilogram of body weight a day, compared to 1.2-1.7g for strength and endurance athletes (from British Nutrition Foundation).

Protein content of common foods


Sufficient fluid intake is essential for exercise and optimum recovery. When you exercise the body gets warmer, hence we sweat to cool down. This causes the loss of water and salts from the skin. The more you sweat, the more you will need to re-hydrate. The amount you sweat is influenced by numerous things:

  • Intensity and duration – the longer and higher intensity exercise can cause greater sweat loss
  • Temperature – hot, humid conditions cause increased sweating
  • Clothing – the more clothing, typically makes you warm up quicker, thus greater sweat loss
  • Genetics – some people just sweat more than others

Small water losses are not harmful, however, dehydration occurs when water loss is in excess of 2-3% of body mass. Dehydration causes tiredness and hinders performance by reducing strength and aerobic capacity. It is important to stay hydrated before, during and after exercising – with plain water or isotonic drinks.

What we eat is hugely important, but especially when we are training our bodies. Understanding what foods fuel your body and how much you need, really helps to put you on the right track for change. For more information of eating for fitness, you can purchase the ebook on dieting, here. For further details of eating healthy and recipe inspiration, follow the blogs and Instagram account.

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