A good diet can be the key to optimal sports performance. Yet the question of when it is best to eat - before, during or after training is the subject of much debate. The role of nutrition in the sports world is crucial. Not only is it fuel for your body, providing you with the energy to perform, but it also aids recovery and helps build muscle .
Eating before sport: for or against?
Why some prefer to eat before training
On the one hand, there are those who prefer to eat before their sports session to avoid feelings of hunger during exercise. They argue that it gives them the resources to maintain top performance. For Julie, a 30-year-old marathon runner, for example, a breakfast of oats and fruit 3 hours before a long run ensures regular intake.
The risks of eating right before training
However, eating just before exercise can also lead to digestive discomfort. During exercise, blood flow is diverted to the muscles, reducing the digestive system's ability to process food. That's why it's a good idea to avoid eating large, high-calorie meals at least one to two hours before exercise .
Eating during sport: is it necessary?
Benefits of nutrition during exercise
For longer training sessions, eating during sport can be beneficial. This can help maintain blood sugar levels and provide a continuous supply of energy, preventing performance slumps. For example, in marathons or long cycle races, en-route nutritional intake is a commonly employed strategy.
What and when to eat during sport
However, eating at the time of activity can also cause digestive discomfort for the same reasons mentioned above. That's why it's essential to choose nutrients that are easy to digest and assimilate, such as fruit or energy bars. As for the timing, it depends on the duration and intensity of the workout. For a 10 km race, for example, a banana eaten 30 minutes before the start can be enough to maintain your performance level.
Also read: Why should you hydrate during your workout?
Eating after sport: recovery is essential
Why it's important to eat after training
During post-workout digestion, for example, after intense exertion, such as weight training, the goal is to replenish your body's glycogen stores, help your muscles recover, and repair damaged fibers . A study from Stamford University has shown that consuming a meal containing protein and carbohydrates, ideally within 30 minutes to an hour after exercise , can optimize this recovery process : this is the ' metabolic or anabolic window '. Also, it is crucial to drink plenty of water to compensate for the loss of fluids and electrolytes due to sweating.
What to eat for optimal recovery
A meal rich in protein and carbohydrates is ideal for post-workout. Protein promotes muscle repair, while carbs replenish the body's fuel store. For example, a protein shake with fruit can be a convenient and effective option.
Sample Meal Plans to Maximize Your Performance
The pre-workout meal
A light, balanced meal with complex carbohydrates and protein can be a good option. For example, a bowl of oats with yogurt and fruit 2-3 hours before your exercise can be a great way to start the day. Complex carbohydrates in oats provide a slow-release energy source, while yogurt provides protein to support muscle synthesis.
Checklist of foods to eat before your physical activity :
- Oats : Ideal for fueling your workouts and filling up with fibre.
- Yogurt : with a good protein content to support muscle synthesis.
- Fruits : natural source of simple sugars to quickly regain vitality.
- Eggs : an excellent source of protein and useful nutrients for muscle maintenance and growth.
- Almonds : containing healthy fats and proteins.
If you are in a hurry and can only snack 30 minutes before your session, choose easily digestible foods that offer a quick source of intake. For example, a banana or a cereal bar can be good choices. These provide easily absorbed nutrients to feed your muscles during training, without overloading your digestive system .
On the other hand, here is a list of foods to avoid before sport :
Foods saturated with fat: Foods such as butter, cream, fries and fatty meats slow down digestion and can cause discomfort during exercise.
Foods that are too sweet: Carbonated drinks, candies or pastries can cause a rapid rise in blood sugar, followed by a sudden drop which can cause fatigue and weakness.
High fiber foods: Although beneficial for digestive health, legumes, certain fruits and vegetables can cause bloating and intestinal upset when eaten just before exercise.
Whole dairy products: These can cause digestive upset in some people, especially those who are lactose intolerant.
Spicy foods: These can cause heartburn and gastrointestinal upset.
Nutrition during training
A banana or a small nutritious bar are frequent choices for many athletes. They provide fast carbohydrates to support your vitality, enjoying easier digestion, without causing gastric heaviness.
Examples of foods to eat :
- Bananas : provide quick sugars.
- Energy bars : designed to be easily digested.
- Dates : they contain a large amount of sugar and fiber. Raisins: they provide easily digestible sugars.
- Energy drinks : These provide rapid hydration as well as electrolytes.
The meal after your session
A meal full of protein and carbohydrates, such as chicken with rice, can aid recovery . For a vegetarian option, a lentil curry with brown rice can be just as effective. Chicken is an excellent source of protein for muscle repair, while rice provides carbohydrates to replenish depleted energy stores. Ideally, this meal should be taken within 30 minutes of exertion.
Checklist of foods to favor (proteins and carbohydrates):
- Chicken : An excellent source of protein, especially lean meat.
- Rice : Source of essential carbohydrates
- Lentils : a high-protein vegetarian alternative.
- Salmon/Sardine : + in protein and omega-3, essential fatty acids that can help reduce inflammation.
- Sweet potatoes : They provide complex carbohydrates to replenish your carbohydrate stores and are also abundant in fiber, vitamins and minerals.
- Quinoa : it is an excellent source of protein and complex carbohydrates.
- Protein shakers : They offer a concentrated dose of protein, essential for the repair and renewal of muscle tissue. Easy to consume, they are particularly practical when you are in a hurry or when you are not hungry immediately after exercise.
Training on an empty stomach: What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Fasted training is the practice of exercising before consuming the first meal of the day. Proponents of this method argue that it can help burn fat more efficiently because the body, deprived of carbohydrates, would turn to your stored fat for energy.
Improved weight management : By directly burning fat, it would be possible to better control your weight.
Insulin Sensitivity : Some feel that this practice can help improve insulin sensitivity.
Schedule flexibility : For those who struggle to find the time, training on an empty stomach can be a practical solution.
Low energy : For some people, training without eating can lead to a decrease in performance.
Risk of muscle breakdown : increased risk if the body cannot find alternative fuel sources.
Hydration : Particular attention should be paid to hydration during sports sessions on an empty stomach to compensate for the loss of fluids.
It is therefore essential to listen to your body and exercise good judgment to determine if this method is suitable for your individual needs and your health and fitness goals.
Ultimately, the ideal time to eat depends on several factors, including the type of sport, the intensity of the workout, your digestive tolerance, and your personal goals . It's best to experiment with different strategies to find the one that works best for you.
So, it's best to try different approaches to determine what works best for your body and your health and fitness goals. Whether it's training on an empty stomach or eating before a session, the important thing is to choose a strategy that supports your physical activity and feels good for you. This could mean eating a full meal, having a snack, or in some cases exercising on an empty stomach.
1. When is the best time to have a meal before my training session?
It is generally recommended to have a meal 2 to 3 hours before your sports practice to avoid digestive disorders.
2. What types of foods should I eat during training?
Choose foods that are easy to digest, such as bananas or nutrition bars.
3.What should I eat after my workout?
A meal balanced in protein and carbohydrates, such as chicken with rice, is ideal for promoting recovery. For a vegetarian option, a lentil curry with brown rice can be just as effective.
4.How long after my sports practice should I eat?
It is recommended to eat within 30 minutes after your exercise to optimize recovery.
5. Can eating food in the middle of training cause digestive problems?
Yes, it can cause digestive upset because during exercise, blood flow is directed to the muscles, reducing the ability of the digestive system to process food.