Top sports nutrition facts to fuel your best performance
Wondering whether to eat before or after your workout? And should you wait to swim after a meal? These sports nutrition tips will help you perform at your best.
Ready to get active but wondering what to eat, when to eat and how much water you need to keep hydrated?
Here, our experts answer these and other frequently asked questions about sports nutrition and exercise.
Sports nutrition FAQ #1: Is it better to eat before or after a workout?
It depends on the type of exercise you’re doing, and the intensity, sports dietitian and The Climbing Dietitian founder Aleksa Gagic says.
For a gym workout, eating beforehand is not essential, but having a snack (such as a piece of fruit or muesli bar) might ward off hunger pangs, Aleksa says.
Eating after a workout is recommended because it helps with muscle recovery and topping up stores of carbohydrates and electrolytes – think sushi, or perhaps a sandwich or wrap with protein, salad and avocado.
Basically, though, both are important so “why not have something beforehand and then fuel yourself afterwards?” Aleksa suggests.
Sports nutrition FAQ #2: Does carb loading for an endurance event work?
Planning to eat a big plate of pasta the night before a big event?
Aleksa says it can help your performance because it tops up your glycogen (a stored form of glucose).
“Think of it like a spare tank of fuel that you may need to reach certain levels of exercise,” he says.
However, carbohydrate loading is only suitable for endurance activities that last more than 90 minutes.
Aleksa advises if you really want to perform at your best, you need to think about a nutrition plan earlier in your goal setting.
Sports nutrition FAQ #3: Will salty foods make me bloated and affect my workout?
For most people, having a salty snack pre-workout shouldn’t cause any issues, Aleksa says.
“Having a salty snack wouldn’t cause bloating to the level that it would cause a performance reduction or affect your workout,” he explains.
If you regularly eat foods that are high in salt, your body may retain water – though the effects of salt or water retention varies from person to person.
Sports nutrition FAQ #4: Should I wait half an hour after a meal before swimming?
Former Commonwealth Games swimmer Jason Cram says during his career he always believed the “misconception” that he should wait half an hour after eating before getting in the pool.
“The common belief has always been that swimming immediately after eating could lead to cramps, posing a risk to swimmers,” Jason, who now runs swim coaching business Swimly, says.
“The idea behind it is that digestion diverts blood flow to the stomach, potentially leading to reduced circulation to the muscles used in swimming, thereby causing cramps.”
However, he says, this belief hasn’t been proven.
Jason suggests listening to your own body, eating only a light meal before swimming, staying hydrated, and warming up before any serious swim.
Sports nutrition FAQ #5: Are eight glasses of water a day enough when exercising?
Sports dietitian Bethanie Allanson says this is “a really ambiguous number” – particularly when it comes to exercise.
“Often, people of the same size, height and body surface area can have very different individual sweat rates,” Bethanie, of the Western Australian Institute of Sport, says.
She adds that genetics and a person’s activity and fitness levels are also factors.
Bethanie says for most people, drinking when you’re thirsty and taking small sips throughout the day should do the trick.
But if you are very active or exercising in warm or humid environments, it can be a good idea to create a hydration plan.
Sports nutrition FAQ #6: Does being vegan hinder my sporting performance?
“No, it doesn’t have to,” Bethanie says.
“We have plenty of vegan athletes that compete at the elite level across a variety of sports.”
Some notable athletes who follow a plant-based diet, at least for most of the time, include tennis stars Novak Djokovic and Serena and Venus Williams, and cricketer Adam Zampa.
However, Bethanie says, such athletes need to have a very well-planned diet and watch their protein and iron intake.
She recommends eating a variety of plant foods, including fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Sports nutrition FAQ #7: Should I avoid eating after 8pm to avoid weight gain?
The science of chrononutrition – how nutrition relates to your body’s circadian rhythms – suggests there are metabolic advantages to giving late-night eating a miss, Bethanie says.
But it can also depend on your individual circumstances and goals.
For instance, if you’ve been training and need to kickstart your recovery, it may make sense to eat at this time of night.
Once you’ve eaten dinner and your nutrient needs are covered, though, you might want to go easy on the mindless snacking.
Sports nutrition FAQ #8: Are oranges at half-time good or bad?
Oranges are a great half-time snack for kids, Bethanie says.
Filled with vitamin C, they are hydrating and offer carbohydrates for energy, she adds.
“Some people think lollies are a good alternative, but oranges are a much better option,” Bethanie says.
Aleksa adds the half-time snack can help get youngsters into the habit of focusing on wholefoods when they think about fuelling their bodies.
“It gives a bit of a refreshing hit, and it’s a good gateway to get them thinking about nutrition more proactively,” he says.
Read more on nutrition:
- 6 high-protein snacks to help you power through the day
- Your guide to 5 common types of salt
- Animal versus plant protein: what’s better for you?
- Bare facts on naked carbs and how to dress them for success
Written by Larissa Ham.