Updated 30 September 2014

Golden rules of exercise and eating

No amount of exercise in the world will get you the body you want if you’re eating all the wrong things. This is what you need to know.


People who exercise regularly need to eat enough – and enough of the right foods – if they want to reap the most reward from all their hard work.

Not only will having the right nutrition fuel your body for your workouts, but it will also help your body endure the stress of exercise, help with muscle repair and lead to better performance overall.

Exercise and nutrition is a very complex topic, with many different opinions and much contradictory research. However, we have boiled it down to five basic rules to get you started:

1. Don’t exercise on an empty stomach

If you haven’t eaten within the 2 hours prior to training grab a banana, an electrolyte drink, or something else that is light to keep your blood sugar steady. Ideally for shorter workouts (under 45 minutes) something like a banana will be enough, but for workouts exceeding 60 minutes you might need something more such as an electrolyte drink.

Read: Exercise and when to eat

2. Avoid ‘simple carbohydrates’

Sugary foods and soft drinks are considered ‘simple carbohydrates’ as they will give you an instant boost of energy, but this sugar-rush will soon fade and leave you feeling worse than before. Too much of this will wreak havoc with the way you metabolise insulin and can lead to excessive fatigue and fat storage.

3. Drink water

Proper hydration affects energy levels and regulates body temperature and heart rate. A one hour workout could drain you of up to 1L of water depending on exercise intensity and air temperature. This leads to dehydration and a subsequent loss of energy and possible muscle cramps. Remember the harder you workout, the more fluid’s you’ll need to replace, so keep a bottle of water handy. To stay well-hydrated for exercise, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you:

- Drink roughly 2 to 3 cups (473 to 710 milliliters) of water during the two to three hours before your workout.

- Drink about 1/2 to 1 cup (118 to 237 milliliters) of water every 15 to 20 minutes during your workout. Adjust amounts related to your body size and the weather.

- Drink roughly 2 to 3 cups (473 to 710 milliliters) of water after your workout for every pound (0.5 kilogram) of weight you lose during the workout.

Read: Too much water could be dangerous

4. Plan your meals

Much research points to how eating a balanced breakfastmay set the tone for how your body utilises nutrients throughout the day. This, together with making sure you have healthy food available for when you do feel hungry throughout the day will make sure you don’t go hungry and end up eating unhealthy foods.

5. Don’t skip your recovery meal

What you eat after a workout is important and can hamper any results you were hoping to get from your programme. For some people, eating a meal after a hard workout is ideal, for others, a supplement shake with protein and carbohydrates works best. Find what works for you. Then try take it within an hour of completing your workout.

Read more:
How much protein do exercisers need?
Raisins good for fuelling workouts
Water better than sports drinks

Amy Froneman (ACE-certified Personal Trainer), Health24, March 2014.


American College of Sports medicine; Sports nutrition rules; Eating and exercise; The importance of eating breakfast


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