What to eat to get the most from your workouts

You are what you eat – especially when it comes to reaching your fitness goals

We’ve already explored the best ways to balance a hectic work schedule with achieving your fitness goals. But what if all that was going to waste, simply because you weren’t eating the right things? It happens more easily than you might think: a recent study concluded that exercise alone does not help in losing weight (if that is your end objective). So, eating the right diet plays a crucial part in maintaining health and wellbeing, and achieving those fitness goals you’ve set for yourself. 

To find out what we should be eating to support our exercise regimes, we sat down with Georgia Donati Clarke, personal trainer at London gym Soho Fitness Labs, for her expert advice on what to eat to get the most out of your workouts.

Whats on your plate is as important as what you do

‘There’s a lot of truth to the well-known saying, ‘you are what you eat’. Food is fuel, and if you’re filling your body with processed carbs (like bread, sugary pastries and white pasta), then no matter how many workouts you do, you’re unlikely to see the progress you’re striving for.

I recommend a routine of three to four workouts a week, combined with a clearly-defined diet that matches your goals. Depending on your goals this will vary hugely. Most people in a sedentary job could include a little bit more protein in their diet (an average of 40g per meal), and eat more vegetables and slow-releasing energy carbs, such as brown rice, sweet potato, beetroot, pearl barley and oats.’

What you should eat depends on your fitness goals

‘If you’re aiming to build muscle, then you need to ensure you’re eating enough. In general, you want to aim for three to four resistance-based workouts of a high intensity, combined with at least 2,000 to 2,500 calories or more (although this varies on a case by case basis). Of course, if you want to get fit and build muscle, then it’s safe to say that that’s less likely to happen on low-quality food than it is on a diet full of whole foods and balanced macros.

If you’re aiming to lose weight, but have eaten out more often than planned, then perhaps compensate by adding in a training session to ensure that you end the week in a negative energy balance (i.e. a calorie deficit, to support your goal of losing weight). This could look like booking into an extra class or stepping up the intensity of your usual workouts.’

Don’t be scared of carbs. Just make sure they’re the right ones

‘While all food groups are important, before a workout you should prioritise slow energy releasing carbs. If you’re working out first thing in the morning, make sure you’ve had some carbs for dinner the night before. Our favourite is sweet potato, because it’s slow releasing energy, high in vitamin A and C and it tastes good. Sweet potato is best steamed rather than baked. When baked it can significantly raises the glycemic index (i.e. the effect of these carbohydrates on a person’s blood glucose level), which means it turns into a fast releasing energy source that causes a spike in sugar levels.

If you’re working out late in the morning, make sure you have breakfast. Trying to work out at 11am on an empty stomach will definitely lead to a counterproductive workout. Instead, have a bowl of oats for breakfast with milk, a handful of mixed nuts (brilliant source of healthy fats and protein) and blueberries (great for antioxidants). Add some protein powder to your porridge to help regulate your blood sugar levels and keep you fuller for longer. If you’re working out in the afternoon, again aim to fuel up beforehand with some healthy carbohydrates. Whole grains like quinoa or brown rice, or vegetables like sweet potato, are all good.

Finally, if you’re working out mid to late-afternoon, the best time to have a snack would be 1.5 hours before you work out. A good snack might be a protein bar, Greek yogurt with mixed berries, a handful of nuts, fresh fruit or houmous and raw veg.’

Yes, it’s okay to snack

‘Protein shakes (with water, milk or even a frozen banana or yoghurt), mixed nuts (good for healthy fats, B vitamins and iron), Greek yogurt with fresh or frozen berries, and protein bars make healthy snacks. If you’re really organised, hard-boiled eggs and steamed sweet potato are also really good options.’

Eating too little is just as bad as eating too much

‘Overeating usually means getting your three meals a day, but also consuming snacks that go unnoticed, causing you to unwittingly exceed your recommended daily calorie intake. The best way to tackle this is to spend a few weeks tracking your calories with a food diary or tracking app like MyFitnessPal, and reflecting on where you could make healthy swaps.

Under-eating is also a common mistake. You’ll often see people drastically cut their intake and ramp up the time they spend in the gym, convinced that this will see them succeed in their quest to get the ‘perfect body’. Unfortunately, this strategy neglects to take into account the fact that in order to achieve a toned look, they need to build muscle, for which the body needs fuel. This comes in the form of food – so depriving the body of precious calories is counter-productive. The body will instead use muscle to sustain the workout, leaving you weak and lacking in muscle tone. Not quite what you had in mind.’

Finally, treat your body as you would your favourite car

‘Would you expect your car to perform well if you filled it with low-quality fuel, or to drive really well when it’s nearly empty? The answer is no – so think of your nutrition in the same way. Ensure you have enough fuel in the tank to keep you going, and that this fuel is of the best quality.’