Energy To Burn: 8 Activities’ Food Needs

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Energy comes from food. Knowing what and when to eat before, during and after a workout, ride, fight or game will allow you to perform at your peak.

Dale Taylor


90 minutes before training, have…

50g boiled sweet potato, 2 boiled eggs, 1 banana, 1 litre of water.

Immediately after training, have…

250g grilled salmon, 1 tsp olive oil, asparagus, mushrooms, 1 avocado. “This is a plate of good, clean, all-natural foods that’ll get used by your body to fully repair muscles after an ache-inducing combat workout,” Jelley says. “It’s also full of good fats — from the salmon and olive oil — that not only give you energy, but help weight-class athletes, such as MMA fighters and boxers, refuel without adding unnecessary body fat.”

The Expert:

James Jelley, the head MMA coach at the Fighting Fit Super Centre in Ballina, NSW ( “MMA is a tough workout that involves the entire body, so you want your energy-yielding carbs, such as the potato, to be fully digested long before you hit the mats. Hydration also starts long before training, because dehydration will negatively affect both your energy levels and performance.”


60-90 minutes before training, have…

Two slices of wholegrain Bürgen bread with ham and cheese.

Immediately after training, have…

250g grilled salmon, 1 tsp olive oil, asparagus, mushrooms, 1 avocado. “This is a plate of good, clean, all-natural foods that’ll get used by your body to fully repair muscles after an ache-inducing combat workout,” Jelley says. “It’s also full of good fats — from the salmon and olive oil — that not only give you energy, but help weight-class athletes, such as MMA fighters and boxers, refuel without adding unnecessary body fat.”

The Expert:

Dr David Mann, a sports dietitian at St Vincent’s Clinic, Sydney. “You don’t want anything in your stomach while training, otherwise your blood flow is diverted from your working muscles to digest the food. Eating 60 minutes beforehand means the meal will be fully digested and drip-feed your system with all the carbs and protein you need for an energetic workout.”


Two hours before exercising, have…

A low-fat muesli bar or three slices of wholegrain Bürgen bread with chicken.

Immediately after training, have…

Four slices of bread with tuna and mixed salad and a banana. “The recovery is similar to the weight-training circuit (left) because you’ll have taxed your body in similar ways, though not exactly the same, as you’ll need more carbs after interval training,” says Mann. “This meal will replenish the carbs you’ve used during your training.” The anti-inflammatory omega-3s in the tuna will also accelerate your recovery so you’re not stiff the next day.


15-30 minutes before you set off, have…

A honey sandwich on wholegrain bread, 1 banana.

During the ride, have… Winners Energy Gel ($2 each;

Immediately after the ride, have…

300ml milk, then 200g pasta with 100g bolognaise sauce.  “The milk and pasta meal has the perfect ratio of 3 carbs to 1 protein, which is the ideal combination for recovery,” Evans says. “This starts the muscle-repair process and will help mop up any muscle stiffness you might feel the following day.”

The Expert:

Cadel Evans, 2011 winner of the Tour de France. “Your body can only store a finite amount of carbs, which will eventually run out after about an hour on the bike. This carb-rich sandwich tops up your energy levels so you don’t run out of steam.”


60 minutes before kick off, have…

Grilled chicken breast and salad bagel, sports drink.

Immediately after the game, have…

Glass of pomegranate juice diluted with half water, then 100g sweet potato (boiled), corn, tomato salsa and turkey breast. This can be packed into a lunch box and taken to the game. “The juice is rich in antioxidants such as vitamin C, which can boost recovery after strenuous exercise,” Lovell says. “If drunk undiluted it can dehydrate you, so water it down. The potato gives you carbs to replenish what was lost on the field, plus the protein from the turkey will repair damaged body tissues from the workout.”

The Expert:

Matt Lovell, a sports nutritionist who has worked with the England rugby team ( “The carbs in the bagel serve up the sprinting power and the chicken gives you endurance in the second half. While you’re warming up, drink the sports drink for the sugars and energy kick you’ll need during the first 10-15 minutes of the game.”


30-60 minutes before you paddle out, have…

A smoothie with 30g of a protein blend (casein, whey and egg protein), 1 cup almond milk, 1 banana, tbsp almond butter.

Immediately afterwards, have…

200-400ml of water and a two- to four-egg omelette filled with diced red capsicum, spinach and mushroom. Beat eggs gently, pour mixture into a pan set to a medium heat. Fry fillings for 3-4 minutes, pour on top of the omelette, fold over, cook for three minutes. “Surfing creates a hydration and muscle-repair debt,” Sheppard says. “This meal-and-water combo repays these bills and the protein will ease muscle stiffness from your paddle so you can get back into the water the next day.”

The Expert:

Dr Jeremy Sheppard, sports science performance manager at Surfing Australia. “Surfing involves lying on your belly, so this smoothie gives you foods that leave your gut fairly quickly and don’t leave you paddling around feeling too heavy. This shake is rich in all the carbs and protein you’ll need to finance an extra-long surf.”


Two hours before you race, eat…

Four Weet-Bix, 1 banana and 200ml skimmed milk.

Immediately afterwards, drink…

One cup of a low-fat hot chocolate.

One hour afterwards, have…

A green salad with added chicken, quinoa and sweet potato. “Hot chocolate has a good mix of carbs, electrolytes and protein that’ll help you replenish the energy you’ve burned off during training,” Gaskell says. “The distance is still quite short compared to marathon distances, so the salad delivers just the right amount of calories and nutrients without making you add excessive bodyweight.”

The Expert:

Stephanie Gaskell, sports dietitian (optimalendurance “For an endurance race, we focus on carb-rich foods for energy and make sure the meal is low-fat and low-fibre, because endurance athletes can get abdominal upsets with slow-digesting high-fat foods. Tailor your portion to your bodyweight by making sure you have 1-2g carbs per kilo of bodyweight.”


Two to three hours before a race, have…

Two slices of white-bread toast with jam, 1 banana and 200-500ml of water every hour before the race.

Immediately afterwards, drink…

500ml water.

30 minutes afterwards, have…

Scrambled eggs, salmon, tomato, toast and baked beans. “There aren’t usually many protein-rich meals on offer at the end of the race, so go out for a breakfast at a local cafe,” Meade says. “The meal above will replace the electrolytes you’ve lost, energy you’ve burned off and deliver plenty of muscle-repairing protein.”

The Expert:

Anthony Meade, an accredited sports dietitian who has consulted to the AIS and Lakers Triathlon club. “Triathlons start at 7am, so you have to wake up at 5am to eat. The meal (left) is fast-digesting because you want very little food weighing down your gut during the race. Stick to foods you’re familiar with. As new foods can upset your digestion, try out this meal before an event.”

Why a protein shake after exercise is good

Nutrition experts prefer the whole-food approach to a liquid diet, but which is right?

When you exercise regularly, your muscles break down and remodel when they repair. Research by the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) found this process is accelerated by 33 percent when people drink a whey protein shake after exercise.

“It makes good sense that consuming a food containing high-quality protein (such as milk proteins) during and/or immediately following exercise would help muscles get stronger,” says Dr Shelly McGuire, the spokesperson for the ASN. “Muscle strength doesn’t happen on its own — our muscles need to be both encouraged (as happens via exercise) and nourished (as happens when we eat well).

“There’s not enough evidence to suggest protein shakes work better than whole foods — it only means they can work just as well.” The trouble with shakes is they don’t always fill the hunger gaps carved out by a sweat session. Your approach should be to drink a protein shake directly afterwards and then, if you’re not trying to lose weight, have a high-protein meal 60 minutes afterwards.

Post-exercise energy recovery strategies

Recuperating after a workout is when you do your invisible training. Here are strength coach Nick Grantham’s recovery rules in the order you should use them.

Level 1

Rest, sleep, nutrition, hydration

“Don’t consider the level 3 and 4 recovery strategies if you haven’t hit the basics,” Grantham says. So don’t wear a compression garment all day if you aren’t eating the right foods after your workouts or getting only four hours’ sleep a night.

Level 2

Periodising your workout, cool down, stretching

“Taking planned rest periods from intense training is vital for success in the long term, as are activities such as cooling down and stretching, which help muscles adjust between periods of exercise and rest.”

Level 3

Recovery pool work, compression gear, ice baths, massage

“Some of these have solid research, such as compression gear, while others, such as massage, work differently for each person,” Grantham says. “If one of these works for you, stick with it and discard the rest.”

Level 4

Omega-wave therapy,  Flotation tanks, psychological AND environmental changes

These are fringe-science techniques helping relax brain and body. They’re a bit like visiting a psychic: believe the good, discard the negative, don’t expect miracles.

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