Fuel Me

Fuel Me

So, now for the allegedly tricky question of what to eat before and after exercise; what supplements do and don’t you need, what food can you eat, what food can’t you eat, what superfood will help you burn fat – and more. Nick Owen shares his thoughts with you below – based on his own knowledge and experience.

  • My basic foundation is real good quality food; From my own experience, training for pretty intensive sessions – real food, across all food groups, making time to buy and prepare the food wherever possible, and aiming well above the ‘5 a day’ guidelines
  • Food is required before & after any form of exercise, even if trying to burn fat. The right foods help burn fat, & without them the body burns muscle. Different forms of exercise require different eating regimes. The types of food needed before and after vary, as well as the timing, balance & quantity. Sufficient carbohydrate needs to be the foundation of any exercise regime.
  • Our exercise regime is an hour a day – it is what we do in the other 23 hours that is of equal significance, as well as what we do on days we do not exercise. For most, an intense exercise session will burn 500 calories maximum - it is surprisingly easy to undo this hard work with a few glasses of wine/beer, a bag of nuts, cakes, biscuits or excessive portion sizes. 
  • The best exercise regimes are combined with a sound nutrition plan and vice versa, with individuals having a clear idea of both the energy going into the body, and the energy being used up. Exercise should not be used as a constant rationale for indulgence – the likely outcome is an increasingly excessive exercise regime, weight gain or both.  


  • The body needs to have energy readily available. The amount needed differs depending on workout planned, desired intensity level, & likely duration. 
  • All individuals have slightly differing energy/nutrient requirements, though there are some useful general principles based around factors such as ‘body type’.
  • Food eaten needs to have been digested, with the nutrients absorbed into the muscles and ready to provide the energy to work intensely
  • Carbohydrates are the prime provider of this energy, with protein available to prevent muscle breakdown & support growth. Slow digesting carbs are ideal.
  • Fats are also needed to help the sustained release of energy & the use of body fat. They are also needed to transport vital nutrients, and in the production of hormones such as testosterone
  • Without carbohydrate, the body will not be able to work hard, & will start to breakdown existing muscle to provide energy – a process called ‘catabolism’.

Post Exercise:

  • The need for food after exercise is a given – though views on timing have changed. The body has a ‘window of opportunity’; historically, the view was that nutrients are only fully utilised within 45 min of exercise; this has now changed with 2015 science saying that there is a 2 to 3 hour opportunity. Again, remember a key message that we are all different; listen and look at our body and see what works best.
  • Nutrient supply is critical for fat loss & muscle building regimes - exact amounts will differ depending on the workout undertaken, the intensity level, & the duration – check out this article from the team at Precision Nutrition for more information; 
  • Fast digesting carbs are vital to replenish glycogen, & rebuild muscle. They provide sugars & nutrients that enter the blood stream quickly & spike insulin levels, enabling all necessary repair & rebuilding work to start. Protein is required to rebuild the muscle, and vitamins and minerals are required to provide ‘anti-oxidants’ to mop up the free radicals created by exercise. 
  • And whilst we are on the subject of protein & supplements, here is a quote from Brad Sly in Breaking Muscle, which nicely sums up my views – and remember too that most of us are probably not quite at the level of being able to class ourselves as athletes;

‘Athletes are generally advised to obtain real food options to aid in recovery unless constrained for time. This is because it also allows an athlete to meet the daily nutritional needs of essential vitamins and minerals, and also stock up on much needed antioxidants like vitamins C and E that help reduce oxidization caused from the stress of exercise.’ 

And, if you are interested; here is the whole article

About the Author

Nick Owen is a qualified nutritional adviser, holding a Diploma in Non-Medical Nutritional Advice. Nick uses nutrition to support a wide variety of client goals including weight management, fat loss and muscle building, general health and well-being; and improved energy levels, concentration and complexion. Nick’s approach is practical and realistic, starting with an analysis of current eating patterns and lifestyle, making recommendations for change and then working over a series of consultations to support achievement of the desired goals.

ymca | 8 October 2015