So you have done all the right things - you have woken up at the crack of dawn, dragged yourself out of bed and been to a training session and worked hard. Yet only a few hours later you feel tired, grumpy and a little shaky. This is all too common and can be a result of not eating the right foods to help your muscles and many body systems recover.
What you eat before and after training is a super important element of getting the most out of your session and achieving your fitness goals. The saying “Abs are made in the kitchen” is spot on! You can be training your little heart out but if you’re not fueling your body properly and at the right time, your goals will keep slipping away.
We chat to the lovely Charlotte Miller, who is the team dietitian for the Essendon Football Club as well as being a lover of boxing training here at Fitness Ring.
Can you give me an overview of your background and your current role within the health and fitness industry?
I trained as a dietitian and specialised in sports. I am currently working for the Essendon Football Club as the team dietitian and I’m also responsible for running the kitchen that provides all food to players and coaching staff while they are onsite for training. This job came about as I am also a trained chef and have been working in commercial kitchens for almost 20 years now.
I am also a co-director of a ready to go meals business called ‘We Feed You’. While we are not specifically aimed at athletes, our meals are suitable for many people in the sports industry.
What are the biggest diet misconceptions around food and exercise?
I don’t even know where to start with this. Every few years a new diet trend hits the market and suddenly we are told we have been doing it all wrong. Until the next new trend! Unfortunately, these trends can really impact people who are feeling vulnerable about their fitness/weight/bodies and can lead bad diet and weight cycles and low self-esteem.
It’s important to remember that everything needs to be applied in context. Yes, protein supplements can be a great addition to an athletes diet, if it is used correctly, but if you start to replace meals with this stuff or cut out other healthy foods then it no longer works the way it is supposed to. Most people don’t need any special products or new diet plans – instead look at increasing the amount of vegetables, grains and lean protein you eat.
I also find people are always looking for shortcuts – with their diet and their fitness. If you have specific goals with your health and fitness then there is no shortcut – you need to work hard to improve strength and fitness, you need to workout regularly and you need to choose a variety of fresh foods and be organised and planned in what you eat.
"There is no magic pill and spot burning is not a thing."
What are the best things to eat before you train, and when?
This largely depends on your goals. If you are just someone who is trying to increase the amount of activity you do then I don’t think you need to be focusing on any special foods. Stay hydrated and have a snack an hour or two before working out.
If you are training more seriously or for longer periods then you should definitely put more thought into what you eat before training. For strength training workouts, a lean protein snack or drink pre-training can help to ensure you have the protein your system needs to build new muscle. If your workout is endurance based then add some carbohydrate.
Things to consider are:
- How long is the workout?
- How long since my last meal?
- Will I have any stomach discomfort?
- Access to food and drink during the workout.
- Access to food and drink after the workout.
Good pre-workout snacks include milk based drinks, yoghurt, bananas, nuts, oats/cereal, dried fruit, wholegrain toast, peanut butter on apple, dried fruit, egg salad, hummus and vegetables.
What are the best things to eat after you train, and when?
Again, this depends on your goals – for the average person they should stay focused on eating regular meals with lots of fresh ingredients. For the more serious athlete, it is a good idea to get some protein and carbohydrate in within half an hour of finishing your training. This helps to ensure your body recovers quickly before your next session.
What is your day on a plate – what is your usual meal plan from when you wake up to when you go to sleep?
My work schedule is very different day to day so I don’t have a very consistent routine. I try to eat at home and be organised in taking food with me as much as possible but schedules change and I often end up eating on the run - this can be difficult but I try to not worry about it too much.
I usually exercise in the morning and have breakfast about 9 or 9.30 – Weetbix or oats with yoghurt and banana would be the most likely - with a massive cup of tea. In my work environments I am always surrounded by food and need to be tasting regularly so sometimes I don’t have a formal lunch but tend to graze over the day. But if I did pack lunch it would include leftovers from dinner, nuts, banana, dip and vegetables, berries and yoghurt and lots more tea.
I try to cook dinner at home as much as possible (good weeks and bad with this one) but do often have the same thing a few nights in a row. When I cook at home it tends to be protein with heaps of vegetables: salmon with greens, garlic and goats cheese, steak with beans and mushrooms or a braised chicken with brown rice are doing the rounds at my table right now. When I am caught out and don’t feel like cooking its pasta with garlic, chilli and anchovies - no nutrition in that, but it is delicious.
What are some outcomes of a healthy balanced diet?
The obvious answer here is that we can lose weight, but I don’t want to talk about healthy eating in terms of weight because it suggests we need to be a certain weight to be healthy which is far from being true. But eating a good variety of fresh foods certainly has a lot of other benefits.
1. Better Sleep
Reducing the amount of caffeine and alcohol you consume can definitely improve your sleep. You will sleep deeper and more consistently and wake up feeling fresh.
2. Increased energy
Increased intake of vitamins and minerals will mean our body can function at its best, making it easier to get through the day without needing a nap. It can also help you to get through workouts and stave off winter colds.
3. Less stress
Better sleep and more energy will hopefully equal less stress, but an increased intake of vitamins and minerals can also help moderate hormones and keep our immune system healthy. Reducing alcohol and caffeine will also help reduce stress levels.
4. More regular toilet habits
No one likes to talk about this but it’s important that we are able to empty our bowels regularly! (As in every day). Many people are shocked by this and only go once or twice a week. Eating regular meals with plenty of fibre and fluid and moving as much as possible will help with this.
Follow Charlotte's food journey on Instagram