Fuelling up for a workout

It happened suddenly during a half-marathon. Her legs felt heavy, her muscles grew sore and she could barely move.

WINNIPEG — It happened suddenly during a half-marathon. Her legs felt heavy, her muscles grew sore and she could barely move.

“By at least 10 miles in, I was well over my head,” says Amanda Younka, a 40-something mother of three.

Such discomfort during a race was unusual for the ultra-fit personal trainer and marathon runner who has eaten well, exercised and trained smart for her entire adult life.

“(I had) just really low energy and pretty much had to basically almost stop running and really monitor my energy level. And that’s not a very good feeling,” says the Winnipeg resident, who blames the setback on the extreme heat and overtraining.

The third culprit? Not eating right in the day or two before the marathon, says Younka, who usually pays close attention to her diet, carefully choosing the carbohydrates, protein, fats and liquids she ingests.

She warns that when exercising — whether you’re an elite athlete running a marathon or a novice hitting the treadmill for the first time — what you eat and drink matter. Become complacent and your body will give in, she says. “It happens when you least expect it.”

Dean Kriellaars, an exercise physiologist, professor and researcher at the University of Manitoba, agrees.

“It’s basically the same as how important the fuel is in your car in terms of the performance of your car. You would never put poor-quality fuel in your car. People do it to their bodies,” says Kriellaars.

“There are many nutrition and fuelling tips even at the highest level they don’t follow. But even at the lowest level will provide benefits.”

Kriellaars says what you eat can mean the difference between winning and losing, a productive workout versus a pointless one, feeling great after activity or limping your way home.

“The difference between two teams can actually come down to which one adheres to a good nutrition plan and which doesn’t,” he adds. “That’s very vital.”

Getting in shape for spring and wondering how you can eat to amp up your gym sessions, your hockey game or your run in the park?

Prevent injury, repair your muscles and get ready for your best workout ever with these energizing tips from the experts:

What you eat isn’t the only factor to consider when getting ready for physical activity. It’s timing, says Jorie Janzen, a registered dietitian who works with Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancers. What you eat before a workout, she says, should depend on how long you have to digest your meal.

Eating three to four hours before your activity? Great. “Eat a nice, decent meal and you’re going to be able to exercise just fine.”

If your exercise session will last less than one hour, water is probably all it will take to keep your body going, says Janzen.

Planning to work out longer or for a shorter, more intense interval?

“That’s when sports drinks can be helpful,” she says, noting that these drinks contain electrolytes/minerals that help you stay hydrated longer and replace the minerals you lose through sweat. Sports drinks also contain quick-acting carbohydrates that provide energy for your hard-working muscles.

Don’t want to spend the money on a big-name drink like Gatorade? Make your own sports drink. “Take equal amounts of juice, equal amounts of water. Add a pinch of salt and you have your sport drink,” says Janzen.

For muscles to recover properly after they’ve been torn by exercise, you need to eat carbs and protein within 30 minutes after your session, says Kriellaars. Not only will this help you right away, but it will also affect you in the week ahead.

“If you’re training every single day and you didn’t eat 30 minutes after training sessions you would be out of fuel in a few days,” says Kriellaars.

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