Nutrition for exercise: be at your best with these 5 top tips

From our Nutritional Expert – Suzie Sawyer


Whether you’re a seasoned exerciser or you’ve just signed up for your first marathon, nutrition should be at the forefront of your mind. What you put into your body is absolutely key to success in your chosen sport, and the harder you’re training, the more important this becomes.

Here are some top nutrition tips from Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer to help you achieve your fitness goals.

shutterstock_183622835 strawberry smoothie Apr15DITCH THE JUICES

In a world that has gone ‘juicing mad’ this may sound strange!  However, whilst juices are great for bringing a wealth of health benefits, they’re a ‘no-no’ for anyone wanting to train hard, because they simply do not provide enough energy.  If you are training it is much better to opt for smoothies which still retain the fibre from vegetables, and you can also add some essential fats in the form of almond butter or coconut oil to give you the energy you’ll need to perform.

These essential omega 3’s are also really important to help manage any inflammation that may occur in the body after hard training.  And don’t forget avocadoes are great in smoothies; they are filling and full of the antioxidant vitamin E to help support your immune system.

AVOID DEHYDRATIONshutterstock_127629347 glass of water with splash Feb15

Dehydration is one of the most common nutritional problems which occurs in sport.  In most cases, it is quite challenging to take in enough fluids during hard exercise or competition to match the rate of sweat loss; therefore it’s essential to start the session well hydrated and ‘pre-hydrate’.

Fluid intake before an event should include at least 300-600 ml of fluid with your pre-event meal and then 150-300 ml of fluid every 15-20 minutes up until around 45 minutes before the event.  During an event or competition, generally you’ll need around 200 ml every 20 minutes or so, balanced with some form of carbohydrate (for example a sports drink) to provide effective rehydration.

shutterstock_164830661 Quinoa Feb15WATCH OUT FOR PHYTATES

Phytates are the ‘bad boys’ of nutrition, found primarily in whole grains, potatoes, beans and nuts.  They are chemicals that can stop the body absorbing essential minerals such as calcium, iron and zinc – all vital nutrients, but especially important if you’re exercising hard.  Whilst they do have antioxidant qualities, it’s a good idea to balance your consumption of high phytate foods by eating other foods such as sweet potatoes or quinoa.  You can also reduce the phytate content by cooking whole grains or soaking nuts.

Oats contain much less phytate than wholewheat flour for example, therefore your breakfast staple of porridge is still on the menu.  Additionally, make sure you’re soaking lentils, chickpeas or white beans before using them in a salad, although, better still, eat them cooked.

FUEL UP BEFORE AN EVENTshutterstock_250057099 cereal with berries May15

Clearly, what you eat prior to any form of prolonged activity will depend entirely on the length and type of endurance event in which you are participating; your food intake should also be carefully balanced depending on your individual needs.  However, if you are about to attempt your first half or full marathon, for example, you should always ‘practice’ both your pre-event meal and your mid-event fuel beforehand.

In general terms, it’s good to have a primarily low GI diet in the three to five days leading up to an event.  This means ‘power breakfasts’ such as porridge, beans, baked beans, wholemeal bread, quinoa, oranges and natural or soya yoghurt . These foods will also provide some protein, particularly the quinoa. Additionally, these low GI foods provide sustained energy release, particularly good for on the day of the event or prior to a prolonged workout.

Good breakfast choices would be baked beans on toast, porridge with low fat milk and fruit juice, pancakes with maple syrup or wholemeal toast with jam.  Generally, high glycaemic foods will only be required in the hour leading up to the event, such as bananas, or a sports bar, for that extra boost.

Kshutterstock_250462048 Artichoke Feb15EEP YOUR GUT FRIENDLY!

Don’t be alarmed to read that you have billions of different bacteria in your gut!  However, some of these are good, or what we call ‘friendly bacteria’ and others are not so good.  The trick here is to ensure that you have more good than bad.

Many people who exercise or train hard will have some form of gastrointestinal disturbance, particularly runners, due to the impact on the body. If you frequently suffer from bloating or flatulence, then the chances are that you have an imbalance of gut bacteria and would benefit from taking some probiotics, readily available from any good health food store.

Friendly bacteria also play a key role in keeping a strong and healthy immune system – vital for when you are training hard – as well as being responsible for manufacturing key vitamins, such as vitamin K and some of the B vitamins.  Foods that help to feed the friendly bacteria are asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, green tea and green leafy vegetables, so make sure you are including these in your diet when you can.

So, fuel up, make sure you’re properly hydrated and you will be in tip top health ready to be first off the starting blocks!  Good luck!


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