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This article appeared in the West Australian newspaper, Mind & Body lift out on October 27, 2009.
It is important to eat and drink well before, during and after exercise, particularly as the weather gets warmer and your activity level increases. Food provides the fuel for exercise and recovery; fluids keep the body hydrated.
Sweat lost during exercise contains both fluid and electrolytes. We don't all sweat the same. It depends on body size, environmental conditions and exercise intensity. In any case, it needs to be replaced. What are the best fluids to drink to rehydrate? You cannot go past water, though there are benefits from consuming other fluids such as sports drinks to complement water intake.
The range of drink types can be overwhelming. The differences are in carbohydrate level, electrolyte amounts and type, and of course taste. This table compares some of the features and benefits of different drinks.
Generally, people drink more when beverages are cool, flavoured and contain sodium (salt). Some fluids should be avoided. Alcohol and caffeine are diuretics and, if drunk more than other fluids, can have a dehydrating effect.
Foods that are great for eating before any activity should ideally contain carbohydrate to boost fuel levels, liquid to assist hydration and be easy to eat Timing is a big factor — the bigger the meal or snack the more time it needs to be digested. You should allow three to four hours to digest a big meal, down to 30 minutes for a small snack. This will also depend on individual tolerance, and nerves.
After exercise, it is important to get some fuel into the body within the first hour. If your appetite is low, and commonly it can be, try having a drink or small snack immediately, followed by a more substantial meal later.