Hitting your fitness goals has a huge emphasis on exercise, but what you eat is crucial too.
Your diet provides the nutrients your body needs to help you perform your best, as well as restoring your muscles and helping you to recover after your workout.
And while a diet rich in lots of fruit and vegetables is important, there’s a few products every fitness fan should keep in their cupboard for those days when you’re late home from the gym or haven’t got time to make a big meal because you’re too busy working out.
Nutritionist Cassandra Barns shares her shelf staples:
- Tinned beans and pulses
Stock up because…They’re a brilliant mix of carbohydrates and protein, which, as Cassandra points, are both needed to restore your muscles after a workout. Plus, they’re an easy way to add extra protein to a salad, soup, stew or stir-fry and a great source of protein if you’re vegan or vegetarian.
How to eat…To make a quick meal or snack, mix drained lentils with a peeled and sliced avocado, diced spring onions, halved cherry tomatoes, olives and chopped ham (optional), drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt and ground black pepper.
- Porridge oats
Stock up because…They’re packed with slow-release carbohydrates, helping to replenish your muscle glycogen (the energy stored in your muscles) and are a good source of magnesium, which may support muscle recovery and relaxation
How to eat… Stir in chopped nuts, raspberries or sliced strawberries and cinnamon. Porridge can also be a good emergency supper on the odd occasion you come in late from a workout and don’t have time to prepare a meal.
- High-protein pasta
Stock up because…“You can get a combination of protein and carbohydrates from your pasta too. Clearspring’s Green Pea and Quinoa Pasta provides 21g of protein per 100g compared to around 12g in standard wheat pasta and only 8g in brown rice pasta. This makes it fantastic as part of a meal for refuelling after a workout,” advises Cassandra.
How to eat…simply use instead of normal pasta.
- Tinned sardines
Stock up because…These, say Cassandra, should be a cupboard staple for everyone. Why? “They’re a great source of protein for restoring your muscles and building strength,” she explains. “They contain lots of omega-3 fats, which may help with reducing inflammation – particularly helpful if you’re sore after a workout or want to recover faster.
“They’re also one of our best non-dairy sources of calcium – if you eat the soft bones. Calcium plays a vital role in muscle function and energy as well as keeping our bones strong.”
How to eat…Pop them on rye bread or wholemeal toast. Again, great to keep in the cupboard for those days you’re home late.
Stock up because… They provide easy-to-digest carbohydrates that are released in a controlled way, giving you sustained energy rather than causing you to crash in the middle of a workout.
“Oatcakes, like Nairn’s, can also be great to carry with you for post-workout refuelling if you know you’re not going to eat a meal for a few hours.”
How to eat…Try them as a pre-workout snack with a teaspoon of peanut butter and a few slices of banana.
- Fermented foods
Stock up because… “Believe it or not, intensive exercise can have a negative effect on your gut health,” Cassandra says. So eating foods that are rich in easily absorbed nutrients and are gentle on the gut can be particularly helpful after a workout. This is where traditional fermented foods come in, as the fermentation process can increase their nutrient levels, as well as making them easier to digest.”
How to eat…Think miso paste and umami paste. Use as a dip or condiment with a few oatcakes or carrot sticks, or add it into stews, stir-fries or sauces.