Nutrition for Sport and exercise

We should all aim to eat a healthy, varied diet based on the principles of the Eatwell Guide, and this is also the case when you are active. When physically active, your body will use up more energy (calories).

This can help with weight control or if you are not looking to lose weight, you may find you need more food to replace the extra energy used.

It is also important to keep well hydrated. Eating well for physical activity and sport can have many benefits including:

  • Allowing you to perform well in your chosen sport or activity
  • Reducing the risk of injury and illness
  • Ensuring the best recovery after exercise or a training program

However, the dietary patterns that will best suit an individual will depend on the amount and intensity of activity.

This can range from those who are just starting to get more active, those meeting the activity guidelines (of 150 minutes moderate activity per week), those who are active at higher levels (such as those training for an endurance event such as a marathon or doing organised team sports) or professional athletes.

For professional athletes, getting personalised nutrition advice from a qualified sports nutritionist or dietitian is likely to be an important part of their training support.

Physical activity when losing weight

Doing physical activity will increase your energy expenditure (the calories you use), as energy is required during exercise to fuel the contracting muscles, increased breathing and heart rate and metabolism.

It is difficult to lose weight just by getting more active and it is still important to control your calorie intake for weight control. The most effective weight loss programmes include both a controlled diet and increased physical activity.

It is also important to be active to keep weight off after weight loss. A study of people in the US who have successfully maintained their weight loss shows that they tend to be active for about an hour a day (usually walking) and spend less time in sedentary activities like watching TV in their free time.

The benefits of physical activity go beyond just burning off calories, and can help preserve muscle as you lose weight and increase the proportion of muscle in the body.

We also know that physical activity, and spending less time sitting, can reduce your risk of developing a number of chronic diseases, such as heart disease.