Ask the experts: Dinner and exercise

Q: "Growing up, I was regularly told of the importance of eating breakfast, but what about dinner? I'm a single twenty-something who goes to the gym after work and tends to have very little or nothing when I get home. I understand the importance of replenishing fluids and nutrients lost after exercise, but often a peanut butter sandwich or small green salad is all I need. Is there evidence to show that I should be eating a more traditional meat and three veg dinner?"


A: We asked nutritionist Jennifer Peters to respond:

"Your diet should be optimal in both quality and quantity of food in order to replenish your energy reserves and avoid fatigue or inadequate nutrition. A good diet will help your body perform at its best. By having a snack instead of dinner, or no dinner at all, you are unlikely to be getting all the nutrients your body needs to recover from exercise and to be able to exercise the following day.

However, it is not necessary to always eat what we think of as a 'traditional dinner'. There are many ways of getting the right nutrients to aid recovery. Recovery includes restoring the muscles and liver with the expended fuel (glycogen) and replacing fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat. To help refuel the muscles, you need to consume about 1g carbohydrate per kg body weight, preferably within an hour of finishing your training. Therefore if I assume you are 60kg, you need to consume around 60g of carbohydrate. Evidence has shown that glycogen is replaced most efficiently when the correct amount of carbohydrate is eaten with a protein source.

Each of these carbohydrate- and protein-rich light meals/snacks provide around 60g of carbohydrate:

  • 1 large bowl (2 cups) breakfast cereal with milk
  • 1 large cereal bar, a pottle of yoghurt and a piece of fruit
  • 250g baked beans on 2 slices of thick toast
  • 1 bread roll with cheese/meat filling and a large banana
  • 300g (bowl) of fruit salad with 200ml yoghurt
  • 2 crumpets with thick-spread peanut butter and 200ml flavoured milk
  • 300g (large) baked potato with cottage cheese filling and a glass of milk
  • 200g (1/3–1/4) pizza with chicken/meat and vegetables

If you are going to choose a salad, make sure you either have a bread roll and some protein (eg. meat/fish/egg/legumes) with it and a banana afterwards, or perhaps for a change try a pasta, rice or potato salad – see the recipes section of this website for lots of yummy ideas to help you out."

First published: Feb 2009

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