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Keeping fit: What to eat, when to eat and why

t might be fashionable to exclude carbohydrates from your diet, but it is not necessarily the healthiest approach to eating – especially if you are also working out. Jon Denoris, a performance coach, is a proponent of “nutrient timing”: eating the right food at the right time of day. I spoke to him for advice.

Can you pronounce  the ingredients?

“Eat unprocessed, whole foods as often as possible,” says Denoris. “If your diet is rich in high-quality meat and fish; essential fats such as avocados, nuts and coconut oil; whole foods such as brown rice and quinoa – which have a lower GI rating than white pasta or white boiled rice; and lots of vegetables, then you are already eating healthily. If your food has a label, however, then be wary. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, don’t eat it.”

Stick at it

A common mistake is to ditch your healthy eating plan before you see the results. Denoris recommends persuading others to join you – or at least surrounding yourself with supportive people. You should also only start a regime when your life feels relatively stable.


Eat protein

“Protein such as meat, fish or eggs should satisfy your appetite and regulate your metabolism. You should find you have fewer cravings for junk food, too,” says Denoris. You could add chicken or eggs to a salad, or drink a shot of whey protein with your meal.

‘Flex’ your carbohydrates

Carb flexing means eating more good carbohydrates, such as green and root vegetables, at the right time of the day.  You should eat a bit more carbohydrate earlier in the day to give you more time to convert it into energy. “Eating carbohydrates in the morning and consuming just over half your calories by the end of lunch helps the body use fuel more efficiently so that it isn’t stored as fat,” says Denoris.

Second, eat any starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes and rice after you have done some exercise. “This will give your muscles energy when they need it most,” says Denoris. “It will also help recovery and reduce insulin spikes, as well as making it easier for your body to absorb protein.” Eat fewer starchy carbohydrates in the evening, opting instead for high-protein food and good fats, particularly if your goal is weight loss rather than just better performance.

Get yourself a protein shake after exercise 

The 45-minute window

“For about 45 minutes after exercise, your muscles are ‘open’ like gates,” says Denoris. “They don’t completely close after that, but the rate at which they absorb nutrients diminishes.” Those who are serious about training should consider drinking a protein shake and eating a small amount of carbohydrates after they work out.

Endurance events

Often people think that if you are training for an endurance event, you should eat carbohydrates before, during and after you exercise. This is not necessarily the case. “If you train at low to medium intensity, you should eat balanced meals composed of 30 per cent protein,” . “If you train at high intensity, you should eat more nut butters, sweet potatoes, date and walnut cake, fruit smoothies and blueberries.” There is no need for more carbohydrates or sugary drinks in either case.

Cheat meals

Denoris says: “If you are being otherwise disciplined about your diet, it’s good to have the occasional cheat meal. I would aim for 80-90 per cent adherence each week.” There are ways to make cheat meals healthier, too. “Try to eat protein in your cheat meal,” , “and if you are going to eat carbohydrate such as pizza or pasta, train immediately before, so that your body can use the extra fuel.”

Sweet potato salad CREDIT: ANDREW CROWLEY

Food to help you sleep

“Eating certain foods at night helps promote sleep,” says Denoris. “Turkey, salmon, cottage cheese, nut butters, bananas and Montmorency cherries all contain tryptophan, an amino acid that converts to melatonin. Almonds are also good as they contain magnesium, which relaxes the muscles.”

Rest days

On days when you are not doing any exercise, you should replace carbohydrates with good fats such as avocado, seeds and nuts. Denoris says: “When you’re training, carbohydrate is more likely to be used up by your muscles, but when you are resting, it is more likely to be laid down as fat.”


What to eat when


Eating carbohydrates earlier in the day will give your body more time to convert them into energy.


You should have eaten 55 per cent of your carbohydrates by now. Eat more protein by adding chicken or eggs to a salad or drinking a shot of whey protein.

45 minutes after exercise

Drink a protein shake and eat a small amount of carbohydrates. Your muscles will be more “open” during this window to consuming fuel and absorbing nutrients.


Eating turkey, salmon, cottage cheese, nut butters, almonds, bananas and Montmorency cherries will help you sleep. Avoid starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes and rice, if you are trying to lose weight.