Nutrition is a topic that many health and fitness enthusiasts are passionate about. Some are eager to offer advice about how and when to eat, but before you start listening to recommendations, it is helpful to first determine what your goals are. It is important to differentiate between eating for weight loss and eating for peak performance for a particular athletic event.
Before you blindly do whatever you hear someone recommend, remember that people react differently to certain foods and what works for one person may not work for another. When I was in high school, I could not eat for at least 4 hours before a basketball game, but I had a team mate who could somehow eat a big meal an hour before the game with no negative affects on his performance.
What is your goal? If you are eating to fuel your body for peak performance, then you will go about it differently than you would if your main goal is just to lose weight. I know some people prefer to work out in the morning on an empty stomach in an effort to burn more fat, but if an endurance athlete were to take this same approach before a race, it could be disastrous for their results.
Pre-work out meals- These usually consist of simple carbohydrates like cereal, yogurt, bagels, fruit, etc. A person may be a healthy eater and consume whole grains and high fiber foods on a regular basis, but simple carbs and higher glycemic foods may be a better choice if you are looking for an immediate fuel source just prior to running. They may not be as healthy as whole grains, but they are absorbed into the blood stream faster and are less likely to cause gastro-intestinal problems which is never fun when you are exerting yourself. If you are involved in high endurance activities that will take several hours to complete, then it may be wise to carb load prior to the event since carbs are the primary fuel source for endurance activities. If you are running a marathon you will probably deplete your glycogen stores so you will want to be prepared. Just don't wait to do the carb load until you are at the starting line like Michael Scott.
During exercise- Most people know the importance of pre and post workout meals but it is also important to remember nutrition during an athletic event. For an event that doesn't last very long it's not such a big deal, but if you are doing any sort of endurance event like running a marathon, triathlon, or all day tournament, then nutrition during the even is important.
While you are exercising, the most important thing to consider is hydration. Drink plenty of water and if you are exercising for over an hour and sweating profusely, then a sports drink may be beneficial to help replenish electrolytes. Gels, bars, and fruit might also be helpful and are convenient ways to eat while running or biking. The most important thing is to get familiar with what works for you and what doesn't. You don't want to start experimenting with new foods right before or during an event.
Post workout nutrition is important to help your body to refuel and repair itself after exercising. What and when you eat will depend on how intense and how long your exercise session was. Many body builders recommend eating carbs and protein within half an hour of training for optimal recovery.
Most of us know that it is important to have a healthy diet, but it is also important to know how to best eat before, during, and after working out. It may take some practice and experimenting to learn what works best for you, but figuring this out can help you optimize your performance.