Throwing a water bottle into the car is often the extent of many boot camp goers’ entire consumption considerations, which is short-changing not only their capabilities for that session, but likely to be holding back their long-term physique and fitness goals. We know, because there are a wealth of studies supporting the idea that what you eat and drink before, during and after exercise directly affects how you perform and the amount of fat you burn.
From why you might consider chugging chocolate milk to clueing you in on the importance of plain old H2O, prepare yourself for a better body and more reps simply because of what you choose to put to your lips.
Boot camp sessions are hard work. Hard work makes you sweat. Sweating means you lose the water that powers you through your workout. So it’s not a good idea to turn up to an outdoor fitness class with less water than your body needs sloshing around inside your bloodstream and cells.
“We do recommend people turn up really hydrated,” says Mark Wood, Head Training Tutor at British Military Fitness. “I would say probably 30 minutes prior to a session they need to get through at least 500ml water. But throughout the day they need to have consumed a good two litres before they’ve turned up to a session. We do supply them with water but if they turn up in a dehydrated state that water’s not going to do anything for them. The idea of the water we give them is to maintain that hydration.”
While carbohydrates are what’ll push you through exercise, you can have too much of a good thing. Our training experts, who are insiders when it comes to boot camp-style fitness, discourage people from loading up on carbs, found in abundance in foods such as pasta and potatoes, before a session. Mark, a former Royal Marine, reveals: “When people consume carbohydrates, probably an hour to 90 minutes later, they release hormones that actually try to put you to sleep. So people start to feel quite sluggish and don’t actually have that much energy. So if you’re having loads of carbs before coming to exercise, you’re going to feel quite slow just as the session’s starting, which is obviously what we don’t want.”
So, what should you put into your pie hole before getting to boot camp? It’s simple, says Mark: “A protein-based meal, some healthy fats, so maybe some nuts, and maybe even a banana literally just 10–15 minutes before because it’s quite fast-digesting, if they do want a little bit of quick energy.”
You know that preconception you have that drinking water during exercise means you’re unfit or tired? Yeah, you should really thinking twice about that. If it means anything at all, it shows you’re conscious that being even slightly dehydrated can make you work less during your session – in turn, burning less lard and not getting the same cardio benefits as your tap-happy counterparts.
Research has found even slight reductions in hydration can make you go through more energy and lower your stamina. One 1992 test found being dehydrated by only 8% dropped walkers’ endurance times from 121 minutes to 55 minutes. No one wants to be flat on their back doing their best starfish impression only halfway through a boot camp session just because they didn’t knock back a couple bottles of the wet stuff, so make sure you’re well hydrated before every session.
Intra-workout drinks and snacks? Our gurus at British Military Fitness say for the average boot camp goer, it’s overkill. “During a British Military Fitness session they don’t need to consume anything other than the water we provide,” comments Mark. “It’s only 60 minutes. People don’t need to start consuming gels or anything else unless they’re exercising for longer than 90 minutes, really.”
But, if you do feel you need to be hitting the energy gels or tablets because you’re extending your workout, glucose is the ingredient you should be looking for. Also known as dextrose, it’s the exact fuel your muscles use. So in the short break you’ll receive to consume anything at a boot camp session, it’ll digest quickly and is the best choice for making sure you’re ready to go ASAP.
Plus, it seems your body requires less oxygen to turn it into energy than other fuel sources, meaning there’s more of that precious air to go round the rest of your exhausted body.
If you’re sticking to an hour-long boot-camp, you don’t necessarily need to worry about extra energy boosts.
‘If you don’t burn off the energy provided by carbohydrates, they can cause you to gain fat.’ That’s the commonly held belief, and one which has led to the macronutrient being demonised. While it is true for excessive carb intake, your muscles need carbohydrates to properly repair and to stock up on the stuff they require to power you through hard exercise – just like the workout you get at boot camp.
“We recommend our clients do something called carb cycling,” says Mark, who’s been with British Military Fitness for five years. “A lot of the media now portrays that carbs are bad for you, people shouldn’t really be consuming them. But if people are doing British Military Fitness two, three, four times a week they’re going to need carbohydrates in their diet. So we do recommend they cycle it. Some days they’ll have higher carbohydrate intake, some days they’ll have a lower intake.
“Where we want them to have a higher intake is going to come primarily after a session. So that would be, as soon as they’ve finished their session, so probably their evening meal before they go to bed.”
For protein, Mark gives the ratio of 2g per 1kg of bodyweight as a daily guideline, adding: “The carbohydrate intake will be based on really how they feel. We do recommend they consume it first thing in the morning as a breakfast or last thing at night after the session.”
These days you can’t research about fitness for more than five minutes without being sold the virtues of a post-exercise protein shake or high-carb recovery drink. The science behind the recommendation is sound (the amino acids do help repair and rebuild your muscles and the carbs will help them along the way, making you better prepared for that next session) but, for some, the associated price tag and inconvenience of mixing powder with water or milk after away-from-home workouts outweigh the benefits. But, according to one study, you can get all the good things about these tipples in a single carton that’s been sat on supermarket shelves for decades: chocolate milk.
According to the research that compared the recovery abilities of chocolate milk with an electrolyte energy drink and a dedicated carbohydrate replacement drink after participants cycled to exhaustion, the chocolate milk performed just as well or better. That’s because the simple, off-the-shelf milk provides the same kinds of quantities of carbohydrate, protein and water as commercial sports drinks. It seems the answer to your muscle-repair problems was in the chiller all along!