STAYING fit and healthy means keeping a constant balance between diet and activity – how much energy we take in against how much we put out.
And when it comes to exercise, the most important meal you eat is the one you have after training.
Your post-exercise food matters because for a limited time after you train your muscles crave nutrients – a time known in the fitness business as the 'golden hour'.
This is because it's a chance for your body to rebuild and replenish your energy supplies with vital nutrients.
The sports food industry has been quick to exploit this window of opportunity with energy drinks, synthetic powders and bars that claim to be the best post-workout snacks available.
But real food – if you know what to choose – works better.
We've tried a range of post-workout snacks to find out what's best.
Experts such as Gordon Kennedy, an athlete who competed in the 2000 Olympics at 19, say giving your body the right fuel is the key.
Gordon is now the national accounts manager for the natural food and supplement company, Simply Wild, and has come up with some good pre- and post-workout snacks through trial and error.
"Your foundation for fitness and nutrition is vital," he says.
Gordon is a keen fitness enthusiast, and believes in never leaving home unprepared, so he always has a good supply of healthy snacks on hand.
He carries Clif energy bars, home-made peanut butter sandwiches (organic and no sugar or salt added) and easy fixes like Bounce Balls from the health food shop.
These work well, but I think real food is a better option. Simple examples are boiled eggs, tuna in brine with spinach, meat from last night's dinner with greens or slices of chicken with salad. If you want to be a bit more exotic, try wild boar sausages (available from organic butchers such as O'Tooles in Dublin) with some nice broccoli.
And don't forget the well-tried three S's – salmon, spinach and sweet potato, a favourite with experienced exercise types around the world.
And whether you work up a sweat in the morning or evening, chances are you grab a bite before you hit the gym. A snack before you train can help give you energy and determination to go the distance – but eating after you work out is even more important.
"I always have a snack box with me, and not the Supermac kind," says Gordon.
He even takes some refreshment during a workout. So what's his favourite?
"Green tea," he says. "Especially during a weights session, or if you're looking to shift some pudge fast. But you need a good source, such as Matcha or Tea Pigs brands. Good green tea is 100 times stronger than the standard brands – I just sip it in water during training. And afterwards I always have some form of protein."
Me too – but while I find the green tea and protein helps to keep me motivated, I still can't do a 400m sprint as fast as Gordon. Not if there's only green tea at the end of it, anyway.
WE TRIED: Before and after exercise snacks
DID IT WORK? Yes, for healthy output you need healthy input
PLUSES: Besides keeping you fit, some energy foods taste great
MINUSES: But not as great as muffins!
COST: Energy snacks aren't too dear, and your own kitchen is even better
CONTACT: www.simplywild.ie, the official national exercise organisation at www.getirelandactive.ie or healthy eating plans available at www.bordbia.ie