As a nutritionist, one of the most common things I hear from clients is, “I am not hungry after I work out”. This is the time when I have to play mean and tell them, “too bad”. Fueling your body post workout is a MUST in order to achieve optimal health and reach your goals physically.
In high school, I was one of those people who thought, “I just worked out and burned so many calories, why would I immediately eat them back on?” What I did not know was the disservice I was doing to my body and slowing my recovery by not replenishing. Let’s get down to some science and explain why refueling is so important.
Unfortunately, we do not get to keep the same metabolism we had in middle school. As we age, our bodies go through many changes and rate of metabolism is one of them. Our bodies begin to gain more fat and lose muscle mass (Ward, 2007). With that in mind, we do not require as many calories as we once did due to the fact that muscle requires more calories. Women, we go through menopause eventually and that will also play a large factor in calorie requirements as our hormones change.
So whether you are going through these life cycle changes or not, do you still need refuel after exercise? YES! Keep your metabolism hot every opportunity you get! When you exercise at any age, you are using nutrients for energy. The most beneficial macronutrient for energy is carbohydrates. Good sources of carbohydrates for energy will be foods like fruit, oats, brown/white rice rice, starchy vegetables and potatoes. Fat can also be used for energy; however it is digested very slowly and will not give you that quick burst you need. Let me make myself clear, just because you eat fat for energy, does not mean that is what you are going to burn off first; you are going to use up your carbohydrate stores first.
Depending on the intensity and duration of your workout, you are either going to use up all of your fuel source or at least quite a bit. That is where post workout nutrition becomes so important. Your muscles are like sharks waiting to feed on that energy restoration (aka food) you provide them. They want healthy forms of “quick” glucose (form of sugar) and protein. Your muscles need to recover from what the catabolic state they just went through, and food is the answer to their recovery.
Should you be tired after a workout? Yes! Should you be a zombie for the rest of the day? No! I bet you can guess what you can do to avoid that. Yep, have some carbohydrates and protein after your workout. I think I have got my point across to feed the sharks and beat the zombies with the importance of post workout nutrition. However, the sharks want the right amount and they want the right sources. Picky eaters! Let’s discuss what amounts and foods are ideal for post workout nutrition.
When I tell you to refuel with carbohydrates and protein, I am not giving you permission to use that quick 30-60 post workout window to scarf down a pepperoni pizza or ice cream – thinking there is protein in the ice cream’s milk and pepperoni is a meat. Nice try, but you are not getting past this nutritionist with that justification.
Post workout nutrition can look different for each trainee; your body is specific on what is wants for optimal recovery and health. Earlier I mentioned “quick sugars” as a preferred source of carbohydrate after a workout. Typically, we hear to stay away from high glycemic foods for the sake of regulating our blood sugar. However, after a workout, bring on the high GI. This whole process of post workout nutrition should be around 30-60 minutes after exercise. You do not need to rush to your protein shake while still trying to catch your breath. To go along with the timing of ingesting your food, also comes the rate at which your body is going to absorb it. High glycemic foods break down into sugar very quickly and therefore are available for your muscles to feed off of. The best sources of high glycemic foods are fruits, think watermelon and pineapple, pumpkin, butternut squash, dates, white potatoes, honey and white rice; just to name a few.
A common visual we portray in the world of fitness is a protein shake after your workout. Protein shakes are an easy way to get in your fast acting source of protein. Depending on duration and intensity of exercise, you may need more carbs than you need protein though. This includes intense Crossfit training, longer resistance training and bodybuilding programs, etc. If you are really looking to optimize performance and recovery, I suggest meeting with a nutrition professional to determine optimal needs.
It can seem like a lot in the beginning when you are trying to dial in on your best post workout concoction. However, when you do, you will discover more energy than you knew you had and watch your physical performance level soar. Experiment with what you like, whether it is a smoothie, a whole food protein bar or just a scoop of protein with a piece of fruit. You just worked hard. Treat your body as if you did. It will thank you!
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