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 metabolism 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, whole grains, oats, brown rice, starchy vegetables and sweet 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 carbohydrates first.
Depending on the length 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. One, your muscles are like sharks waiting to feed on that energy you need to provide them. They want healthy forms of “quick” sugar and protein. Your muscles need to recover from what they just went through, and food is the answer to their recovery. Two, even if you work out in the evening, the rest of your body needs to be recharged.
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 is not only crucial, but very precise. Your body is specific on what is wants for optimal recovery and health. Earlier I mentioned “quick sugars” as a preferred source of carbohydrates 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 is quick; about 30-60 minutes after exercise is best. To go along with the timing of ingesting your food, also comes the rate at which your body is going to absorb it right up for energy and recovery. High glycemic foods break down into sugar very quickly and therefore are available for your muscles to feed off of quickly as well. The best sources of high glycemic foods are fruits, with the highest being melon and pineapple. Other sources are pumpkin, carrots, white potatoes and white rice.
A common visual we portray in the world of fitness is a protein shake after your workout. Protein shakes are a great way to get in your refuel, but guess what? You need more carbs than you need protein. Surprise! A 2:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein is ideal. A typical scoop of whey protein powder contains anywhere from 20-25 grams of protein, so that would make your carbohydrate intake anywhere from 40-50 grams. You can also determine whether to go on the low or high end based on the workout intensity you did for that day.
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 increase too. Experiment with what you like, whether it is a smoothie, a bar or just a scoop of protein with a piece of fruit. You just worked hard, so you deserve to enjoy a good post workout snack. Not to mention, those sharks are not going to let it sit around for long!
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