The foods we choose to refuel our body post-exercise is vital in meeting our body’s needs.
There is so much confusion about what to and what not to eat post-workout. The important thing to remember is that nutrition in general needs some clear and factual intelligence to make overall health better. If the other meals of the day are not executed properly, you will not achieve your goals from your workout.
Let’s make some sense of this confusing topic by discussing the main reasons why we workout. For me, and I think I speak on behalf of MOST of the world’s population, there are 3 main reasons to exercise:
1. Improve health
2. Improve body composition
3. Improve performance
We need to focus on what our body experiences during exercise in order to determine what nutrients are needed for the body. During an intense workout, we are breaking down muscle tissue (protein breakdown), essentially damaging the tissues. This sounds bad, but this is actually what makes us lean and muscular, stronger and fitter. But this damage needs to be repaired and the muscle rebuilt (protein synthesis).
Essentially, post-workout nutrition needs to do 3 things:
1. Replenish glycogen (our body uses fuel when exercising and uses our glycogen stores for fuel)
2. Stop protein breakdown (or catabolism)
3. Promote protein synthesis (build and repair)
Muscle building occurs when our body receives a positive protein balance during recovery. Protein synthesis is triggered (while protein breakdown is suppressed) when consuming the right type of nutrients after exercise. Let’s also remember that our body depletes stored carbohydrates (glycogen) during exercise, which need to be refilled, meaning our body NEEDS protein and carbohydrates post-workout.
During exercise and post-exercise, our blood circulates more rapidly to our muscle, especially the muscles being trained. If we strategically put the nutrients needed for building and repair into our bloodstream at the right times, our body will effectively be able to recover and replenish more efficiently.
This brings us to the “window” of opportunity. During this window, our muscles are primed to accept nutrients that can stimulate muscle repair and growth. Research suggests this window is opened immediately after a workout. While protein synthesis lasts for up to 4 hours, our body will receive the most benefit from nutrients within two hours after exercises. If you wait too long to refuel your body, a decrease in glycogen storage and protein synthesis occurs.
So What Should I Eat?
Let’s recall what it is that we are trying to achieve with post-workout nutrition:
1. Replenish glycogen
2. Stop protein breakdown
3. Promote protein synthesis
This tells us we need carbohydrates to replenish and protein to prevent further breakdown and promote rebuilding.
BUILD AND REPAIR!
Because our window is small, we need to ensure we have quick digesting carbohydrates and quick digesting protein post-workout. Sources such as isolates and dextrose, or a recovery drink, are best taken at this time. You can make your own recovery drink with protein powder and dextrose or stick to whole foods such as fish and white rice. Whole foods digest slowly, which is why most fitness enthusiasts choose liquid post-workout over whole foods.
We want to continue to take advantage of the two-hour “window”, and therefore consume whole foods within two hours of exercising. Because we are still in prime building and repairing mode, we again want to have a quick digesting protein and some form of carbohydrates. I choose to eat complex carbohydrates here as I have already replenished my glycogen stores with a recovery drink and want to ensure I am not consuming too many calories that will in turn be stored as fat.
**Start with 30 grams of carbohydrates and 20 grams of protein for a recovery meal immediately following your workout.
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