Choosing your post- workout meal can help your body to burn fat, recover from the exertion and help you feel better.
Try to eat your post-workout meal within 45 minutes to maximize the good effects. So why do you need to eat after a workout and just what is happening in your body as you work out?
The Science of Working Out
As you eat carbohydrates, your body converts them to glucose and then to glycogen. The glycogen is stored in your liver and muscles.
The excess is stored as fat. The body mainly uses liver glycogen to power the brain and spinal cord. Muscle glycogen is used to power muscles. When you need energy, your body breaks down glycogen.
The amount of stored glycogen depends on how active you are, on your resting metabolism and on what you eat. Most people have about 4 grams of glycogen in their body at any moment.
As you exercise and run out of glycogen, your body will pull it from storage and fuel your body. Most people store about 2,000 calories of glucose as glycogen. A strenuous workout will deplete the stores and lead to “hitting the wall,” a condition known to many athletes.
As you exercise, you cause damage to muscles. Your body needs to repair that damage and that takes protein. The micro-tears that you create during a normal workout actually help to make the muscles stronger. To repair them, your body requires protein. If you actually injure something, you need protein to repair the damage.
By eating a healthy mix of carbs and protein after your workout, you will decrease muscle breakdown, increase muscle growth, restore glycogen, and make you feel better.
Eat a good quality, lean protein to provide your body with amino acids to rebuild and add muscle. Lean protein includes meats like beef, chicken, pork, salmon, tuna, and whole eggs.
Quinoa, chia seeds, seitan, and of course, beans are excellent sources of quality plant-based proteins. Plant protein is every bit as healthy as meat protein.
Dairy products like cottage cheese or Greek yogurt are excellent sources of protein as well. Protein shakes can be a quick and tasty way to get protein quickly and replenish some of the water lost from sweating. Choose your shakes based on your workout and fitness goals.
Try to eat 20 to 40 grams of protein after a workout. For a visual of how much protein that is, 20 grams is roughly a fist sized chicken breast. Eating 2-grams carbohydrates:1-gram protein is a preferred ratio.
How many carbs you eat after your workout depends on what you are doing. Endurance athletes need more carbs than weight lifters. Carbs are more important for people who workout twice a day than the every-other-day-exercisers.
Eat carbs and protein at the same time so maximize glycogen synthesis. Try to find easily digested carbs such as sweet potatoes or boiled white potatoes, quinoa or rice, fruits like pineapple, berries, banana, kiwi, and oatmeal or pasta.
You can also drink full fat milk for both the carbs and the protein. Note that these are not refined carbs like bread!
Good fats don’t hurt and may help you rebuild post-workout. Whole milk is particularly good for you after a workout. Other good sources of fat are nuts and nut butters, trail mix and avocados.
Drink lots of plain water after your workout. You need to replace any lost through sweat and your body needs water to properly function. Adult humans are roughly 60% water and dehydration has some unpleasant and potentially serious side effects. These can include headaches, shakes, and even death in extreme cases.
Unless you are doing an intensive amount of exercise like a marathon or two-a-days, you probably don’t need an electrolyte drink. They are mostly sugar and you can replace electrolytes through good food choices.
Pre-work Out Meals
Eating before a workout can be as important as eating afterwards. For best results choose similar foods and eat two to three hours before. If you can’t do the timing, eat a small snack before you work out and focus on your post workout meal.
If you are exercising to lose weight, increase your metabolism by adding green tea to your post workout meal. You can also try adding spice, like capsaicin or hot peppers, to your meal. These are thought to raise your body temperature and make you burn more fat.
Eating a carefully chosen meal within 45 minutes of your workout can be hugely beneficial. Choose a 2:1-gram ratio of carbs to protein to help support your body’s effort to build and repair muscle, restore glycogen levels, and make you feel better.
You also need to replace any water lost through sweating, so drink water before, during and after your workout.