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Make the Most of Your Post Workout Nutrition

By Noya Madadi

Do you ever feel confused by the amount of information out there on what to eat after you have put your all into a killer workout? You worked hard during your workout session, and what you eat next can help you maximize the efforts you’ve put into the gym.

smoothie_pumpkin_cup_straw_picAfter an intense workout, your body is in a catabolic state where you’re breaking down proteins. Your muscles are depleted of glycogen at this stage as glycogen is broken down into carbohydrates during exercise to help fuel your workout. So not only do you need to consume protein, but you need to include carbohydrates in your post-workout meal. You need to replenish glycogen in your muscles so your body doesn’t start breaking down proteins. Don’t be afraid of carbs, you need carbs! Having protein with carbs has a higher protein-sparing effect than simply having protein alone. Without carbs post-work out, you actually risk breaking down muscle. But wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of your workout? Exactly my point.

Having protein immediately after resistance training increases strength, an important factor in muscle growth, more than waiting two hours post-workout to eat does. After training, your blood is flowing faster and blood vessels have opened up more, allowing nutrients to reach your muscles faster to initiate muscle growth and repair. Also, insulin sensitivity is higher immediately after exercise, so this helps nutrients get into your cells faster and more efficiently. Basically, you don’t want to wait too long after exercise to have your post-workout meal, otherwise these added benefits would diminish. A good plan is to make something quick, like a smoothie, or have your meal pre-prepped and ready to go so you don’t have to spend a bunch of time in the kitchen cooking.

So what to eat? You want to aim for fast digesting protein. You want the proteins to be broken down into amino acids, as these are taken up by your muscles to stimulate protein synthesis, an anabolic state. This is where protein powders can come in handy because they are broken down and digested faster than proteins from whole foods. When you do use proteins from whole foods, aim for lean proteins with low fat content. Some examples of plant-based, fast digesting proteins are sprouted kidney beans, lima beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, and quinoa. A lot of the legumes tend to have a good amount of carbs as well, so take this into account when deciding on your nutrient goals and requirements.

raw_vegan_overnight_oats_recipe_picAs for carbs, you can aim for somewhat fast digesting carbs combined with slow digesting complex carbs, or just stick with complex carbs without the simple sugars. This part will be specific to your individual goals and requirements. Somewhat fast digesting carbs are used so they can get into your muscles right away. I say somewhat fast digesting carbs because I don’t want this to be taken as a free for all to eat simple sugars such as candies, cakes, cookies, and junk foods made with white table sugar or high fructose corn syrup. You do want to stick with healthier options for carbs; after all, you put a lot of time and effort in your workouts! Consuming fast digesting carbs post workout is practiced by many athletes, such as bodybuilders aiming to maximize muscle growth with intense lifting sessions or endurance runners and athletes that have long training sessions. Some examples of faster digesting carbs are fruit, unsweetened dried fruit, maltodextrin, honey, and maple syrup. That being said, for most of you looking to lose weight, build tone, and stay healthy, slow digesting complex carbs are an excellent choice. These will help stabilize blood sugar to keep energy levels maintained throughout the day and they contain fiber which will keep you feeling fuller longer. Some examples of slow digesting complex carbs are oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, yams, legumes, whole grain breads, and whole grain pastas.

Lastly, when it comes to fats, the general rule is you want to keep fat content low for your post workout meal. Fats are very slow digesting since they delay the emptying of food from the stomach, thus taking longer for nutrients to get to your muscles where they are needed. Don’t leave them completely out of your diet though. Fat is an essential macronutrient for the body, needed to maintain optimal health and shed unwanted fat.

Some post workout meal ideas:

  • Smoothie made with protein powder, fruit, and unsweetened almond milk (you can get creative with different flavor profiles)
  • Oatmeal (or other cereal) made with fruit and protein powder
  • Tempeh with roasted veggies (eggplant, zucchini, peppers) on whole grain bread or brown rice bread
  • Bean dip or fat-free hummus with crackers and veggies
  • Quinoa salad tossed with legumes (edamame, chickpeas, black beans, etc.)
  • Veggie burger on whole grain bun
  • Veggie burger patty, yams steamed vegetables
  • Tempeh or tofu stir-fry with brown rice
Sources:Wilson, J. and Wilson, G. (2006). Contemporary issues in protein requirements and consumption for resistance trained athletes. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

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