How to Fuel Post-Workout
Today we have Strongrabbit, a.ka. Mrs. Mullet, a.k.a Amy Beausang, a.k.a. DJ Bomb Biscuit with the third part of her series about how to fuel pre, during, and post-workout.
Hello Mullet Monsters! (Lady Ga Ga has her “little monster” fans, so you are now my Mullet Monsters). This week we’re wrapping up our workout nutrition 101 series. We’ve covered the “pre” and the “during” components– now onto post-workout fueling.
But first, I need to do a little group share therapy because I’m not sure what’s happening to me. On a couple of occasions this week, I actually used the word “stoked” in conversation without even thinking. I guess all this Mullet business is rubbing off on me. Before you know it, I’ll be looking for the fin with the least drag.
OK, so back to the topic at hand. In preparing for these weekly posts, I’ve discovered that there are a plethora of sports nutrition experts out there with differing perspectives on fueling and training. One aspect they seem to agree on, however, is the importance of consuming nutrients in the immediate post-workout period. Notice that I used the word “nutrients” here and not simply food or food-like products. (Burger King and Krispy Kreme lovers beware.)
Why is post-workout nutrition so important and what types of nutrients do we need? Before we answer these questions, lets understand what our workouts are actually doing to our bodies.
Intense workouts actually damage muscle tissue at the microlevel, but this is a normal and necessary process that ultimately makes us stronger and fitter, and helps us reap those favorable changes in body composition—more lean mass and less body fat.
But only if we’re providing our bodies with the nutrients it needs to repair and rebuild.
Think of it this way. What would happen to your prized race board if you simply stepped onshore and left your board out in the sun all day while you basked in your “I-did-so-awesome-today” glow? Well, I’m no expert but a close Mullet source tells me that the heat can do some ser-i-ous damage that can render your beloved board unusable.
I can hear your gasps from way over here. “But I would NEVER do that—what kind of idiot would do that?” (Um, sorry if some of you have actually done that, I for one don’t think you are idiots. I’m just trying to make a point.)
And that point is, you wouldn’t neglect your board post-workout, you would bag it or place it lovingly under a big shady tree. So treat your body the same way! Give it some post-workout love! Working out is healthy, but only if we supply our bodies with the nutrients it needs to repair and rebuild the “microdamage” we’ve done. Proper post-training nutrition also has other key benefits, including:
1. Replenishing electrolytes for nerve and heart health
2. Rebuilding glycogen stores
3. Reducing inflammation
4. Speeding recovery
5. Improving body composition (increasing muscle protein synthesis)
6. Controlling hunger and preventing overeating later
7. Boosting immunity
8. Repairing cell damage
9. Maintaining energy / staving off fatigue in the hours post-workout
10. Making you more pleasant for others to be around because you’re not in a hypoglycemia-induced cranky-pot state
Science sidebar: Protein turnover response to working out
Muscle tissue repair and rebuilding involves breaking down old, damaged proteins (aka protein breakdown) and constructing new ones (aka protein synthesis) — a process known collectively as protein turnover. Muscle protein synthesis increases slightly (or remains unchanged) after resistance workouts, but protein breakdown increases. With endurance training, protein synthesis decreases and protein breakdown increases dramatically. In other words, we’re doing a lot more breaking-down than building-up. Muscle growth or hypertrophy occurs when a positive protein balance can be established during recovery — in other words, when we make sure we have enough raw materials available for protein synthesis to occur over protein breakdown.
Hopefully you’re sold on the WHY for fueling post-workout. The next step is understanding WHEN to fuel post-workout. A number of sports nutrition experts agree that the optimal window for boosting post-workout tissue repair and synthesis is within 20 to 45 minutes of the end of your workout. And most will say that within 30 minutes is best. Of course, if you can’t consume anything until an hour or so later, that’s certainly better than waiting several hours to eat. If you wait too long, you’ve lost the opportunity to maximize recovery and protein synthesis. Plus, you’re setting yourself up for over-eating and / or making poor-quality choices later, which can negate all your hard work, especially if one of your training goals is losing weight.
We’ve talked a lot about protein breakdown and protein synthesis, so you may be thinking you need a lot of protein post-workout, right? While protein is certainly important, you don’t need as much as you might think. We’ve all seen the body-builder dude with the gargantuan arms scarfing down a gallon of Muscle Milk post-lifting. Not necessary. Even sports nutritionists for pro-athlete teams agree that 20-30 grams of protein post-workout is plenty. Too much protein may actually slow rehydration and glycogen replenishment.
The other macronutrient that is important for post-workout recovery is carbohydrate. Exercise can substantially deplete our carb stores. And you know by now that carb stores are very important as a fuel resource! (see previous posts for a review). So how many carbs do you need? There’s a LOT of controversy out there on this issue. I’ve seen recommendations as low as 0.3gram of carbs up to 0.75 grams of carbs per pound of body weight. That’s a pretty big range. And some experts advocate very little carbs post-workout but these are typically in cross-fit / lifting types of activities. Most experts in the setting of cardiovascular and muscle endurance or high-intensity cardio workouts definitely recommend carb intake post-workout to help replenish glycogen stores. My take-away from the available literature is that the amount of carbs you need after exercise really depends on the nature of your workout, and your body-type.
A super-lean distance runner, for example, would definitely need to ingest a greater amount of carbs after a 15 mile run. Someone who is working out for an hour or so 4-5 times per week with the aim of losing weight would skew more towards the lower end of post-workout carb intake. But I do believe that carbs are very important for recovery and physical and mental health, so I’m not sold on the no-carb / low-carb approach.
A typical rule of thumb that most experts agree on is a ratio of 3:1 to 4:1 carbs:protein within 45 minutes post-exercise.
Great sources of post-workout carbs include fruit, oats, quinoa (also contains a protein bonus), and other whole grains. Oats are surprisingly yummy in a smoothie!! In fact, most experts concur that consuming nutrients in liquid form post-workout is optimal, as they are more easily absorbed and digested than solid foods. So bust out the blender!
The WHAT ELSE
· Fluids—you already know you need to replace fluid losses. And margaritas don’t count (in fact, alcohol is dehydrating!). So make sure you have adequate water. Maybe even coconut water—a good source of carbs and potassium! A general rule I’ve seen quite a bit is to drink 2 cups of water per pound of body weight lost during exercise.
· Electrolytes & minerals—needed for proper nerve impulse conduction and volume regulation, so yes, they are important. If you sweat a lot, add some sea salt to your post-workout meal, or include sports drink.
· Fruits and veggies–If you can make a smoothie soon after training (or make ahead and keep it in a cooler), throw in some spinach or kale, along with fresh or frozen berries. Not only are they sources of high-quality carbs, these nutrient powerhouses also reduce exercise-induced acidity and inflammation. (More on combatting inflammation in the coming weeks).
· A bit of healthy fat—add some flaxseed or avocado to that smoothie.
As I mentioned in my first post, you took the time to find the right board, the right paddle, the right fin. You take the time to get out their and train, whether it’s to maintain fitness, shed some pounds, or meet a personal race goal. Training is hard, sometimes it sucks. You sweat, you hurt, you may even feel like giving up. But you don’t. You keep plugging and chugging. Now don’t you deserve to reap the benefits of all this effort? To see where your training can take you? Then take the time to choose the raw materials your body needs to help you realize your goals. You deserve it.
Up next: Balancing nutritional needs with weight loss goals.
Until then: I simply cannot get Daft Punk out of my head while writing this article. The lyrics are too befitting. So my alter ego, Pixie Electra aka DJ Bomb Biscuit, leaves you with this–
Work it harder make it better
Do it faster makes us stronger
More than ever hour after hour
Work is never over
From: Daft Punk, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” (Live Radio Edit)