Post-workout nutrition is a topic that tends to be overlooked, and it is important to know the benefits of giving your body what it needs to recover. After an intense workout, your body needs to be refueled. When you don’t replenish your body, it can leave you feeling fatigued and stall the recovery process. When you don’t restore what you have lost, it will put your body at risk of further damage during your next workout.
That being said, here are the do’s and don’ts when it comes to consumption after workouts.
Post-Workout Nutrition: The Do’s
1. Fuel Your Body with Protein
Protein fuels your body with amino acids to repair muscle proteins that are broken down during your workout. Stick with lean proteins such as antibiotic-free chicken, wild-caught fish, and occasionally a lean cut of grass-fed beef. If you don’t have a lot of time to refuel after your workout, quick fixes like eggs, almonds, and cottage cheese are great options.
2. Increase Your Glycogen Intake
During high-intensity workouts, your body becomes depleted of glycogen, a polysaccharide. When you eat carbohydrates, your body releases insulin, which takes glucose from the blood and stores it as energy in the cells and muscles. When the body gets excess fuel, the glucose molecules are linked together to form glycogen.
It is said that after about 20 minutes of high-intensity workouts, your muscles will become depleted of glycogen storage. When you are unable to finish that last rep, your glycogen has become exhausted. Eating carbs promotes insulin secretion, which in turn promotes glycogen synthesis. The release of insulin is more proactive when carbs and protein are eaten together.
3. Eat the Right Kind of Carbs
Not all carbs are created equal, however. There are whole carbs and complex carbs.
Whole carbs are in their natural form and contain fiber that helps the body regulate its use of sugar. An example of these would be sweet potatoes, fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains.
Refined carbs are processed and stripped of fiber. Examples of these are white bread, white pasta, fruit juices, and white rice. Refined carbs cause major spikes to blood sugar levels in our bodies, which initially give energy but then cause us to crash shortly and crave more sugar. Do fill up on the right kind of carbs.
4. Satisfy Your Meal with Healthy Fats
Good sources of fat in small amounts are also an important factor after workouts. A small amount of fat will help you feel satisfied with your meal and stay full for longer periods of time. There are good fats and bad fats, so it is important to make sure you are getting it from the right source.
Bad fats are called saturated and trans fats, and when eaten in excess, they have been shown to increase blood cholesterol levels and LDL levels. Saturated fats should be eaten sparingly. Examples of saturated fats are processed meats like salami and bacon, as well as dairy products like milk and cheese. Trans fats should be avoided at all costs. Trans fats are in foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Some examples of these are fried foods, like doughnuts, French fries and most fast foods, vegetable shortenings, cookies, and processed snack foods.
Good fats are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. They are shown to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Some examples of healthy fats are avocados, nuts, chia seeds, and fish.
Post-Workout Nutrition: The Don’ts
1. Stay Away from Unknown Ingredients
When it comes to the foods you do not want to eat after workouts, it can get confusing. Here is a rule to consider: If you don’t know what the ingredients are, you shouldn’t eat it. Most things that are packaged are usually processed and full of sugar, along with other preservatives. If you do eat something processed, be sure to check out the list of ingredients. If you don’t understand more than three of these ingredients, avoid it altogether.
2. Don’t Eat Spicy Food
Spicy foods are also best to avoid after workouts. Foods that are prepared with hot spices like chili peppers or cayenne contain a potent ingredient known as capsaicin, which is an irritant to our bodies. Spicy food stimulates the digestive system and can cause heartburn and digestion issues, especially after your body has used up energy during a workout. Your body is trying to repair itself, which is why it’s important to choose foods that are easy to digest.
3. Avoid Unnecessary Sugars
Stick to real, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and clean, antibiotic- and hormone-free meats. Lots of sports drinks, energy bars, and protein shakes have hidden ingredients that aren’t helpful in the recovery process. They can be very deceiving since they are marketed toward athletes, yet most of them are loaded with unnecessary sugars, making them a poor option post-workout.
4. Skip the Alcohol
Alcohol is a big NO after workouts. It might sound fun to grab a celebratory drink after crushing it at the gym, but alcohol slows down the repair process of exercise-induced muscle damage by inhibiting the production of certain hormones that are used to help, like testosterone. Alcohol is also a diuretic, so when you are already dehydrated after a workout, this will only delay the recovery process more.
Learn More on Best Practices
Ultimately, what you eat really plays a huge role in your recovery time after workouts, as well as your overall well-being. Listen to your body, and with trial and error, you’ll find out what makes your body thrive. There is no specific diet or superfood that is right for everyone, so be sure to do your own research and find out exactly what works best for you so that you can continue to successfully fuel your body while maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle.
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This blog post was written by guest contributor Sarah Hart of You Cook Beautiful. Sarah is a recipe developer and blogger in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can follow her on her Instagram @youcookbeautiful.