Whether your goal is weight loss or body fat reduction and muscle gain, what you choose to eat post-workout can have a major impact on your success. The physiological changes in your body post- exercise is just as important as the workout itself.  Unlike a car engine, which stops using gas once the engine is turned off, your body never stops moving, repairing, or replenishing.  All systems are go, all the time.  Some might be in slow-down mode while others are in high gear, but never are they shutdown until the ticker stops beating.  The damage you caused to your muscles during your workout continues to be broken down for hours following your session. That’s why your muscle soreness is not felt until the next day or the day after because it takes time to set in.  If you fail to consume the right combination of macro-nutrients after your workout, your body will not have the proper tools to repair and replenish the damage.  Not only will this postpone your workout success, the body will have to try to catch up and regain the fuel it lost during the workout, setting your energy back for days.  Many people take this window of opportunity for granted and miss out on one of the most important times to refuel, repair and regenerate your body. 

 There are two major nutrition principles that influence how you recover and repair after a hard workout:

1)   The timing of what you eat

2)   The composition of what you eat

 Timing:  After your workout, there is only a short period of time that you can properly activate your body’s repair and rebuilding processes.  If you don’t eat the right foods at the right times after you exercise, your muscles will be in a constant state of breakdown and your fuel stores will not be adequately replenished.  This will leave you too sore and too tired to exercise again anytime soon (like tomorrow or even the next day).  Or, if you do exercise, you won’t get the same benefit as your workout will be lagging.  This “window of opportunity” has been shown by some of top sports nutrition researchers in the world to occur between 15 minutes and 45 minutes following your exercise session.  This is because your muscles are most receptive to nutrients at this time. They’ll take up nutrients as quickly as a child will eat a candy bar! Talk about fast!  Instead of sending nutrients to fat cells for storage, your muscles will quickly use these nutrients to repair, rebuild and make you feel energetic again.  However, after the window has closed, your body’s ability to replenish the glycogen and muscle protein you damaged is greatly lost.  Then, your recovery will take twice as long setting you back.

Another important aspect of nutrient timing is stopping your blood glucose levels from dropping.  If your blood sugar drops because you waited too long to eat (more than 45- 60 minutes) after exercise, you’re going to be cranky, shaky and incredibly hungry.  Hungry enough to make you gorge at your next feeding.  This uncontrollable hunger caused by low blood sugar will definitely not help you win the “fat loss” battle. Sure, you may gain muscle, but it’ll be covered by a thick layer of fat.

 Composition:  Composition referring to both the type of food and the amount consumed post-workout.  Your body mostly uses carbohydrates during your workout for energy.  So, you must replace these important fuels.  But, it can’t just be any carbohydrate.  Choose carbs that can be absorbed quickly, and, at the same time, initiate a release of insulin from the pancreas to help control blood sugar.  When quick-digesting carbs are eaten following a workout, a lot of insulin is released and your body can store twice as much glycogen, stopping muscle breakdown and starting the process of muscle repair and recovery. 

 Let’s not forget about Protein

After a workout, your body doesn’t technically need protein to replenish protein lost during your workout.  But, many researchers believe a greater amount of insulin is released when carbs are combined with protein following an exercise bout.  They’ve researched athletes and exercisers from all different types of sports and exercise routines and given them different amounts of carbohydrates, from different sources, alone or combined with proteins and fats.  They’ve shown that the greatest amount of glycogen replenishment occurs when quick-digesting carbohydrates are taken with protein following a workout.  This is because protein helps your body to replace muscle glycogen through an enhanced insulin response.  Although carbs stimulate an insulin response fairly well, when protein is taken at the same time, the increase in blood insulin is greater than if carbs or protein were taken alone resulting in faster glycogen re-synthesis and muscle protein repair.  And faster glycogen replenishment is really important for people exercising multiple times a week, whether it is a spin class, weight training, running, or boot camp.  If you’re someone who only exercises once or twice a week, maybe this doesn’t matter to you, but then again why not optimize your post-exercise recovery process as much as you can? The process will make you feel and function better in anything else you do.  So, if you’re constantly sore and fatigued and your workouts are a struggle, look at your post-workout nutrition and make some changes.  Something as simple as your post-workout eating could be holding you back from reaching your goals!

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