Consuming to Get better – Oxygen Journal
There’s an old fitness adage that goes, “You don’t build your body in the gym. It is what you do after a workout that leads to physical improvement. “Even if you exercise religiously, if you don’t follow the correct steps, once you leave the gym, you will sell yourself short.
When you finish a hard workout, your body starves for food. Vigorous exercise breaks down muscle tissue (which breaks down protein), depletes muscle glycogen (which is essential for energy), and reduces muscles’ ATP stores (the cellular fuel that drives muscle contractions). Your body needs glycogen replenishment in the first place. This storage form of carbohydrates occurs in the muscles (approx. 400 g) and in the liver (approx. 100 g) and is crucial for brain function and physical activity. It is also used during exercise to replenish ATP in the muscles.
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In the absence of carbohydrates, amino acids are removed from muscle to be reassembled as glycogen molecules – a catabolic process that you want to avoid.
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The carburetor connection
The great thing about post-workout feeding is that you can eat lots of carbohydrates, even on a low-carb diet. This is because carbohydrates are protein sparing, which means they go to work right away to replenish glycogen stores and prevent muscle breakdown. Even on a low-carb diet, you can get up to a quarter of your total daily intake in your post-workout meal. So if you eat 160 grams of carbohydrates per day, you should be consuming 40 to 50 immediately after your workout. (A good recommendation is 0.3-0.5 grams per pound of body weight.)
Power up with protein
Muscle tissue needs amino acids for growth to take place. Research shows that a combination of fast, medium and slow digesting proteins speeds up this process and ensures recovery. Complete proteins from foods and / or supplements provide a number of essential amino acids to help build muscle. Try to eat 20 to 40 grams of protein, depending on how it fits into your daily intake. (A good rule of thumb is to consume up to 0.25 grams per pound of body weight after exercising.)
The final piece of the puzzle is ATP regeneration. As long as you consume plenty of carbohydrates after exercising, your body should be able to make up for the missing phosphocreatine in ATP in muscle cells. Creatine is also found in red meat and fish, and in dietary supplements.
Timing is everything for post-workout feeding. Watch your refueling window: simple carbs are essential within minutes of completing your last set. Protein and creatine should be consumed within the next hour. You can also add a few grams of carbohydrates and, if desired, a creatine supplement to the latter meal to improve absorption.
What are some examples of what to eat? Replacing glycogen is the easiest – any carbohydrate will do. Lower glycemic carbohydrates like fruits or juices may not be as optimal as candy for speed of glycogen replenishment, but they are healthier. Highly glycemic carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, rice, and white potatoes are good options. Honey is another great choice; Research shows that combining with protein helps maintain optimal blood sugar levels to improve absorption. For protein, dietary supplements are superior to whole foods because of their convenience, digestive speed, and specific benefits. However, you can improve amino acid absorption by eating egg whites, Greek yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, and low-fat milk (regular or lactose-free) after your workout.
Certain high protein foods offer dual benefits as a source of creatine. However, since post-workout appetite is not always the best, you should try creatine supplements. To speed recovery and get the most out of your workout, be aware of the small post-workout window when you can refuel your body and start the recovery process. Remember, it is the 23 hours outside of the gym that your body improves. Make the best out of it.