Sports nutritionists recommend eating within 30 minutes after a heavy workout. The body has used up significant energy and needed to refuel. However, many people skip this important meal because they want to lose weight. “I worked so hard to burn those calories, why would I want to take any in? I’m on a diet!”
This is the worst mistake you can make. Skipping your post-workout meal will sabotage your weight loss goals. This article will explain what happens to your body after rigorous exercise, and why you need to feed it so it can build muscle, burn fat and calories better. You’ll also discover healthy snack options that won’t derail your calorie count. Read on to find out why post workout nutrition is important in weight loss programs.
You Need Good Nutrients to Repair Your Muscles
Each time we eat, our body converts food into glucose (from carbohydrates), fatty acids (from fat), or amino acids (from protein). This is either used through daily activity or stored. See those big hips and belly rolls? They’re your body’s massive energy reserves.
If you want to burn it, you have to use it. Intense exercises push our muscle groups, so they begin using up glucose and fatty acids. The repeated contractions cause microscopic tears. That’s a good thing – your body will rebuild the damaged tissue with stronger ones that can take on your fitness challenges. This process is called “muscle remodeling.”
This repair job starts right after your workout, and since your heart and lungs are still pumping hard and taking in higher levels of oxygen, your circulation system is primed to deliver nutrients to your muscles quickly. A healthy post-workout snack will feed it with muscle-building protein and carbohydrates. That’s why post workout nutrition is so important in weight loss programs.
Starved, Weaker Muscles will Limit Your Workouts and Weight Loss
With stronger muscles, you can handle more intense workouts that will burn more calories and fat. But if you deprive your muscles of nutrients, you risk injuring yourself because your body could repair itself properly.
You’re also more likely to under perform. Since your muscles can’t cope with the larger weights or the repetitions, you’ll make two exercise mistakes: working out too slowly (you don’t bring up your heart rate), or working out at very low intensities that don’t burn significant calories.
To hit your weight loss goals, you need to bring your fitness levels up – and that can’t happen without building your muscle through regular exercise and healthy post-workout nutrition.
You Can Experience Dangerous Drops of Sugar Levels
If you are diabetic or are showing signs of pre-diabetes, your post-workout snack can save your life. Diabetics are more prone to having large drops in sugar levels (hypoglycemia or insulin shock). Left untreated, this can lead to seizures, loss of consciousness and even death. That’s why post workout nutrition is important in weight loss programs for anyone who has been diagnosed with high sugar levels.
Hypoglycemia is hard to spot because its early symptoms of sweating and fatigue mimic what anyone feels after a good workout. As it progresses, it shows up as dizziness, nausea, and disorientation. If you’re diabetic, talk to your doctor about how to manage your sugar levels during exercise, and always take a diabetes-friendly snack within thirty minutes of your workout.
A Post Workout Snack Restores Fluids and Electrolytes
When you sweat, you lose both fluid and electrolytes: minerals in our blood and cells that play an important role in muscle contraction, cell function, and the regulation of energy. These minerals include sodium, chloride, potassium, phosphate, and magnesium.
Low electrolyte levels can cause muscle cramps, nausea, lightheadedness, and episodes of confusion. If you don’t bring them up with enough fluid and mineral-rich post work out snacks, you’ll feel weak for the rest of the day and even until your next workout. There have also been cases of low electrolytes throwing off the electrical impulses of the heart, causing cardiac arrhythmia or irregular heartbeats. If you have heart disease or at risk for cardiac arrest, your post workout snack is critical.
So, it’s not enough to drink water. Snacks like bananas, coconut water smoothies, avocado or yogurt help bring back your electrolyte balance.
Your Body Burns Calories Better After a Workout
You may have heard of the “Afterburn,” where your body continues to burn calories after you exercise. The more intense your exercise, the longer this grace period lasts. This is partly caused by the higher oxygen consumption, and the body’s attempt to restore glycogen levels. Since you’ve depleted your body’s available energy stores, any carbohydrates you consume within one hour after your workout will be used for that day instead of being turned into body fat.
You Need to Replenish Your Insulin Levels
Insulin is very important to muscle recovery after a workout. It helps carry glucose from the bloodstream into your muscle cells, where it can be converted into energy. This is called muscle glycogen synthesis, and it is very important for this two happen right after exercise when the muscle cells are particularly sensitive. A study by Dr. John Ivy of the University of Texas showed that glycogen synthesis is three times faster in the first two hours after a workout. After this window period, your muscle develops an insensitivity to insulin.
Insulin also carries amino acids (the building blocks of protein) into the cell. Your body needs this to repair muscle tissue.
In plain terms, the food you consume right after your work out heals your muscles better and is burned faster.
You’re Less Likely to Go on Binge Eating
One reason why post workout nutrition is important in weight loss programs is craving management. When you’re ravenous, you’re more likely to eat anything you see – and eat lots of it! If you take smaller but more frequent meals throughout the day, you will have better control over your appetite and your portions.
Dietitians usually recommend 5 to 6 low-calorie meals taken every 3 hours. Diet apps can help you compute and track your food intake, so you never overeat. Since you never starve yourself, your body also maintains a healthy metabolism.
Your post-workout snack can be part of this regimen. Bear in mind that workouts will leave you hungrier than usual. Many fitness coaches say that this causes a very common diet mistake: you negate any calories you burned from a workout by overeating on that day. A low-calorie snack taken a right after you exercise will satisfy your body’s needs and take advantage of the “Afterburn” mentioned earlier.
How to Create the Best Post Workout Nutrition Plan
The best post workout snack has a good balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and minerals like calcium, potassium, phosphate and magnesium. Carbohydrates will help your body release insulin, proteins have amino acids that your body needs to repair tissue, and minerals restore electrolyte balance. Avoid fat, which will slow down your digestion and prevent your body from absorbing the healthy nutrients. Here are some tips on creating your after-exercise menu.
Compute your total calorie count. Weight loss is a matter of math: (total calories burned) should be greater than (total calories required). Your dietitian, gym consultant or weight loss app can help compute your ideal calorie count for your weight, height, lifestyle and fitness goals. From there, allocate a “calorie budget” for each meal, including your post workout nutrition.
Make a list of healthy and convenient snacks. It’s hard enough to squeeze in a workout in the middle of your busy life – post workout snacks shouldn’t be such a hassle to prepare that you give up on it completely! Plan by researching on different meal ideas and then stocking your pantry.
Avoid temptation. Resist the urge to over-binge by preparing your own snacks and eating them right at the gym. That way, you’re full and satisfied by the time you walk past the corner bakery or office vending machine.
Quick and Easy Post-Workout Nutrition Ideas
You’ll find lots of ideas and recipes on the internet, but these examples of healthy post-workout snacks prove how easy it is to give your body the carbohydrates and proteins it needs after exercise.
Bananas. One of the easiest snacks you could ever have, and the healthiest. Aside from being a good source of healthy carbohydrates, it has potassium to restore electrolytes and muscle function.
Egg. These are a rich source of protein and can be served in many ways, so you don’t get sick of eating the same food. Try boiled, poached, or for variety, a vegetable omelet.
Canned tuna on whole wheat crackers. This is the ideal combination of protein and carbohydrates – and you didn’t even have to cook anything! For variety and additional vitamins, you can add celery or diced apples for crunch, or make a whole-wheat sandwich with alfalfa sprouts and capers.
Half an apple with peanut butter. You get protein and vitamins and can satisfy any cravings for something sweet and gooey. (We know you really wanted a brownie, but this will tide you over until Cheat Day.)
Low-fat cottage cheese, wholewheat crackers, and fruit. This is a delicious balance of flavors and textures and will give your body carbohydrates, calcium, and minerals.
Protein shakes or snacks. These are convenient, pre-prepared snacks especially designed for people who work out. Just make sure to read the label, because some of them can have a lot of sugar or fat.
Smoothies. If you exercise at home, then whip up a refreshing shake as a reward. Try mixing bananas with low-fat milk, or fruits with electrolyte-boosting coconut water. Vegetable smoothies with carrot, cucumber, or berries will also help you meet your RDA of vitamins and minerals. You can also use a juicer, but cold-press machines will remove the vegetable and fruit fiber which can help you stay full longer.
Tested Tips on Post Workout Nutrition
We checked out fitness forums and exercise blogs for the best advice on preparing healthy and delicious snacks.
Switch up the flavors. Nobody likes eating bananas everyday – even monkeys will try other fruits! By experimenting with different food, you also give yourself something to look forward to. Think of it as your post-work out a treat!
If you’re going to schedule a Cheat Day, do it after you exercise. Since your body burns calories more effectively after a workout, then it makes sense to turn your post workout snack into a chance to indulge. Just don’t go overboard: do it just once a week, and control your portion size.
Team up with your fitness buddies. If you exercise with a friend (and studies show you’re more likely to stick to a diet or workout if you partner up with someone who shares your fitness goals), you can take turns preparing your snacks. This is much healthier than heading out for a cappuccino after class and gives you a chance to socialize and relax after your workout.
Don’t forget to calculate the costs of snacks taken before and during the workout. You need a light snack before a rigorous workout, or you won’t have the energy to complete your routine. If you have a long workout, you may want to take a snack in the middle if you’re feeling nauseous or tired. If this happens, be sure to add all your calorie intake, so you don’t accidentally overeat.
Adjust your snack to the type of routine. A light yoga class will make fewer demands on your muscles than a cycling session. Switch up your choice of snacks depending on the calories you’ve burned and the strain it has put on your body.
These are just some of the reasons why post workout nutrition is important in weight loss programs. Don’t be tempted to starve yourself or skip a snack so you can “save on calories.” As many diet and fitness experts will tell you, the best way to slim down and control your weight for good is to eat healthily and exercise regularly. A post work-out snack helps you manage cravings, get the right nutrients at the right time, and strengthen your body so you can give 100% to your workouts.