Refueling After Workouts: Small Window, Big Difference
By Joan Kent, PhD
What do you eat after workouts? It's even more important than what you eat beforehand. The main value of eating the right stuff after training is that you recover well so you can train well the next day.
ACSM guidelines are clear: 3 days a week of exercise may postpone the inevitable age-related fitness decline, but more frequent workouts are necessary for fitness improvement. So refueling is key.
If your clients are anything like mine, though, the refueling meal – "meal" is a generous term – might be a banana or a latte. Neither of these offers the best post-workout fuel.
According to Maughan's Nutrition in Sport and other research, the best post-workout fuel is a combination of starch and protein, in a ratio of about 3:1. The original study by Zawadki et al. used a 2:1 ratio, and 4:1 has been used in others, but the currently recognized guideline is 3:1.
Best practice is to eat within 30 minutes after the training ends. For many folks, that will mean eating in the locker room, so convenience is a factor, but we'll get to that in a moment.
First let's look at 3 reasons this 30-minute refueling window is critical:
1. Glycogen replacement (repletion) is most effective within 30 minutes because the enzyme that facilitates it (glycogen synthetase) is in its most active form.
2. Missing the 30-minute window can trigger transient insulin resistance that may persist for hours. If that occurs, later meals won't replace glycogen as effectively as if refueling started within 30 minutes.
3. The carb/protein mix stops the cortisol response, which can otherwise tear down muscle tissue.
The 3 reasons above have refueling windows of slightly different durations, but eating within the smallest window covers all bases. So I recommend 30 minutes.
For convenience, I suggest a slice or two (maybe three after a tough training) of Alvarado St. Essential Flaxseed bread. It's easy to find and to store in a locker.
Please don't panic over the gluten! Here's why this bread is a good choice:
—Alvarado flaxseed bread is whole grain but has fairly large air spaces. That raises its glycemic index (GI). Carbs with a high GI replace glycogen quickly, while whole grain is preferable to refined flour. This covers both criteria.
—The flaxseeds in it are whole, so the body treats them as fiber, rather than as fat. It's good to avoid fat in the refueling window because fat slows carb absorption. Fast carb absorption is key following training.
—It's lower in calories than most bread — 50 calories per slice vs. 80-100 in other breads. This may help those who are concerned about weight management.
Can You Swap Other Foods for Alvarado Flaxseed Bread?
• The combination of starch and protein is better fuel than sugary recovery drinks. I prefer not to recommend junk, and sugar can be big trouble for some.
• Alvarado flaxseed bread is better than fruit. Fruit is the wrong post-workout fuel because muscle glycogen replacement is slow with fructose, the sugar in fruit.
• The flaxseed bread is better than chocolate milk, which contains mostly sugars – they're unhealthful and addictive. Milk is inconvenient because it requires refrigeration during the workout. Also, lactose intolerance is common, and so is allergy to chocolate.
If you simply can't go with bread (!!), I suggest potatoes, along with some unsweetened protein powder that you can mix with water when you're ready to have it. Both will store easily in a locker.
Eating starch and protein 30 minutes (or sooner) after training may help fitness enthusiasts recover faster and perform better in their next training.
If you're looking for help with nutrition – for athletic performance or for your health – perfect! That's what I do. Just visit www.LastResortNutrition.com and request your free Empowered Eating Consult. Find out how easy it is to make small changes that make a big difference in your health and your workouts.