You can get all sorts of details on what to eat after exercise on the internet. This article is based on real scientific studies to help you determine which foods are best suited after your workout.
- What are a post-workout meal’s basic benefits?
- What is the ideal combination of macronutrients to maximize its performance;
- How long after exercise should you eat;
- What is the role of carbohydrates in muscle recovery;
- Recipe ideas to savor after sport;
- And much more.
The four proven benefits of a meal after sport
Many studies show the benefits of adapted nutrition after sports training. A meal after sport allows in particular to:
Prevent muscle breakdown
An intense workout creates microscopic tears in your muscle fibers. If the right nutrients are not provided before and after training, these small tears can further muscle breakdown. Your muscle will break down to form the proteins that your body needs to regenerate.
Increase protein synthesis
After an intense workout, your body is biochemically ready to burn off its nutrients. Your muscles are very sensitive to insulin, which means that the carbohydrates you eat, by creating an insulin spike, can help transport protein to your muscles, instead of converting them to fat. Insulin is a storage hormone that gets a bad rap because it is involved in fat storage. However, after a workout, insulin combined with protein can improve muscle building. 2
A post-workout meal eaten at the right time with the proper nutrients can promote muscle recovery. And if you can recover in just one day instead of 2-3 days, that means you will be able to train more frequently, which will likely lead to better results.
Regardless of the type of sport, if you train hard, your body will use glycogen for fuel. Glycogen in your muscles and liver is defined as your body’s energy source for workouts. Depending on the duration, type, and intensity of exercise, glycogen stores can be depleted. Eating lots of carbohydrates after a workout can not only promote protein synthesis but also help replenish four energy stores so you can feel fit for the rest of the day.
Think of macronutrients as the food’s building blocks: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. These three elements are part of a balanced and healthy diet that keeps your body functioning at peak performance. But how do macronutrients affect the body after exercise? And why is this essential to understanding your muscle recovery?
2 – Carbohydrates help recovery
Carbohydrates help replenish the glycogen stores that you burn off during exercise.
Your body’s glycogen stores are used for fuel during exercise, and consuming carbohydrates after training helps replenish them.
The rate of use of your glycogen stores depends on the activity performed. For instance, endurance sports allow more glycogen to be used by your body than resistance sports like weight lifting.
For this reason, you can need to eat more carbohydrates than a bodybuilder if you engage in endurance sports like cycling, running, or swimming.
Also, insulin secretion promotes glycogen synthesis and is better stimulated when carbohydrates and proteins are consumed simultaneously. Therefore, consuming carbohydrates and protein after exercise can maximize protein and glycogen synthesis 6.
Eating plenty of carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores is especially important for people who frequently exercise, such as once or twice a day. If you have 1 or 2 days of rest between workouts, it becomes less important.
Carbohydrates after exercise – the essentials to remember
Endurance sports require the consumption of carbohydrates after exercise to replenish the body’s glycogen stores. For athletes who practice regularly, this is highly relevant.
Here are some foods that are highly carbohydrates:
- Brown rice,
- Sweet potatoes,
What to eat after exercise – recipe idea for a dish rich in carbohydrates: red bean and avocado enchiladas
Vegan enchiladas contain quinoa and kidney beans that will keep you full for hours, while the heart-healthy avocado will add creaminess. Classic wheat flour can be supplemented with almond, coconut, or gluten-free flour. Bake and enjoy it!
3 – Protein helps repair and build muscle
It is not without reason that bodybuilders like to drink protein shakes after their workouts. Indeed, physical exercise triggers the breakdown of muscle proteins.
The breakdown rate depends on the exercise and your training level, but even well-trained athletes experience muscle protein breakdown.
Consuming the right amount of protein after a workout gives your body the amino acids it needs to repair these proteins 8 and rebuild new muscle fibers 9.
This study recommends consuming 0.3 to 0.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight to recover quickly from your training. That’s about 21-35 grams of protein for a 70kg person, which supports several other studies that claim 20-40 grams of protein is ideal for good post-workout recovery 9, 10.
Protein after sport – the essentials to remember
Bodybuilding or “strength” sports require protein consumption after exercise to help rebuild muscle tissue.
Examples of foods rich in protein:
- The chicken,
- Greek yogurt,
- Cottage cheese,
- Seeds (soya, hemp, squash, fenugreek),
- Protein powders (made from plants or animal products).
What to eat after sports – chicken thighs with sweet potatoes, corn, and baked kale
In this dish, the chicken thighs, onions, sweet potatoes, and kale are lightly browned in a skillet, and then baked for about 30 minutes. This colorful dish is tasty and has everything you need after sports.
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