Wooo! It is done! Work out over! You crushed it. You smashed through all of the weights, gracefully mastered the gymnastics, and cruised the cardio components like an Olympic marathoner. The coaches have run you through a cool down and stretching routine. You have stopped sweating or at least slowed the sweating down (if you are like me). You collected and gave all of the High Fives, handshakes and hugs. And out the doors of Brick Nor Cal you go!
But wait! What’s next?
You start to feel that grumble in your tummy. Yep, that is the signal!
You need to EAT SOMETHING!
But why should you go eat? And what should you eat? Isn’t a shake or a bar good enough? Maybe you worry that you won’t lose weight if you eat? Or you need to rush off for work and do not have the time?
Those are all good questions and concerns. So let’s break them down and figure out how to solve this problem for you!
First, why do you need to eat after a workout?
Let us start with what you just did to your body. You taxed it! You worked it to its limits. You pushed and pull your muscles. You got real sweaty and out of breathe. But what happened inside your body? Your body is a beautiful machine and when you put it to work it can do some really amazing things. When you workout and use your muscles, your muscles use the stored energy within said muscles and other parts of your body. These energy sources can be ATP, creatine phosphate, anaerobic glycolysis, aerobic glycolysis, and fatty acid oxidation. Simply put, all these big scientific terms represent different energy sources used by muscles for different types of energy exertion. We can go into science some other time. Anyways, where did this energy come from? The muscle gods? Weird rock formations? The strange guy on late night infomercials? NO, NO and Definitely NO! The energy came from your food. As you may know your body processes the food you eat into fuel to help it keep operating (again, we could go into digestive science but we will save it for now). Lets do the math here. If training or working out uses up energy, food fuels energy in your body, and most likely you didn’t eat at least an hour before working out (unless you have an iron stomach that food doesn’t bother while working out) then your body is out of energy. Your body needs some serious food to refuel it and create energy.
All right so that math is pretty clear you need food to refuel your body. What about rebuilding your body? Wait, your body needs to rebuild? YES! For muscles to grow and develop, they must be strained and worked. In that work, muscles rip and tear apart (this is good and healthy so don’t worry about how it sounds). The rips are repaired and in turn improving or increasing the muscle size and density. These repairs are most important for improving muscle. The process of repairing muscle is what causes soreness. So what does food have to do with all of this rebuilding? Food provides the materials and energy to complete the rebuilding process. Furthermore, the right foods can expedite the process and reduce inflammation (a.k.a. the amount of rebuilding necessary). Thus meaning the proper meal serves a critical role in the recovery process of refueling and rebuilding the body.
Ok so we know why we need to eat, but what should we eat?
Here is the beauty of things almost anything is better than nothing. Again, we are just trying to get fuel back into the body. The amazingness of the body is it will always do what ever it can to survive. Thus your body will turn just about any food into fuel. But think about the importance of how you fuel your car. Your body is like a finely tuned racecar. You can fuel it with regular gasoline and it will perform. But if you fuel it with specialized racing fuel then the car will roar to performance records. Therefore, we want to put the best fuel possible into our cars or bodies. What does that fuel look like? Well we have to back up to what the body uses to provide energy and rebuild muscle. The body turns certain macronutrients (let’s save the macronutrient discussion for another post) into energy and muscle building blocks. Carbohydrates provide the body with its most commonly used energy source. Protein serves as the body’s building blocks when processed through digestion. So what is a carbohydrate? Think about starchy foods, fruits and vegetables. Oats, potatoes and rice are great starch examples to refuel the body. Fruits provide a blast of natural sugar to quickly be processed and re-energize the body. Lastly, vegetables serve as excellent sustaining energy source because they are broken down slowly to provide long lasting energy. Proteins come best in the form of animal meats. Lean cuts are best. Therefore, your plate should be split in half with lean meats and quality starches or fruit and vegetables.
But what about Protein shakes and bars? Great question. Yes, these things are great in a pinch and perfect for keeping you in the “window of gains” (don’t worry we will talk about this later). However, they are like lighting a match and pouring gasoline on top. The fire will go big but will be out fast. Your body will process protein shakes the same way. They will do great work but be used up fast and have nothing to sustain. Therefore you need to add some wood to the fire. This “wood” comes from the meal mentioned above. In combination with said meal, protein shakes work great to rebuild and restore the body. But on their own they do not sustain the body.
Ok, so why and what to eat but when do we need to eat?
This is the “window of gains” we referred to earlier. The window depends on a lot of things, when you last ate, how you worked out, whether you ate or fueled during the workout and other bodily functions. But the simple recommendation is you should eat within one to two hours after working out. This time period is when your body is most susceptible to refueling and will put whatever it is given into immediate action, instead of storing it for later. Basically, the body will use the food to rebuild muscle instead of storing it as pesky belly fat. That fact is critical to remember, especially for those of us who worry about over eating and gaining weight. The post workout period is the one time the body won’t try and balance for sustainment. It will immediately rebuild for survival. So the post workout meal should be your biggest meal of the day, if you want to stay lean and fit. And it is even more important you want to lose weight, because you don’t have to worry about the body storing this food as pesky body fat helping to drop some of those pesky extra pounds.
Well that covers the why, the what and the when. We will save the others for another time. Just remember to keep it simple, and to always refuel your body with a good meal after working out. If you have any more questions feel free to comment below or ask coach Ben before or after your next class.
Thanks and always here to help! – Coach Ben.