What should you eat when you finish a workout? Anyone who has done any weightlifting to build muscle would answer that protein supplementation is the way to go. However, what if you just completed an aerobic/cardio workout? Is protein going to provide your body with the fuel it needs to recover successfully from that type of workout? In addition, can you eat that fuel at any point during the day? Or does it need to be right away after your workout to get the full benefit?
When we work out, our muscles use its stores of glycogen to give them the energy they need to keep doing the “work” we ask them to do. When those glycogen stores are used and gone, the body needs energy replenishment. Most people have been taught from unreliable sources that you must replenish these energy stores with high amounts of protein after every workout, no matter the type of workout. While increasing protein intake when attempting to build muscle and decrease body fat levels is beneficial, there is a level of protein intake that becomes detrimental to health with long-term use. A 2013 study posted on the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health website, states that “the adverse effects associated with long-term high protein/high meat intake in humans were (a) disorders of bone and calcium homeostasis, (b) disorders of renal function, (c) increased cancer risk, (d) disorders of liver function, and (e) precipitated progression of coronary artery disease.” Yikes! So, what amounts of protein intake is useful to our bodies without becoming unhealthy?
Let’s first that a look at how to recover from different types of workouts. To keep it simple, we will look at cardio workouts and resistance training workouts. When you have done a cardio workout; your body needs to restore those glycogen stores, which comes from carbohydrates you ingest. Now let us be clear: it’s not a candy bar or a sugary drink. Its complex carbohydrates – aka healthy carbs. Eating a diet that is higher in fat and low in carbs will mean that you cannot workout as hard when you do a more intense workout. Carbs are your friend and allow you to work harder and more efficiently! The amount you need to aim to ingest within one hour after completing your cardio workout is 3-5 grams of complex carbs for every kilogram of body weight. (Weight in pounds / 2.2) Eating this amount within that one-hour window ensures that your body is using the energy optimally to help with recovery and replenishing glycogen stores. If your steady-state cardio workout goes long than an hour, increase the grams of complex carbs per kg of body weight to 6-8 grams.
When you do a resistance-training workout, you will still need to eat carbohydrates, but protein will help with the rebuilding of muscles and decreasing of soreness. Protein is the building blocks of your body so you do need to eat them, just not in excess to cause long-term health issues. The recommended amount of protein is 1.2 -2 grams of protein per kg of body weight (see above paragraph to convert weight in pounds to kilograms). Again, getting this level of protein into your body within one hour of finishing that resistance workout will be extremely important to help your body recover optimally and decrease soreness. If you are a protein shake person, make sure to look for a shake that does not contain many fillers. Look at the nutrition label – the less the amount of listed ingredients, the more clean the protein shake will be – allowing your body to absorb the protein more efficiently. Otherwise, eating meat with lower amounts of fat will work just as well!
If you want to see results as “quick” as possible, helping your bodywork optimally during a workout is going to be one of the best ways to hit those goals. Replenishing the needs of your body after different workouts will do that and help, you keep moving along the path to seeing results.
By Pamela G. Huenink, MS, EP-C, W.I.T.S. Faculty