Why eating right after workouts is so important!
We know how important it is to eat the right foods for our muscles to recover and grow, indeed, the quality of our nutrients is as important as the quality of our exercise. But what very few know is that, in order to maximize the benefits from these nutrients, there are optimal time windows we need to follow. Let’s move on to the 4 points below so we can understand they why and implement the how’s:
1- After exercise (proper exercise, not a leisurely walk in the park) the muscles are worn out and their reserves are depleted, so this is the time when they need those nutrients, not 3-4 hours later. More to the point, a phenomenon known as the “glycogen window” takes place after strenuous exercise. Simply described, all carbohydrates taken within the window are quickly transformed into glucose and all blood vessels widen up to allow this glucose into the muscles. This in turn allows for the proteins to be sucked into the muscles and processed with the help of the glucose. At no other time is the body able to channel so much glucose into the muscles and to break down proteins so easily and efficiently.
2- This window starts about 2-3 minutes after the exercise ends, once the body detects the end of activity, and then peaks between 15 and 45 minutes after and tapers down from there, with some minor benefits still gained at 75-90 minutes. After that point, the body will start using muscle mass to feed itself, which is exactly the opposite of any exercise goal, whether you’re training to build muscle or for any specific sport. Also, food consumed within the window will be used exclusively for muscle repair and not stored as fat, so for those hoping to loose fat/weight from exercising, eating during this window will go a long ways to achieving this goal, and it is as important as the quantity and quality of cardio workouts when. Once again, eating within the glycogen window will help optimize muscle recovery and growth, make performance gains AND loose fat!
3- But not just any food will perform this miracle, the nutrients consumed must adhere closely to the right ration of carbohydrates and proteins. The 4-1 ratio (4 grams of carbs for 1 gram of protein) is followed by most, but if the workout is over 40 minutes in the case of cardio, heavy weights have been lifted or anything else has been done strenuously, then the ration should be 3-1, for more protein volume. Also, although in general we recommend to consume complex carbohydrates that are low GI (glycemic index), which are digested slowly and keep sugar levels steady in the blood, specially important for diabetics, it is more beneficial to consume high GI carbs during the glycogen window, which can be converted into glucose right away. The risk of sugar levels rising too high is eliminated or greatly decreased since the glucose is sucked into the muscles and does not remain in the bloodstream. So, ideally, simple carbs like rice, pasta, white bread and fruits work better. Likewise, proteins should be easily digestible to maximize their effect, with fish and chicken being ideal, and then moving onto pork and beef, although for people lifting heavy weights and incurring massive muscle wear and tear, beef is recommended even if it takes longer to process.
4- Lastly, driving home after a workout can take time, and cooking once we get there takes even longer, so by the time we’re ready to eat, the glycogen window may well have passed us by altogether. For that reason, it is a good idea to have pre-cooked food ready to eat or reheat as soon as we get home, or if going home is not an option, or better yet, for the best results, we could have a MRD (meal replacement drink), or a protein shake, protein bar, or one of the many options available nowadays. Just make sure that the proteins are enough and that they are accompanied by enough carbs. This is specially relevant for those who can only work out in the middle of the day and cannot schedule their lunch or dinner times around their exercise time.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to eat to eat within the proper timeframe after exercising, so read the above points carefully, understand them, and then apply them to your daily routine as another very important aspect of your exercise methodology. Bon Appetite!