After a tough WOD, how do you know what to eat? Let’s take a look at how and why you need to choose foods that improve performance and aid recovery.
When we move, we expend energy. Virtually all workouts require glycogen, which is the body’s basic form of energy. This is the stored form of glucose (sugar) that, once consumed, is brought to the muscles and waits to be used up after eating a meal. If the glycogen is not used up and we continue to consume it, it becomes stored as fat. This fat can then be held for longer periods of time to provide energy in the long term. Does that sound like a warehouse operation? It sure does! The body is smart enough to prepare itself for periods of great energy expenditure, or a lack of energy intake, if the occasion arises and diet is restricted.
Lifting weights and aerobic exertions lasting less than approximately 40 minutes are completely fueled by glycogen and not fat. Metabolizing fat for energy is a long and slow process and can only be done when the conditions are set. If you are exercising to lose weight, don’t expect it to be done during an actual workout. Fat burning occurs during very low intensity exercise and during rest, when the body can put effort into the process, and there is a caloric deficit. Fat burning is actually a side effect of training and eating well, and not the primary effect of it.
So, what does that mean for you? Let’s say you have eaten fruits and granola for breakfast and 3 hours later you head to the gym. The calories you ate provide energy to the muscles ad will be converted into ATP to be spent. Once the glycogen stores are used up, athletes will notice a drop in performance and an increase in fatigue. Breathing and sweating also causes a depletion of water in the body. We use up electrolytes and waste is formed in the process of creating energy.
The body also stops basal metabolism (digestion) during exercise and all body effort focuses on the physical task at hand.
What many people find difficult is actually eating right after a bout of exercise. As we mentioned, basal metabolism shuts down during exercise, so having no appetite is totally normal. This is why many athletes turn to beverage supplements, which are easier to put down. Once the stomach receives food, appetite will quickly return, and nutrients and glycogen get absorbed and dispersed.
The initial 30 minutes that follow a bout of exertion are the ideal moments to replenish glycogen. Muscles act as a sponge, with a large capacity to extract and consume sugars from food. Post workout carbohydrate consumption is ideal for people looking to trim fat and recover quickly.
Whether you find foods or a post-workout supplement to be most convenient for your lifestyle. The best foods to eat are those with high glycemic index (GI) ratings. These foods have the most readily available sugars, which get absorbed the fastest into the bloodstream and back into needy muscles. There are charts with GI ratings available online which are easy to find.
White bread and pure sugar are at the top of the chart for high GI foods. Look for varieties of fruits, granola/ oats, potatoes, rice and other carbs for best ratings of foods you might prefer.
Taking in fluid helps to restore and/or maintain hydration levels. We typically lose sodium along with fluid through sweat, so food or beverages with this are good ways to recuperate. Electrolytes play a major role in muscle contraction and relaxation. Rehydrating plays a big role in helping the transport of nutrients through the body and shouldn’t be overlooked when restoring glycogen to the body post-workout.
By consuming the right foods within the correct time frame, you’ll notice a stark improvement in your post-workout energy levels and the rate at which you recover from workouts!
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