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I hope you’re enjoying the long weekend! Last week, I put out a calling on Instagram for some of your running/sports nutrition questions. Specifically, for after a run. I’m writing an article on the post-fueling window and I thought it would be neat to see what YOU want to know! So, rather than answer them all individually, I’ve compiled them into a blog post for you! I’m giving a talk to a local running store tomorrow night as well, so it seemed like perfect timing.
The window of opportunity after a workout refers to the period where your muscles are most receptive to taking up fuel. For the longest time, we preached it was 30-60 minutes. Newer research is showing that the window may be extended, but that being said, I always tell my clients to get fuel in sooner rather than later.
If you didn’t eat an adequate pre-workout snack or enough snacks during a workout (if it was long and/or intense), you’ll definitely want to get your post workout fuel in sooner. Our bodies continue to repair and rebuild muscle for the next 24 hours, so that being said, you’ll want to have regular meals every few hours (which you should be doing anyway).
Plus, if you wait too long to refuel, you may find yourself ravenous and wanting to eat everything in site.
Is there an optimal food (or combination thereof) that is best post-workout?
Yes! Carbs + Protein. You want carbohydrates because they are the quickest source of fuel for your muscles. We store carbohydrates in our muscles as glycogen. During long endurance or high intensity workouts, we can deplete this glycogen, so it’s very important to replenish it. By eating carbohydrates, we can help reload our muscles for our future bouts of exercise. After a workout, our bodies are more apt to store carbohydrates as glycogen (we produce more of an enzyme that helps with this). Cells are also more sensitive to insulin after a workout, which basically means that the insulin can act to move the carbohydrates from the blood into the muscle cells.
Alternatively, if we don’t take in sufficient carbohydrate, our body can start using protein as fuel and energy, and to do this, it has to break down our muscle. So, replenishing glycogen stores can therefore spare muscle protein.
We also want to refuel with protein. Protein (made of amino acids) are great for (re)building muscle tissue. So, after we’ve broken down muscle during a workout, we want to resynthesize and repair it. The amino acids help do this. One particular amino acid that helps with muscle synthesis is leucine, which is found in whey (dairy) products, beef, chicken, fish, pork, nuts and seeds. Runners should aim for 20-30 grams of protein in their post workout meal, and in subsequent meals as well (as the cells continue to repair and synthesize muscle).
What intensity/amount of time requires extra fuel (even if you’re not hungry)? Is it necessary for shorter runs; 3-4 miles?
Generally, we say 45-60 minutes. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean that you don’t need a snack after a shorter run or workout. I like to look at the bigger picture:
a) Did you have a sufficient pre- workout snack? If not, when was the last time you ate? (If it’s been 2-3 hours, you should eat a post workout snack)
b) Are you hungry? If so, have a snack!
c) Remember, there are some guidelines for when and how to handle post workout nutrition, but you know your body best. If you’re hungry, eat something. If you have a busy day later, eat something now so your muscles can start the repair process, and you have sufficient energy and glucose on bored to function optimally.
I’m not hungry after a long run but know I need to refuel. What should I eat?
I got ALOT of questions about this – I know it can be common to have a lower appetite after a hard or long workout, especially in the summer heat. If you’re dehydrated, that could mask hunger as well. The truth of the matter is, you still do need to get calories in after a long or hard workout, even if you’re not hungry.
The food is going to help you recover quicker and may help decrease soreness and inflammation the following day (when *hanger sometimes strikes).
- Soup (easy to sip on, and often high in sodium, which can be great for rehydration!)
- Smoothies – More often than not, these are easy to sip on. I recommend adding nutrients in them, though! Oats are a great source of complex carbs, you can add protein through yogurt, milk, protein powder, hemp seeds, chia seeds, peanut butter, etc. Also, throw some frozen fruit in there!
- Juice, lemonade, Sports Drink – simple sugars are great for post workout because they are absorbed quickly! Just what you want. Note that most of these options don’t have sufficient protein.
- Cereal and milk
- Gummies, fruit snacks
- Fruit – Often times, these are easier to get down because they are high in water too, and our bodies know we need to hydrate
I heard that eating fat can slow absorption of other nutrients – do I have to skip peanut butter?!
Unless you’re an ultrarunner, you don’t really need to ever consume fat DURING a workout. In terms of before, it’s okay to have a little bit if it doesn’t cause you any GI distress. Personally, I love peanut butter toast with banana 30-45 minutes before a workout. Depending on when you’re eating beforehand, a little fat may help keep you fuller for longer, which can be a good thing (like if you’re eating 1-2 hours before a workout). Everyone is different in terms of what he/she can handle so practicing is key with this.
You don’t necessarily have to skip peanut butter after either. I recommend just making sure you’re pairing it with some carbohydrate – preferably quick acting carbohydrates! So, fruit, white bread, etc. By default, some of the protein foods you choose may also have fat, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it as long as you’re getting some carbohydrates and protein in as well.
What would you recommend after a Crossfit/strength workout when I’m in a hurry?
String cheese or hard boiled eggs and a piece of fruit! Or, a shake/smoothie. Turkey sandwich, egg wrap, or PB&J can be great as well.
What’s the best food to have after working out to promote fat loss?
There are NONE. This is something that the media will lead you to believe, but no foods “burn fat.” That’s a myth and no science backs that.
What foods help maintain lean muscle?
First off, make sure you’re eating enough. If you’re not eating enough calories, the body won’t build muscle, it will break it down. The amino acid, leucine, as mentioned above, is great for muscle synthesis – so foods like dairy, eggs, chicken, pork, fish, beef, soybeans, nuts and seeds.
What are some post- workout plant based options?
Great question! In terms of balanced meal/snack options, here are some things I could think of:
- edamame + fruit
- sweet potato, quinoa and beet breakfast scramble
- PB toast or PB&J (yogurt optional)
- roasted chickpeas + fruit
- Sweet Potato Cookie Dough Dip
- Tempeh + quinoa/potatoes/bread (any source of carb)
- Cheese and fruit
- Soy milk + chocolate syrup
- Vega is coming out with a Cashew milk yogurt alternative, which would be great for after a workout
What are your favorite pre/post-workout foods?
What other sports nutrition questions do you have?