Did you know that when, and what, you eat are as important as how much you eat? Fueling correctly after exercise will help you build muscle and restock glycogen stores efficiently so you feel ready to work hard at your next workout.
1. The Importance of Protein
Protein is the wonder child when it comes to macronutrients. Fats and carbs are always getting bashed by one fad diet or another but protein always gets a free pass. After all, protein is what builds muscle. There has been more women-specific research into exercise nutrition in recent years. We now know that women in particular need protein after hard exercise. According to Stacy Sims, Ph.D., progesterone exacerbates muscle breakdown in women. Progesterone is a female-specific hormone released by the ovaries that plays an important role in the menstrual cycle and maintaining the early stages of pregnancy. Progesterone levels are highest during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. Due to the catabolic effects of progesterone on muscle, women need more protein to protect and build muscle. Sims tells us that women recover faster with 25 to 30 grams of protein (with 5-7 grams of BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids)) within 30 minutes of a hard workout.
2. Catch that recovery window
One of the most common mistakes female athletes make is delaying eating after exercise in the hopes of prolonging fat burning and increasing weight loss. Unfortunately, this has the opposite effect and results in weight gain. When you delay eating post-workout, your body goes into starvation mode slowing metabolism, increasing fat stores, and negatively impacting recovery.
Women have a recovery window of about 30 minutes. This means that within 30 minutes of finishing hard exercise, women should eat some recovery fuel. After 30 minutes your insulin sensitivity declines so it takes longer for your muscles to absorb glucose from your bloodstream negatively affecting your body’s ability to store glycogen for your next workout.
3. Don’t skip the carbs
So you know you need to consume protein after hard exercise but don’t forget the carbs! You need carbs to restock your glycogen stores. Carbs and protein together increase your glycogen storage rate so you can replenish your stores more quickly than if you took in protein alone. In addition, research shows that taking carbs and protein together post-exercise can reduce inflammation and boost immunity. Bonus!
4. Best carbs for recovery
You’re probably thinking, pasta, right?! Foods commonly assumed to be among the best to consume post-exercise are pasta, breads, and cereals. Although high in carbs, there are better recovery choices out there. The best carb sources post-exercise are those richer in glucose. Dr. Stacy Sims recommends starchy vegetables such as white potatoes, peas, corn, winter squash, and root vegetables because not only are they richer in nutrients, but they also provide greater amounts of carbohydrates overall.
In order to get the most out of your training sessions, and your body, you need to put the right fuel in your body at the right time. Take care of yourself, you are worth it!