Friday, February 3, 2012

Refueling after a workout

Hey guys! Happy Friday! Do you have any exciting plans for the weekend? I have Fridays off, so it's already the weekend for me, but it's not very exciting - I'm spending the day studying for my 3 midterms next week. Eek!

But I'm taking a break to post about something I mentioned in my last post - how my Sports Nutrition class has influenced my approach to fueling. For the past few years I would often wait a few hours after a workout to eat again, depending on what time my workout was. I always knew this was a no-no, but I never cared enough to change it until my sports nutrition class convinced me.

As you may or may not know, the purpose of refueling after exercise is to replenish your muscle glycogen, which are your body's energy stores. By filling them up, you're ensuring that you have adequate stores to fuel you through your next exercise session. This will help you perform faster, stronger, and last longer until you feel fatigued.

This is what peaked my interest - especially since I'm hoping to increase my running mileage! So now I eat almost immediately after exercise.

If I have more than 2 hours until my next meal, I'll have a more substantial snack like a smoothie or Greek yogurt and a banana.

But often when I workout in the mornings, I finish around 10:30 am, and I usually eat lunch around 11:30 or 12. So I just need something small like half a banana and some almonds.

So why do we have to eat right after exercise? Won't eating a few hours later still replenish your energy stores?

Well, there are two stages in which your body makes glycogen:

1. Rapid phase: this occurs within 30 to 60 minutes after exercise
2. Slow phase: lasts for several hours after exercise

Your body can make that glycogen a lot faster if you get in some fuel within that 30-60 minute window because that's when the enzyme that makes glycogen is working the fastest. And your body will be even more effective at making that glycogen if your post-workout snack is a combination of carbs and protein. The ideal ratio is about 75% carbs to 25% protein.

Some good post-workout snacks that fit this ratio include:

- A small banana with 2 tbsp peanut butter
- 3/4 cup of cheerios with 1 cup of skim milk
- One piece of whole wheat toast with 2 tbsp peanut butter
- 10 whole wheat crackers with 1 oz cheddar cheese
- 1 Larabar

I also learned some other cool facts about post-workout fueling:

- Fructose does not replace muscle glycogen as well as other sugars, so fruit may not be the best post-workout snack (note: bananas are actually quite starchy, so they are still a good choice)

- It makes no difference whether you have a few large meals or if you nibble throughout the day within the 24 hours after exercise - both resulted in the same levels of glycogen storage

- It makes no difference whether your post-workout fuel is solid or liquid

- Eating foods with a higher glycemic index (GI) after exercise results in increased glycogen storage - this is because the glucose in high GI foods is more quickly absorbed, so it can get to your muscles much faster

Now that I know all this, I feel like I have a much better approach to refueling. Maybe now I'll be able to run a 7 minute mile? ;)

What's your approach to refueling after a workout? Do you do it right away?

What are your favourite post-workout snacks?


  1. i do always eat after a workout even if it's something small. i know my body will thank me later and if i don't eat right away then i am just ravenous later in the day and that leads to more unhealthy choices!

  2. I always refuel right after my workouts too! Whether its a meal or a snack I find I feel best when I refuel quickly!

  3. Awesome post friend! I always always always refuel after a workout, it gives you such a great boost of energy! Usually, I make myself a sweet potato smoothie with strawberries, yogurt and whey or have some protein oats and a banana :)

  4. Larabars are my go-to refuel :)

  5. It's uncanny timing for this post - just this week I started making a post-workout snack shake, whereas up to now (like years - way too long) I've always waited until my next meal to eat. You've confirmed this is a good idea - thanks.

    Question: Does the ideal ratio of carbs:protein change if it's a strength workout vs. cardio?

    Great post!

  6. I almost always workout before berakfast so my refuelling is taken care of! I've definitely noticed a difference when I fuel immediately versus holding off! Lately smoothies have been my go-to: between protein powder, soy milk+fruit, its a great combo of protein and carbs!  Really enjoyed reading this post, Chelsea!

  7. I love that you're sharing the things you learn in class. So interesting - especially for those of us who wish they'd majored in nutrition but went the finance route instead! :)

    I typically refuel with either a banana smoothie or toast and PB. Good to know I'm on track.

  8. great post! i'm TERRIBLE about eating after a workout but i'm trying to get better!

  9. Thanks for this -- the science, the common sense, the deliciousness--those ideas sound great.

    I love chocolate milk after a workout.

    I also am loving smoothies but I tend to make hefty ones that are more meal-like (which will be good post serious long rides and stuff this summer, but right now when I can only swim -- wahhhhh -- for like an hour, I just have a snack before and breakfast after, usually).

    I've heard people say that you should have your "treats" right after a workout (assuming treats are high GI simple sugar based, etc.) but I find this hard -- I feel healthy and accomplished after a workout--not ready for a "treat", ya know?

  10. That nibbling fact is something I didn't know! Same with the banana being better than other fruits and the liquid vs solid. I usually roll with chocolate milk immediately after a hard track workout, race, or long run. Getting hydration and quick nutrients at the same time helps me! Also it's a little easier for me to take in liquid when solid food sounds unpleasant, and it's easy to bring with me so I can have it ASAP!

  11. I really try to eat something after hard workouts right away (like a long run, for instance). My favorite post-long run meal is blueberry pancakes with lots of blueberries! I also really like toast with peanut butter and jelly and smoothies (Green Tea Tango from Smoothie King is my fave!).

  12. I loved the info in this post, you presented some really interesting stuff! I really have an interest in sports nutrition, but unfortunately my university doesn't offer it as a class :(

  13. Thank you for the info lady! I used to NEVER refuel properly after workouts... I simply starved myself until I couldn't take it anymore and then have about a pound of fruit. No wonder I was not building any muscle!!

  14. Chelsea, I reallyyyyy loved this post!!! Please post more like this!!!!

  15. I never over think my refueling. I just eat a meal (always breakfast) with protein, fat, and carbs. It works for me!

  16. definitely one of your best :) i loved the cool facts

  17. Love this!!! You can tell you are so passionate about this and have been doing your readings ;) im making a conscious effort lately to make sure i have my pwo meal packed to have right after i workout and to include more carbs like oats or banana.