What you eat after a workout is a very important part of your recovery and growth process.
When you exercise, your body burns carbohydrates for energy and breaks down your muscle tissue (especially if you are weight training). Immediately after a workout, the body has an enhanced ability to utilize nutrients such as glucose (sugar) and protein (your body's main building blocks) in order to rebuild and recover from your exercise.
What this essentially means is that your body is turbocharged and ready to grow! This period of power lasts for approximately four hours after a workout, hence the name "Four-Hour Window of Opportunity."
Taking in nutrients immediately after exercise helps you to recover faster and feel better after a workout.
This can help you to not only gain muscle faster, but also keep your metabolism fueled so that you lose fat at a faster rate too!
However, what happens if you don't eat within a few hours after a workout?
First, your body starts breaking down muscle tissue in undamaged areas of your body in order to get raw materials to help repair the areas you just worked. Over time, this will result in a loss of muscle from your whole body.
Stress hormones in the body (primarily a hormone called cortisol) speed this process along. The stress hormones are produced because working out is a stress on the body - it's a totally natural but results-stopping reaction. How do you control the effects of cortisol? You eat within an hour or so after your workout.
So what do you eat after a workout to maximize your results? Both protein and carbohydrates are important for fast recovery.
Immediately following a workout (within a few minutes of completion) take in some protein. The easiest and best way to do this is in the form of a protein powder (whey is an excellent choice), though a food source such as milk will do.
Taking protein gives your body something to rebuild with instead of tearing down its own muscle tissue for raw materials. Do not take protein right before a workout as it will just sit in your gut and possibly cause bloating. Try to get about 30 to 40 grams of protein in as soon as you can after you're done.
Take in about 60 to 100 grams of carbohydrates to help the body refuel. Your body is most efficient at rebuilding its carbohydrate stores immediately after a workout. It's important to take advantage of this period.
A few common examples of healthy carbs to take after a workout include juices, fruits, and sports drinks. Examples of protein foods include milk, eggs, poultry, fish, meat, or soy products. Flavored yogurt is an excellent example of a post-workout snack. It contains carbs, protein and calcium all in one.
About one hour after your workout, take in a high quality source of protein (as in the examples above) and a good supply of carbohydrates such as grains, potatoes, cereals, etc. At this time, the body has settled down from the stress of the workout and is looking to rebuild.
If you're looking to get as much from your workouts as you possibly can, you can see that post-workout nutrition is critical. By supplying an ample amount of raw materials right after you're done, you will be preventing the body from breaking itself down in order to recover. This means more results from the effort you put into your workouts.
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