Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Simple Carbs-they just aren't that simple any more...

During this past week, I have had a couple of opportunities to explain the importance and crucial benefits of a post-workout meal. I know this stuff can sound boring and “post work-out meal” sounds like a body builder bragging about how many pounds of chicken he can eat.  But that really isn’t the case. Whether you just benched 450 lbs, jumped rope for an hour, or put yourself through a hardcore Pilates class, your post-work out meal is still vital for your body to recover. It can also make your following workout feel more energized too!

Most people will touch upon protein after a workout and how important it is for you. That’s totally true. Your body should build more muscle than it breaks down. But what about replenishing your body’s main energy stores? If your body uses glycogen (stored form of carbohydrates found in the liver and muscle) for energy, what happens when there isn’t any to gather for exercise? 

            That’s a great question! Well, in terms of workouts that are primarily one hour long, intense (more anaerobic), and not long distance cardio, our body will start breaking down protein if there isn’t any glycogen available. This is BAD. The more muscle we have, the more calories we burn sleeping (let alone actually working out!). It’s not worth it to “donate” muscle (lean body mass) that we have worked so hard to develop. The best way to replenish and gradually increase our energy stores for carbohydrates is by eating them after a workout.  If this is done right, your body will have carbohydrates to utilize for your next workout. You’ll now have more energy and can also prevent your body from using protein for energy.

        The best way to do this right is to eat simple carbohydrates (along with protein and complex carbs) after a workout. The quick acting sugars in simple carbohydrates don’t take a long time to digest. This means that your body can send those sugars straight into glycogen storage and prepare you for your next training session. There’s actually a 30 minute “window of opportunity” to eat these sugars and maximize your energy stores.

Some good simple carbohydrates to ingest are fruit juices, sports drinks, bananas, honey, carrots, watermelon, raisins, and other things that are sweet and don’t contain a whole lot of fiber.

This isn’t just for hardcore people who workout. If you workout for an hour and are pretty tired, this is for you! The whole point of the post-workout meal is to allow your body to utilize the right nutrients for working out. This will help you recover more and build more lean body mass. The more lean body mass we have, the faster our metabolism is… and we all know that’s a good thing.


So… What are you eating? Any good post-workout meal ideas? What’s been working well for you?


  1. I usually eat an eggwhite sandwich about an hour after my workout, since I workout in the morning, and have to get ready for work.

    My workouts consist of a combo of aerobic and anaerobic training at a high intensity level, so I am not sure exactly what I should be eating post workout.

    I knew the post meal was important, but think you shed some light on the true value in having a good meal.

    Any suggestions for me?

  2. Rob,
    You bring up a really good point. First, the egg white sandwich (assuming on whole grain bread!) contains protein that is very bioavailable, and the carbohydrates are healthy and complex. Since your workouts are at a high intensity, I'm sure you are depleting most of your glycogen storage. Unfortunately that sandwich an hour after isn't going to cut it. That 30 min "window of opportunity" for simple carbs is vital (especially in the morning when you need to replenish your energy stores to get you through the day). Try to drink a gatorade, eat some carrots, have some fruit juice, or other foods that aren't too high in fiber and have a higher glycemic index rating. Once you've replenished your glycogen stores you are ready for the eggwhites and whole wheat. Good Luck!