Pandemic Diaries: Importance of Refueling After Workout

Last Friday, I have decided that I was going to do a full 2-hour intense RPM indoor cycling workout, just because it’s been a while since I’ve had my cardio (it was a huge struggle to find motivation during these days because of the pandemic).

I don’t know what got into me. Maybe I was inspired after looking at Instagram posts and seeing a lot of physically fit people who look great despite the situation. Regardless, I guess I felt like I needed to prove something and prove something I did: 2 hours is such long cardio and I don’t think I was quite ready for it. In my defense, I am supposed to maintain a low amount of body fat because I don’t want to slack off, then look sluggish post-quarantine.

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I should have planned better because, after this intense workout, I realized my worst mistake; I had no appropriate post-workout meal to eat. I was totally depleted and just didn’t have the right food on hand to set myself right.

Proper refueling after an intense workout makes a huge difference!  

A lot would easily think that an energy bar or a serving of whey protein shake will suffice in the aftermath of an exhausting workout. Though the electrolytes and protein in these post-workout snacks may help, much more is needed to properly refuel the body. Even those whose target is to lose a good amount of weight need a nutrient-packed post-workout meal.

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Remember: If you fail to properly refuel after a workout, your body will consume its own muscle and offset the benefits obtained from exercise! Even if your workout is fairly light such as a yoga session or a quick jog, you definitely still need to replenish your body following that activity. You are supposed to consume healthy, nutritious food and water or electrolyte-filled sports fluids within half an hour of your workout.

When to Refuel

Do not wait any longer than an hour to refuel your body. The proper timing of replenishment will heighten the production of glycogen. This is the super important carbohydrate in the muscles that allow physical activity. Several studies have shown that consuming carbohydrates immediately after a workout serves to hasten the body’s regeneration of glycogen. Glycogen production is especially important for those who have additional physical activity for the remainder of the day.

Mind Your Calories

A post-workout snack should have at least 250 calories minimum. It should also contain protein and carbohydrates. Otherwise, this form of sustenance won’t slow down energy release or provide satiety. Some research suggests that consuming carbohydrate along with protein post-exercise may aid in recovery.1

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Keep in mind that your body has broken down critically important tissues and makes use of energy in the form of carbohydrates that are stored in the muscle, liver and blood. If you don’t consume enough food following your workout, your body won’t be able to recover, and subsequent activities won’t be nearly as enjoyable nor productive.

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Examples of Post-Workout Fuel

Opt for foods with plenty of protein and carbs. Also, make sure it has a little bit of salt or sugar so you feel satisfied and reduce the tendency to overeat for the rest of the day. Eat some whole wheat crackers, Greek yogurt, potatoes, or fruits as nutritious post-exercise fuel.

Before and After a Workout

It’s best to eat 1-2 hours before your workout and keep the meal between 300 and 500 calories of healthy carbohydrates. Don’t eat a meal immediately before a workout. Some ideas for pre-workout foods are bananas, potatoes and oatmeal. 

It’s best to eat something to refuel between 20 and 60 minutes after you finish your workout so your body uses all those nutrients for recovery. Mix proteins with healthy carbohydrates and aim for around 400 calories. Also, as a key component of muscle, protein is an important nutrient for athletic performance and recovery. For example, a medium-size (5.3 oz) potato has 3 grams of protein.

The 7 Best Foods to Eat After a Workout

The worst thing you can do to your body following a workout is not eat. Your body desperately needs nutrients to refuel following a grueling exercise session. You need a steady supply of nutrients in order to recover and regain energy for the rest of the day.

1. Healthy Complex Carbohydrates

Eat an entree loaded with healthy complex carbohydrates after your workout. These carbohydrates will spur the release of enough insulin to stimulate your body to the point that it can function without flaw for the remainder of the day. In turn, insulin transmits carbohydrates and amino acids to the muscles to stimulate their growth. I usually consume chicken, brown rice or potatoes and sweet potatoes.

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2. Potatoes (boiled, roasted, mashed, up to you!)

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Potatoes taste amazing and help replenish the nutrients in your body after a taxing exercise session. Keep in mind that potatoes have the following vitamins and minerals:

  • Vitamin C – enhances our immune system (crucial during the pandemic) and also acts as an antioxidant stabilizing free radicals, thus helping to prevent cellular damage
  • Potassium – an important electrolyte that aids in muscle, cardiovascular and nervous system function.
  • Complex Carbs – the primary fuel for your brain and a key source of energy for muscles.
  • Dietary Fiber – has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including improving blood lipid levels, regulating blood glucose, and increasing satiety (makes you feel full for a longer period of time)

If you are still hungry following a potato meal, I suggest you consume some nutritious kiwi.

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Grilled Yellow Potato Planks

Grilled Yellow Potato Planks from Potato Goodness

3.  Salmon

Enjoy some tasty salmon along with olive oil and a side of celery. Cap off the meal with some grapes for a sweet treat. Salmon is helpful thanks to its omega-3s that decrease muscle inflammation in the aftermath of an exhausting workout. If the muscle was left in an inflamed state, it would result in painful soreness for hours or even days on end. Research also shows that salmon contains healthy fat that stimulates the burning of fat. Celery and grapes add in much-needed carbohydrates and fiber. The olive oil provides healthy fat.

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4. Tuna Sandwich

Slap some tuna on two slices of bread and you will have a convenient, simple and uber-healthy small meal. Tuna has little fat but plenty of protein and omega-3 fatty acids that promote heart health. Add some olive oil, kale/spinach, pickles and tomato to the sandwich for even more nutritional benefit. Tack on some crackers as a side dish for energizing carbs that will fuel your body following exercise.

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So try to remember these tips for a more satisfying workout + nutrition combo. Let’s all try to stay healthy and fit during this COVID-19 pandemic!

1. Beelen M, Burke LM, Gibala MJ, van Loon L JC. Nutritional strategies to promote post exercise recovery. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2010;20(6):515-32.

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