What Happens in Your Body When You Make Bad Food Choices After Your Workout?
Bad Food, Bad Body
To some people, their ideal post-workout meal is to head out to their favourite restaurant and order a big oozy-gooey burger with a tall glass of beer.
For some reason, they think the best way to reward themselves after a hard exercise session is with this meal fit for a king.
We don’t know which king they’re referring to, but the only one we can think of is the king of the porcelain throne because that’s where that meal will probably land you.
Well, there are a couple of problems with this meal other than the fact that it might leave you quicker than it entered…
#1 – Timing
If you ordered this meal at a restaurant, it’s likely going to take you more than 45 minutes to get it.
From the time you finish your workout, to get to the restaurant and place your order, to getting your meal, you’re probably missing your ideal post-workout window of opportunity to regenerate your body.
You also might get so hungry waiting for the meal that you order more food (would you like fries with that?) than your body needs.
#2 – Composition
Yes, this meal contains quick-digesting carbs (the bun) and complete protein (the beef burger), but it also contains a lot of fat and alcohol.
The fat is going to slow your digestion of the carbs and protein so that your insulin response is weakened, and your replenishment of glycogen and repair of protein is inadequate.
The alcohol is going to minimize the amount of glycogen you can replace, and it also will reduce your muscle’s ability to recover and repair.
All this fat and alcohol diminishes any positive benefits from eating carbs and protein – you almost might as well not even exercise at all (almost… exercise is still good for your heart and mind).
No Food, No Fat?
Another bad food choice after your workout is to not eat any food at all.
Yes, some people think that if they wait if they can to eat after exercising, that it will encourage more fat burning.
This may be true to an extent – that if you don’t eat after exercise, you’ll burn more fat than if you do eat.
But the problem here is that you don’t burn fat just right after exercise, you burn it for several hours and days after exercise when that exercise is consistent and effective.
If you skip taking in nutrients after exercising you may use more fat to make energy, but you won’t stop your muscles from breaking down and you won’t replenish the fuels you used during your exercise session.
That means you won’t be able (or won’t want to) exercise for several days again – which won’t help your fat loss efforts at all.
So, eat right after exercise so you can go at it soon again and feel good while doing it.
Incomplete Protein Means Incomplete Muscle Repair
Another scenario of wrong food choices after your workout is to eat incomplete protein.
By incomplete, we mean protein that’s missing or deficient in one or more of the essential amino acids that make up protein.
Incomplete proteins are usually those derived from plant sources, although there are some exceptions.
Scientists have shown us that only essential amino acids, especially the branch-chain amino acids (BCAAs; a type of essential amino acid) found in foods like dairy products, eggs and meat, will stimulate the protein repair processes in your muscles after exercise.
These essential amino acids, combined with an insulin response stop your muscle protein from breaking down and initiate its repair.
All other amino acids will not do the job right.
So, to optimize the repair of your muscle after exercise, you can’t dine on a plate of pasta with tomato sauce. Yes, you get carbs (and a lot of them), but you miss out on complete protein.
Beans, grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables also are lacking in these essential amino acids, so make sure you avoid only eating these as well.
If you’re vegetarian, some of the only complete protein whole vegetarian foods are soy, hemp, and quinoa. You can also get complete vegetarian protein from rice protein powder, pea protein powder, and hemp protein powder. These proteins contain the essential amino acids that your muscles need after exercise.
Bottom line is that if you miss taking in essential amino after your workout, your muscles will be in a constant breakdown state.
Good Food, Great Body
What happens in your body when you make good food choices after your workout?
As you can already guess, taking in the right food after your workout will result in the following actions in your body:
- A proper refuelling of your muscle glycogen levels
- Repair of your damaged muscle protein
- Steadying of your blood glucose levels
- Strengthening of your immune system
- Balancing of your body water level
- Increased fat loss and muscle growth
But, this all has to happen with other good food choices throughout the day – If you take in the right nutrients after your workout, but you don’t eat well for the rest of the day (you skip meals, you eat junk, or you miss certain nutrients), you won’t optimize these effects.
The ideal meal after your workout can come in two forms: solid or liquid.
Regardless of the form, it must consist of quick-digesting carbohydrates with essential amino acid-containing protein (complete protein).
Exercise scientists have shown that the best form of quick-digesting carbs are simple sugars. Foods like table sugar (glucose-fructose), dextrose, and maltodextrin. These sugar-carbs are very quickly digested and rapidly increase blood insulin levels.
This will drive sugar into your muscles to replenish glycogen and initiate the muscle protein repair process.
They’ve also shown that some of the best protein sources for exercise come from dairy foods – milk and whey protein are two complete proteins highly researched for their exercise recovery benefits.
These sources of protein are rich in essential amino acids that stimulate protein resynthesis as well as contain a lot of naturally occurring glutamine (the amino acid that protects immunity).
Solid or Liquid?
After exercise, you can consume a solid meal or a liquid form of simple carbohydrates and complete protein, but there are advantages of drinking versus eating:
Liquid calories are more convenient (this is one time you want convenience) and allow you to optimize your post-workout window.
Liquid calories are digested easier, stimulating the maximal amount of insulin from your body and delivering repairing nutrients rapidly to your muscle cells.
Liquid calories also provide water which is important for you to maintain a healthy body water balance and protect against mild or serious dehydration. Therefore, to ensure the quickest recovery possible due to fast nutrient delivery and insulin stimulation, drink your carbs and protein instead of eating them. Or, drink part of them (like your protein) and eat the other part (like your carbs).
Ideally, these simple-sugar carbohydrates along with complete milk proteins should be consumed in a 2:1 or more ratio (i.e., 3:1, or 4:1).
Meaning, for every 2 or more grams of carbs, you should also take in 1 gram of complete protein containing essential amino acids. This ratio has been shown by scientists to be best for maximizing glycogen replenishment in addition to stimulating protein repair.
In terms of absolute quantity, the amount of carbohydrate and protein found to be most effective for recovery from both endurance and resistance (weight training) exercise ranges between 1.0 and 1.5 g carbs/kg body weight, and 0.4 to 0.6 g protein/kg body weight.
This means that for a 135 lb woman (59 kg), she can benefit from about 60 grams of carbs and 30 grams of protein immediately after a hard workout.
Or, if she’s going to eat a meal soon after this, she doesn’t have to take in quite this much. She just has to take enough to stimulate some insulin release from her pancreas and deliver fast-digesting carbs and essential amino acids from protein to repair and rebuild her body.
Then make sure she eats food with carbs and protein in it soon afterwards (within an hour).
Each person is different though and their insulin response to a certain amount of carbohydrates might be more than another person’s. You can test your blood glucose and insulin levels to find out if you get a significant change after eating certain carb and protein foods.
Or, just see how you feel after some trial and error. If you’re still super sore days after a workout and you have to drag yourself to the gym to just begin to exercise, your body is probably being undernourished – both right after your workout and for many hours between exercise sessions.
Take in more and re-assess until you’ve got it right.
But most importantly, don’t skip proper post-workout nutrition or make bad choices – The consequences override your hard-working efforts and refute your goals.
And we all want to reach our goals sooner than later (or never).
Quick Review and Action Plan
After reading this report you should now realize what you should never eat after your workout:
- Avoid eating excessive fat in your post-workout meal – this will slow carbohydrate and protein absorption and minimize the anabolic effects of insulin.
- Avoid consuming alcohol – it stops your body from being able to replenish muscle glycogen stores and reduces the muscle protein repair process.
- Avoid waiting too long to eat – you will miss your “recovery window” if you wait longer than 60 minutes to eat. Plus, your blood sugars will likely drop leaving you starving for food.
- Avoid consuming slow-digesting, high-fiber carbs with incomplete protein. Your carbs should be quick-digesting and your protein should contain all the essential amino acids.
- Avoid junk food, empty calories and processed fats in the several hours following your workout – You need quality food all day long to help you build a better body.
- Drink plenty of water and be well hydrated before, during, and after each exercise bout to maximize performance and ensure an optimal hormonal response.
- Most importantly, never eat nothing after your workout. You’re better off eating something rather than skipping a meal for several hours after your exercise session