Whether your goal is to lose weight, improve your health or perform better, what you eat after you exercise can affect how you recover and how you feel at your next workout. Low-carb diets are a popular way to lose weight, but low-carb foods may not be the best choice for refueling after you exercise. Carbs provide energy to your working muscles, and if you don't eat enough carbs you may feel tired and sore.
Carbohydrates and Exercise
Your body converts the carbs you eat into glycogen, and stores this glycogen in your muscles and liver. The stored glycogen is then used to maintain blood sugar levels and provide the energy your muscles need when exercising. Your body can store as much as 2,000 calories worth of glycogen, giving you enough energy to run 20 miles. When your body does not have enough glycogen to fuel your workout, it uses fat as its source of energy. When your body uses fat as fuel during exercise, it ultimately leads to extreme fatigue, and is sometimes referred to as "hitting the wall."
Low-Carb Meals Post Exercise
A 2009 study published in the "Journal of Applied Physiology" found that men who ate a low-carb meal following 90 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise had improved insulin sensitivity compared to when they ate a higher-carb meal or a low-calorie high-carb meal. Improved insulin sensitivity means the body has an easier time getting blood sugar from the bloodstream to tissues such as muscles where it is stored as energy. What's important to note about this study is that the low-carb meal contained 200 grams of carbohydrates, that's equivalent to 13 slices of bread. The American Diabetes Association says a low-carb food contains less than 5 grams of carbohydrates.
Carbs are an important part of your post-exercise meal. But as with all your meals, you need to make sure you get the proper amounts. If you workout at a moderate to high-intensity for 90 minutes, you need 1 to 1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight to replenish your glycogen stores, plus 10 to 20 grams of protein to repair muscle. For example, a 120 pound person should eat a meal containing 55 to 82 grams of carbohydrates after they exercise. Even if you don't exercise at this intensity, it is still recommended that you eat something with both carbs and protein after you work out.
Healthy post exercise meals should include a mix of both carbs and protein, not low-carb foods. The amount of carbs you eat depends on how much you exercise. The more you exercise, the more carbs you need. Examples of healthy post-exercise meals include a bowl of cereal topped with fruit, a peanut butter sandwich, non-fat yogurt with fruit or a whole wheat pita stuffed with turkey or tuna.
- Nutrition 411: Exercise: The Post-Workout Meal
- Muscle and Fitness: Low-Carb Workout
- Nutrition 411: Carbohydrates: The Competive Edge
- Journal of Applied Physiology: Energy Deficit After Exercise Augments Lipid Mobilization But Does Not Contribute to the Exercise-Induced Increase in Insulin Sensitivity
- American Physiological Society: What You Eat After Exercise Matters
- MayoClinic.com: Exchange List: Starches
- Indiana University Health: Low Carbohydrate Foods
- The American Council on Exercise: 7 Smart Post-Workout Snacks and How to Know When You Really Need One
- MayoClinic.com: Eating and Exercise: 5 Tips to Maximize Your Workouts
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