You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘food is fuel’ and it’s true; but food not only fuels your workouts, it re-fuels your body and takes you closer to your fitness and physique goals.
Nichola Whitehead talks us through post-gym snack essentials.
Protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fluids are essential post-workout as they help to:
- Repair muscle damage and improve muscle tone (increase protein synthesis)
- Replenish your glycogen (energy) stores ready for the next day and your next workout
- Restore optimal hydration levels
Protein: increasing protein synthesis
Your post-gym workout snack MUST include protein in order to repair and rebuild your muscle, which will ultimately increase muscle strength. Proteins are made up of a collection 20 amino acids; 8 of these are ‘essential’ (our body cannot make them and so they need to be ingested from food), while the other 12 are classed as ‘non-essential’ (they can be produced within the body).
Sources of high quality protein include; eggs, yoghurt, milk, chicken, beef, pork, fish, soya (e.g. tofu or soya based drinks) and nuts. These high quality proteins contain relatively more amino acids than other protein sources. Whey protein supplements are also a source of ‘high quality’ protein and are also quickly digested – perfect for after a workout.
Regarding the optimal amount of protein that you need following a gym session, Aragon and Schoenfeld (2013) conclude that 0.4–0.5 g of high quality protein per kg of lean body mass both before and after exercise is a general guide that reflects the current evidence showing a maximal acute anabolic effect of 20–40 g.
Research also suggests that the post-exercise ‘anabolic window of opportunity’ to take on board protein to help with muscle repair may be wider than once thought. The main factor to consider is how much protein you consume over the course of a day. The consensus at the 2010 IOC Conference on Nutrition in Sport was that those who exercise regularly have higher protein requirements (1.3g-1.8g/Kg of body weight a day) than the general population (0.8g/Kg of body weight a day).
Carbohydrates: replenishing glycogen stores
Carbohydrates (carbs) are essential post-workout as they help to replenish energy levels (aka glycogen stores) and also contribute to enhancing your immune system. In fact, carbohydrates have been shown to reduce the stress hormone response to exercise.
Although carbohydrates are important for strength training, there isn’t much in the way of evidence regarding the optimal amount you need. Generally speaking though, the more training you do, the more carbs (and calories) you’ll need.
However, not all carbs are created equal. Those containing higher amounts of fibre and nutrients, such as whole-grains, vegetables, fruit and milk, are of higher value on the glycaemic index.
Fluids: restoring hydration levels
Aim to start your gym session hydrated, drink during your workout when you’re thirsty, and be sure to top up your fluid levels afterwards. A change in body weight can usually indicate how much fluid you have lost (a 1 Kg drop in body weight = 1 litre of fluids lost). When it comes to re-hydrating though, you will need to take on board 1.2 to 1.5 times this amount.
To hydrate more effectively, add a pinch of salt to your water or have a drink that has added electrolytes – electrolytes are minerals such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and chloride which are lost in the sweat. Replacing these essential electrolytes helps your to maintain bodily functions and promotes more effective hydration.
Post-gym snack ideas
Eating ‘real food’ post workout not only provides your body with the much needed supply of protein and carbs but it also provides vitamins, minerals, fibre, fats, phytonutrients and antioxidants; which are essential to maintaining optimal health and preventing illness. Supplements such as whey protein can play a role in meeting your protein needs throughout the day but real, whole foods should always be the primary focus.
1) Toast, smashed avocado and eggs: Using a ripe avocado, mash up the flesh with a fork in a bowl and spread it evenly onto two slices of granary or rye bread. Top this with two fried or poached eggs. Tip: Fry your eggs in coconut oil or rapeseed oil (which are great at high temperatures) and add in a handful of cherry tomatoes and sliced mushrooms to boost the antioxidant levels even more.
2) Strawberry and yoghurt smoothie: Add 200ml Greek yoghurt to your blender along with two handfuls of strawberries, a teaspoon of honey and some ice. Blend until combined. Tip: Use frozen berries for a super thick smoothie.
3) Super foods porridge: Mix together half a cup (40g) or more of oats with 250ml of milk (cow’s milk or soya) and heat in the microwave or on the hob until cooked. Add a tablespoon of chia seeds on top along with a sprinkling of cinnamon, flaked almonds, raspberries or blueberries and sliced banana. Tip: If you want to boost the protein content even more you can add some Greek yoghurt after cooking or stir in a small scoop of whey protein.
4) Whey protein super smoothie: Blend half a frozen banana with some ice, 200-250ml or milk, a scoop (30g) of vanilla whey protein and a handful of spinach. Tip: Don’t forget to peel and chop your banana before freezing in food bags to make your life easy!
5) Chicken and cream cheese wrap: Spread a wholegrain wrap with cream cheese before adding sliced chicken breast, spinach, cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes. Wrap up and enjoy! Tip: For even more flavour choose a cream cheese with garlic or herbs.