The Truth About Eating Protein & Carbs After A Tough Workout

Written by Dr. Charles Passler

Photo by Edit Sztazics

Have you ever wondered why you're so hungry after a workout? After any strength-training workout, the human body automatically begins to crave nutritional support. Exercise causes a depletion of the essential muscle glycogen, as well as a breakdown of the muscle structure. This breakdown is not necessarily a negative thing—this is what leads to the start of the amazing process of remodeling, which means simply the human body’s ability to rebuild stronger, smarter, and more adapted muscle.

This process requires the proper nutritional support to allow it to work at the most efficient level possible. This is where post-workout nutrition comes into play. The human body needs a way to replenish its glycogen stores, and the best way to do that is to use the body’s natural hormone, insulin.

Why insulin helps.

Insulin will help guide carbohydrates and amino acids into the muscle, allowing it to refill its carbohydrate stores and help start the rebuilding process. In turn, this means that post-workout, taking in simple carbohydrates will help spike insulin levels at a time when the muscle actually needs these nutrients.

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Go for protein.

As stated earlier, strenuous exercise also causes muscle breakdown. This breakdown of muscle can be fueled by taking in a good source of protein post-workout. The body needs protein to start rebuilding muscle, and immediately following a workout the human body becomes more efficient at utilizing this protein.

Studies have long shown that protein absorption is increased immediately following exercise, so go for post-workout nutrition as quick as possible after exercising. Your body will thank you.

Be wary of overdoing it.

The pros of post-workout nutrition are definitely abundant, but there are some important things to know when it comes to choosing the quantities of nutrients needed on an individual basis. It is common practice to "overdo it" with both carbohydrates and proteins within post-workout meals. The body is able to absorb only so much protein before it begins to go to waste, and it can refill only a certain amount of muscle glycogen from carbohydrate intake before those same carbs actually promote fat gain.

All this being said, make sure to use moderation when choosing the amounts of protein and carbohydrates in your post-workout meals. Instead of going for a set amount, evaluate how your body actually feels after an intense workout—it will tell you how much you need. For example, after a high-tempo and high-intensity workout, the body may need some more nutrients. Alternatively, if the workout is less intense, too much carbohydrate and protein intake can cause unwanted weight gain.

With a little trial and error, you'll be able to figure out exactly what's best for you. Good luck!

Want ideas for the best foods to eat after a tough workout? Here are four foods to try.

And are you ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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