The process of working out can be very taxing on the body. In any given workout, we are depleting our energy stores, fatiguing our central nervous system, causing muscle damage, and creating a buildup of metabolites (Schoenfeld, 2010). If our bodies weren’t so adept at recovering, it would appear that we would be in a lot of trouble post workout. Fortunately, our bodies are proficient at recuperating. Unfortunately, our bodies will do whatever it takes to recover, including utilizing our muscles for resources. Without proper post workout nutrition, the recovery process might hinder our fitness goals. Providing a nutritional intervention can promote protein synthesis and reduce proteolysis (Aragon & Schoenfeld, 2013). In laymen terms, we can assist with hypertrophy instead of passively allowing our muscles to be broken down.
There are two categories of nutrients: Macronutrients and Micronutrients.
Macronutrients (macros, for short) are the structural components of our foods that provide the body with energy (calories). The body needs these substances in large amounts (hints macro) and uses them for fuel, to grow, and to function properly. The three macronutrients include proteins, carbs, and fats.
Micronutrients (micros, for short) are necessary to support the body’s metabolism and functions. Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, and organic acids that are essential to our survival. Because they are not broken down by the body, they cannot be used for energy and are needed in fairly small quantities. Rather than acting as fuel, they ensure that the body operates properly by playing roles in energy production, bone health, muscle strength, immune function, protection against oxidative damage, and the repairing and maintaining of lean body mass (Micronutrients and physical activity, 2012).
Post Workout Nutrition
When discussing post workout nutrition, many experienced lifters, professionals, and websites will simply recommend consuming protein and carbs after your training sessions. While this is an accurate recommendation, it’s only part of the picture. Consuming protein and carbs with little to no micro-nutritional value is like squatting above parallel. Sure, you’ll see some results but take your ass to grass and watch your lower half get jacked! If you want the most bang for your buck, it’s time to ramp it up on the micros.
Carbs and Protein
To quickly cover post workout macros, a 3:1 ratio of carbs: protein is recommended for consumption. Research also goes a step further, specifying that we should ingest approximately 45 grams of carbs and 15 grams of protein after a training session (Chambers & Kravitz, 2009). Consuming protein post workout will aid in protein synthesis, giving damaged muscles the amino acids they need to rebuild and grow. Ingesting carbohydrates after working out will replenish glycogen stores which enhances the role of insulin in transporting nutrients to cells (Hickey, 2016). Basically, protein builds muscle and the carbs are the delivery system, taking the protein to where it needs to be.
Now, let's talk about how a micronutrient dense post-workout meal or snack can take your recovery to the next level.
Antioxidants. As the name suggests, antioxidants protect cells against oxidative damage. Oxidative damage releases free radicals in the body which are unstable molecules. These unstable molecules attack stable molecules which can eventually result in the disruption of a living cell (The Truth about Extreme Exercise, Oxidative Stress, and Your Health, 2013). By consuming antioxidants after your workout, you are strengthening the antioxidant defense system and allowing your body to recover quickly with as little damage as possible. In addition, antioxidants have been found to reduce muscle soreness and inflammation after exercise (Micronutrients and physical activity, 2012).
Some antioxidant-rich foods include:
Dark Leafy Greens
B Vitamins. The B complex is comprised of eight vitamins that help the body perform a variety of functions. Specifically, they participate in energy production and amino acid metabolism but also perform a variety of other important functions in the body. Because exercise increases the depletion of these micronutrients, consuming them post workout can boost muscle repair and assist with cell development (Roessner, 2015; Micronutrients and physical activity, 2012).
Some B Vitamin foods include:
Vitamin D. Quite possibly the secret weapon of gains, Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential for maintaining the mineral balance in the body. This causes it to act directly on the muscle to increase protein synthesis, making it positively associated with muscle strength and physical performance (Micronutrients and physical activity, 2012).
Foods that contain Vitamin D include:
Minerals and Trace Elements. It's important to mention some minerals and trace elements - calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and chromium- as they too can play a key role in post-workout recovery and overall health.
Calcium (which can be found in foods like dark leafy greens and almonds) is essential for bone health. During an intense workout, the mineral can be lost in sweat (Micronutrients and physical activity, 2012).
Magnesium (which can be found in beans, nuts, and leafy greens) is used in large amount for the production of ATP and to aid in muscle recovery (Casoni, Guglielmini, Graziano, Reali, Mazzotta, & Abbasciano, 1990). Being deficient in magnesium can lead to muscle cramps and aches.
Iron (which can be found in dark chocolate, leafy greens, and seeds) is essential for carrying oxygen to working muscles (Micronutrients and physical activity, 2012).
Zinc (which can be found in wheat, spinach, and pumpkin seeds) speeds up muscle- building chemical reactions, stabilizes protein structures, and helps regulate hormone levels in the body (Haas, 2017).
Chromium (which can be found in whole grains, romaine lettuce, and onions) support the action of insulin at the cellular level and thereby stimulate glucose uptake by the muscle (Micronutrients and physical activity, 2012).
In conclusion, post-workout nutrition plays a vital role in sustaining and continuously making gains. Macronutrients, such as carbs and protein, provide the body with the energy and structural components needed to deliver and repair muscles that have been damaged during exercise. Though these nutrients are most notably recommended, it would be a disservice to our hard work if we turned our back on consuming micronutrients in our post-workout recovery foods. Micronutrients have the power to protect us against oxidative damage, boost protein synthesis, directly improve our muscle strength and physical performance, and deter a variety of complications.
In this entry, we have provided explanations for a few key micronutrients but, don't be mistaken, there are plenty more that can improve physical fitness and overall well-being. The trick is to not get caught up in trying to make "the perfect" post-workout meal or snack. Although getting all of these macros in during one post-workout sitting would be ideal, it just might not be reasonable. Instead, simply be conscious of consuming micronutrients for recovery and don't cheat yourself out of gains by only consuming a simple protein shake with empty carbs.
Aragon, A., & Schoenfeld, B. (2013). Nutrient Timing Revisited. Functional Foods,65-89. doi:10.1201/b16307-5
Casoni, I., Guglielmini, C., Graziano, L., Reali, M., Mazzotta, D., & Abbasciano, V. (1990). Changes of Magnesium Concentrations in Endurance Athletes. International Journal of Sports Medicine,11(03), 234-237. doi:10.1055/s-2007-1024798
Chambers, A. & Kravitz, L. (2009). Nutrient timing: The new frontier in fitness performance. AKWA: The Official Publication of the Aquatic Exercise Association, 22(4), 4-6.
Haas, R. (2017). Do Zinc Supplements Help Build Muscle? Retrieved January 07, 2018, from https://www.livestrong.com/article/487452-do-zinc-supplements-help-build-muscle/
Hickey, K. (2016). Importance of Post-Workout Nutrition. Retrieved January 07, 2018, from http://sites.psu.edu/kearahickey/2016/04/26/importance-of-post-workout-nutrition/
Micronutrients and physical activity. (2012). Retrieved January 07, 2018, from http://www.nutri-facts.org/en_US/news/micronutrients-and-physical-activity.html
Nutrients (Macro vs. Micro). (n.d.). Retrieved January 07, 2018, from https://wit.edu/student-life/campus-resources/schumann-fitness-center/fitness-101/nutrition/nutrients-macro-vs-micro
Roessner, B. (2015). 5 Vitamins to Aid Muscle Recovery. Retrieved January 07, 2018, from https://www.active.com/nutrition/articles/5-vitamins-to-aid-muscle-recovery/slide-5?page=1
Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181e840f3
The Truth about Extreme Exercise, Oxidative Stress, and Your Health. (2013). Retrieved January 07, 2018, from https://completehumanperformance.com/2013/01/16/exercise-oxidative-stress/