Calories – Not a Dirty Word!


Whilst getting changed after my swim I overheard two people discussing their lunch options. One of the individuals stated that they were not going to have lunch today as that would mean ‘they would have to burn off the calories they had eaten’.  I stood in my cubicle shaking my head over what I had heard. Surely in this day and age with all the information around, people still cannot be thinking in such a draconian way? Obviously they do. So, how important is nutrition, especially post training?

Regardless of whether you are a new exerciser or one that is returning from a long layoff, paying attention to proper nutrition can deliver considerable benefits in terms of reaching your fitness goals. Unfortunately, may individuals pay little attention to nutrition. In this particular scenario, it seems obvious that the individuals did not want to eat after a workout as they wanted to ‘burn calories, not eat them’. However, this is not the case when consuming calories post exercise. Individuals who fail to eat post exercise end up consuming more calories during the remainder of the day compared to those who do eat post exercise. Post exercise starving also has other implications:

  •  It produces greater muscle soreness that may force new exercisers to stop.
  • It may prevent the building of lean body mass – One of the reasons of starting exercise in the first place.
  • It may hamper improvements in your exercise performance.

Fortunately, nutrition, especially post exercise can help prevent the above issues. It may seem counter intuitive that eating after exercise can help you become fitter and improve body composition, however, consuming the right combination of nutrients after exercise reduces muscle damage, thereby diminishing muscle soreness and stimulates muscle protein synthesis. This further increases lean body mass and increases your endurance.

Fuelling during your workout can also have a positive impact on your exercise performance and reduce the impact of stress hormones. It may be difficult to refuel during your exercise, but if you can consume even a few ounces of a sports drink during training, you will benefit. Alternatively, ensure that you consume some before you start training. The aim of a sports drink is to provide your body with readily available nutrition that can be converted to energy. This extra energy conserves the limited supply of energy that is stored in your muscles, reduces the build up of stress hormones and extends your endurance[1].

Post exercise, is when your nutritional intake is at its most critical[2]. This is the time when muscles begin to be restored, repaired and regenerated. All of the processes that help repair damaged muscle tissue, build new muscle and replenish muscle energy are activated immediately after exercise. To make the most of your recovery process, you need to consume the right amount and combination of nutrients, consuming more than just water. Even though it is highly important to replace lost fluids, it is equally important to consume nutrients that are optimal for recovery. It has been shown that the best way to consume these nutrients at this critical time is by consuming it in drink/beverage format. The ideal recovery drinks contain carbohydrate and protein plus water and electrolytes. A carbohydrate/protein combination drink has been shown to:

  • Reduce muscle damage.
  • Improve rehydration.
  • Increase endurance in your next workout.

Now, some people may argue that protein drinks are the way ahead post workout, and although additional protein can be of significant benefit to those who exercise, it should not in my opinion, be a substitute for a carbohydrate/protein post workout drink. Research has shown that a carbohydrate/protein drink is more effective than a protein drink alone when both are consumed during the recovery window[3]. The bottom line is:

 Make sure you make your nutrition becomes an integral part of your training programme. Do this and it will undoubtedly help you ‘achieve the unthinkable’

[1] Gleeson, M., Bishop, NC. (2000). Elite athlete immunology: importance of nutrition. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 21(Suppl 1) S44-50.

[2] Candow, D.G., Chilibeck, P.D. (2008). Timing of creatine or protein supplementation and resistance training in the elderly. Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, 33, 184-190.

[3] Mitchell, J.B. (2013). Ingestion of carbohydrate during recovery in exercising people. Clinical Nutrition and Medical Care, 16(4), 461-465.

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