Post-Workout Recovery Fails and What to Do Instead

Article by LaTricia Morris, Author and Illustrator of The Good, The Bad & The Broccoli and It Came from the CupboardFounder of See Kids Thrive and Eden Life MinistriesCertified Integrative Wellness Counselor and NASM Personal Trainer

Some of the things we put ourselves through on our journey to get fit can be downright borderline insanity but, as we see those results (not just in slimming down but in overall improvements), we’re reminded why it was all worth it.  Yet, how frustrating is it to put in all that work and it still seem like we’re spinning our tires?

While progress (especially the real and lasting kind) does take some time, there are some things we can and should be mindful of so as to not sabotage our own efforts.  In accomplishing any goal, it is key to see not only the steps we need to take to make our way toward the end goal but to also see things that may be working in opposition to our health and wellness goals.  Below are some I see all too often and what you can do to be sure these hurdles don’t hinder you.

Not Eating at AllAdobe Spark

Especially where weight loss is an aim, it can be tempting to just skip eating altogether right after a workout to ride out that post-workout burn.  While that can seem like a good plan, it could actually do more to hinder your goals in the long term.  When working out, your body relies heavily on the glycogen it has stored in the liver and muscles tissues to supply the energy it needs to complete what’s being asked of it.  The longer you workout, the more glycogen stores get depleted.  Now, as these reserves run out, the body can and will work to convert fat to usable energy.  However, because of the work it must do to convert that fat to usable energy, performance tends to be compromised, triggering a cycle that ultimately leads to exhaustion and failure.

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 1.5 g carbohydrates/kg body weight within 30 minutes post-exercise is recommended for maximum glycogen replenishment(1).  Delaying carbohydrate intake by even 2 hours can decrease total muscle glycogen synthesis by 66% (2).  The post-workout environment may hasten glycogen repletion as a result of increased blood flow to the muscles and an increased sensitivity of the cells to the effects of insulin.(3)

Waiting to refuel until your starving is a good way to drive yourself to overeat (which we justify because, you know, we worked out).  Helping the body replenish its reserves immediately after exercise is a good way to avoid a ravenous binge, and prepare your body to bring it even better (burning even more calories and building even more muscle) the next time you step to the gym.

Craving carbohydrates post-workout is totally normal.  Having sensible amounts to meet these demands is a pro recovery move.

Reaching to “Reward” Rather Than to Restore

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I can’t tell you how often I hear people at the gym, talking about how much they look forward to getting their hands in that cookie jar or having a face-full of cake straight after the gym as the “reward” for all their hard work.  My question is, why do that to yourself?

For starters, and studies back me up on this, we shouldn’t be looking to a “reward” system to keep us on track anyway.  Studies show that people are significantly less likely to engage in an activity for which they’d normally get a “reward” once the “reward” is taken away.  Example: children who were rewarded for art were significantly less likely do it simply for the sake of doing it whereas children who were offered no reward were more likely to continue to participate over the long haul, simply for the enjoyment of the activity.

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The thought pattern that this caters too is “working out sucks and I should be rewarded for doing it at all.”  Your workout and that great post-workout feeling should be the reward in itself.  Even where it can be painful, even downright gruesome at times, count it all joy.  It is a GIFT to be able to be active, to participate in such challenging activities and to know you’re getting stronger, fitter, and faster by the day.  

Instead of spending your workout pondering how much you hate it and on what you’ll “get to” have on the other side of it, try redirecting your focus to thoughts of gratitude and even excitement at the progress you know you’re going to make as you bring your best effort every time.  Pick a key scripture or positive affirmation to focus in on and let that saturate your mind as you work to be the healthiest version of yourself possible.

Another problem with this habit really is that not only does reaching for the sweet-eats post-exercise reinforce the negative associations with exercise and the need to follow it up with something to “make it all better” but it also primes the body for defeat.  When you step to that plate, that class, those weights, that track… you are placing a lot of demands on the body.  You’re not just expending energy.  The bones, the muscles, the joints, the lungs, and the heart are all working very hard to produce the work being demanded.

Post-workout recovery is not just a time to restore glycogen levels (to get that blood sugar back up) but also a time to provide the body with the raw materials it needs to restore the body and help it to rebuild itself with greater strength.  You cannot expect the body to be of superior construction with sub-par materials.  Consuming sugary/processed foods and neglecting to restore nutrient levels is a quick way to run the body ragged, leading to burnout.  Be sure you look for top nutritional value in anything you’re looking to incorporate into your post-workout plan.

Neglecting to Prepare the Body Pre-Workout

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By now, most people understand that the foods they eat after their workout and throughout the day factor into the speed and quality of their recovery. The foods you eat before a workout can also play an important role in preparing for the tissue-rebuilding process once the workout is over.

Digestion is a lengthy process; proteins, fats and carbohydrates that you ingest prior to the workout will still be circulating in the body afterward. For this reason, choose your foods wisely. Make sure you get high-quality, lean protein along with some complex carbohydrates, especially if you plan on an intense workout. Meals should be consumed two-four hours prior to your workout to avoid digestive issues or cramps, or that lag you feel trying to workout while your body is also working to break down the food you just ate.

If you must have something before your workout and don’t have this window to wait, keep it small and opt for things that break down more quickly like bananas or other fruits.  Even better – puree them into a quick smoothie or grab a raw juice.  This will allow for more rapid gastric emptying and make the energy and nutrients available to you sooner.

Protein OverdoseAdobe Spark

We have been fed so much junk over protein, it’s just mind-boggling.

Yes, your body needs proteins as part of its daily needs, especially with post-exercise recovery.

HOWEVER, your body can only do so much so fast.  Excessive amounts of proteins will not help it accomplish this any faster.  This is of special concern with products containing whey protein, and other animal products, as too many animal proteins place a heavy burden on the kidneys, in particular, and the body as a whole, generating much stress and inflammation.

Be real with yourself on what you’re doing and what you need.  20 minutes of yoga does not justify 40 extra grams of protein for the day.  I’ve seen people knock back protein shakes like the shake itself is going to build muscle.  It won’t.  Your body will only build muscle in accordance with the demands being placed on it along with the presence of adequate energy and nutrients.  Consuming more than it needs only prompts the body to use it as fuel or convert it to fat to be used for fuel later.

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Bear in mind, we get amino acids (the building blocks of protein) from everything we eat (at least if you’re eating those nutritious whole foods).  MOST people already consume plenty more than enough to meet their daily needs, even with the added workout.  That’s not to say we don’t need any or that you shouldn’t protein shakes at all.  Just be mindful of the sources, quality and how much you’re consuming.

All that being said, HEALTHY shakes and smoothies can be GREAT post-workout recovery options, especially because being in a liquid form makes it easier for the body to assimilate.  Just make sure the focus in on maximal nutrition, looking at the body’s needs as a whole, beyond simple protein intake.

My favorite here (shameless plug, yes, because it tastes fantastic and has so much to offer and happens to be my personal favorite) are JuicePlus+’s Complete Shakes.juice-plus--complete-variety.img  They blend down smooth, even in a shaker (SO unlike so many other brands), they’re so delicious my kids request them for dessert though they’re not loaded with sugar, they’re plant-based and they incorporate all sorts of superfood extras to further help you in your efforts to become the healthiest version of yourself possible.

Getting Too “Radical” for Your Own Good

Your awesome.  I get it.  You get it.  Everybody gets it.  While I love that you have no qualms with being so totally radical, you might want to watch how much free-radical action you’re generating during those killer workouts.  (I know.  Totally cheesy but you’ll thank me for being so ridiculous when you ponder this later.)

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The body produces many free radicals daily but generates even more of them during intense exercise.  Free-radical damage is a well-known offender when it comes to generating a lot of inflammation in the body (and many health experts have a saying – “inflammation is the root of all disease”).  In order to combat free radicals, we need to make sure we are taking in plenty of antioxidants, which we get from fresh fruits and vegetables.

Making it a point to include some raw fruits in our post-recovery grabs is a great way to take in plenty of extra antioxidants packaged with enzymes and nutrient rich water to hydrate and nourish the cells throughout the body.  You certainly get extra credit here for reaching for the raw greens, whether in a juice, smoothie or straight off the fork as they are chock full of phytonutrients to support restoration and vitality to every cell and tissue throughout the body.

 

 

Resources:

(1) Ivy JL, Lee MC, Broznick JT Jr, Reed MJ. Muscle glycogen stor- age a er di erent amounts of carbohydrate ingestion. J Appl Physiol. 1988;65(5):2018-2023.

(2) Liljeberg HG, Akergerg AK, Björck IM. E ect of the glycemic index and content of indigestible carbohydrates of cereal-based breakfast meals on glucose tolerance at lunch in healthy sub- jects. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;69(4):647-655.

(3) Berning JR, Steen SN. Nutrition for Sport and Exercise. Gaithers- burg, MD: Aspen Publishers; 1998.

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