Post-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat After a Workout

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You put a lot of effort into your workouts, always looking to perform better and reach your goals. Chances are you’ve given more thought to your pre-workout meal than your post-workout meal. However, consuming the right nutrients after you exercise is just as important as what you eat before. Below, is a detailed guide to optimal nutrition after workouts.

Eating After a Workout Is Important

To understand how the right foods can help you after exercise, it’s important to understand how your body is affected by physical activity. When you’re working out, your muscles use up their glycogen stores for fuel. This results in your muscles being partially depleted of glycogen. Some of the proteins in your muscles also get broken down and damaged.

After your workout, your body tries to rebuild its glycogen stores and repair and regrow those muscle proteins. Eating the right nutrients soon after you exercise can help your body get this done faster. It is particularly important to eat carbs and protein after your workout. Doing this helps your body:

  • Decrease muscle protein breakdown.
  • Increase muscle protein synthesis (growth).
  • Restore glycogen stores.
  • Enhance recovery

BOTTOM LINE: Getting in the right nutrients after exercise can help you rebuild your muscle proteins and glycogen stores. It also helps stimulate growth of new muscle.

Protein, Carbs and Fat

Protein Helps Repair and Build Muscle

These powerful macronutrients are involved in your body’s post-workout recovery process. As explained above, exercise triggers the breakdown of muscle protein. The rate at which this happens depends on the exercise and your level of training, but even well-trained athletes experience muscle protein breakdown. Consuming an adequate amount of protein after a workout gives your body the amino acids it needs to repair and rebuild these proteins. It also gives you the building blocks required to build new muscle tissue.

It is recommended that you consume 0.14–0.23 grams of protein per pound of body weight (0.3–0.5 grams/kg) very soon after a workout. Studies have shown that ingesting 20–40 grams of protein seems to maximize the body’s ability to recover after exercise.

Carbs Help With Recovery

Your body’s glycogen stores are used as fuel during exercise, and consuming carbs after your workout helps replenish them. The rate at which your glycogen stores are used depends on the activity. For example, endurance sports cause your body to use more glycogen than resistance training. For this reason, if you participate in endurance sports (running, swimming, etc.), you might need to consume more carbs than a bodybuilder.

Consuming 0.5–0.7 grams of carbs per pound (1.1–1.5 grams/kg) of body weight within 30 minutes after training results in proper glycogen re-synthesis. Furthermore, insulin secretion, which promotes glycogen synthesis, is better stimulated when carbs and protein are consumed at the same time. Therefore, consuming both carbs and protein after exercise can maximize protein and glycogen synthesis. Try consuming the two in a ratio of 3:1 (carbs to protein). For example, 40 grams of protein and 120 grams of carbs.

Eating plenty of carbs to rebuild glycogen stores is most important for people who exercise often, such as twice in the same day. If you have 1 or 2 days to rest between workouts then this becomes less important.

Fat Is Not That Bad

Many people think that eating fat after a workout slows down digestion and inhibits the absorption of nutrients. While fat may slow down the absorption of your post-workout meal, it will not reduce its benefits. For example, a study showed that whole milk was more effective at promoting muscle growth after a workout than skim milk. Moreover, another study showed that even when ingesting a high-fat meal (45% energy from fat) after working out, muscle glycogen synthesis was not affected.

It might be a good idea to limit the amount of fat you eat after exercise, but having some fat in your post-workout meal will not affect your recovery.

BOTTOM LINE: A post-workout meal with both protein and carbs will enhance glycogen storage and muscle protein synthesis. Consuming a ratio of 3:1 (carbs to protein) is a practical way to achieve this.

The Timing of Your Post-Workout Meal Matters

Your body’s ability to rebuild glycogen and protein is enhanced after you exercise. For this reason, it is recommended that you consume a combination of carbs and protein as soon as possible after exercising. Although the timing does not need to be exact, many experts recommend eating your post-workout meal within 45 minutes. In fact, it’s believed that the delay of carb consumption by as little as two hours after a workout may lead to as much as 50% lower rates of glycogen synthesis. However, if you consumed a meal before exercising, it’s likely that the benefits from that meal still apply after training.

BOTTOM LINE: Eat your post-workout meal within 45 minutes of exercising. However, you can extend this period a little longer, depending on the timing of your pre-workout meal.

Foods to Eat After You Workout

The primary goal of your post-workout meal is to supply your body with the right nutrients for adequate recovery and to maximize the benefits of your workout. Choosing easily digested foods will promote faster nutrient absorption. The following lists contain examples of simple and easily digested foods:

Carbs:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Chocolate milk
  • Quinoa
  • Fruits (pineapple, berries, banana, kiwi)
  • Rice cakes
  • Rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Potatoes
  • Pasta
  • Dark, leafy green vegetables

Protein:

  • Animal- or plant-based protein powder
  • Eggs
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Salmon
  • Chicken
  • Protein bar
  • Tuna

Fats:

  • Avocado
  • Nuts
  • Nut butters
  • Trail mix (dried fruits and nuts)

Sample Post-Workout Meals

Combinations of the foods listed above can create great meals that provide you with all the nutrients you need after exercise. Here are a few examples of quick and easy meals to eat after your workout:

  • Grilled chicken with roasted vegetables
  • Egg omelet with avocado spread on toast
  • Salmon with sweet potato
  • Tuna salad sandwich on whole grain bread
  • Tuna and crackers
  • Oatmeal, whey protein, banana and almonds
  • Cottage cheese and fruits
  • Pita and hummus
  • Rice crackers and peanut butter
  • Whole grain toast and almond butter
  • Cereal and skim milk
  • Greek yogurt, berries and granola
  • Protein shake and banana
  • Quinoa bowl with berries and pecans
  • Multi-grain bread and raw peanuts

Make Sure to Drink Plenty of Water

It is important to drink plenty of water before and after your workout. When you are properly hydrated, this ensures the optimal internal environment for your body to maximize results. During exercise, you lose water and electrolytes through sweat. Replenishing these after a workout can help with recovery and performance.

It’s especially important to replenish fluids if your next exercise session is within 12 hours. Depending on the intensity of your workout, water or an electrolyte drink is recommended to replenish fluid losses.

BOTTOM LINE: It is important to get water and electrolytes after exercise to replace what was lost during your workout.

Putting It All Together

Consuming a proper amount of carbs and protein after exercise is essential. It will stimulate muscle protein synthesis, improve recovery and enhance performance during your next workout. If you’re not able to eat within 45 minutes of working out, it’s important to not go much longer than 2 hours before eating a meal. Finally, replenishing lost water and electrolytes can complete the picture and help you maximize the benefits of your workout.

Adapted from: Arlene Semeco, MS, RD

Nutrition Tip of the Day

Chill out! Frozen foods, particularly fruits and veggies, can be just as nutritious as fresh produce and, in some cases, they may be even better.

Daily Inspiration 

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The Connection between Leaky Gut, Gluten Intolerance, and Gallbladder Problems

As Hippocrates once said, “All disease begins in the gut.” Researchers have indeed found that many diseases are linked to changes in gut microbes or gut function.

 

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Do you have trouble digesting fatty foods? Back pain or nausea? A sluggish gallbladder may be to blame. Recent evidence suggests that inflammation in the gut is closely related to gallbladder function, but how about the gut-biliary connection, gluten, and all those things flowing, and how are they involved and how do they connect? Well, let’s check it out!

Meet your biliary tract

The biliary tract, or biliary system, refers to the liver, gallbladder, and bile ducts, which work together to make, store, and secrete bile. After production in the liver, bile travels via the common bile duct to the gallbladder for storage. When dietary fats enter the small intestine, they are sensed by enteroendocrine cells, which release the hormone cholecystokinin. Cholecystokinin, in turn, stimulates contraction of the gallbladder and the release of bile into the small intestine.

Try placing a single drop of oil in the center of a glass of water. The oil remains in one spot and doesn’t reach the edge of the glass, right? Add some dish soap, however, and the detergent encapsulates the oil, forming an emulsion and making the oil drop soluble in water. This is exactly how bile works in your small intestine.

Bile is made up of 97 percent water, with the remaining 3 percent consisting of a mixture of bile acids, cholesterol, phospholipids, bilirubin, inorganic salts, and trace minerals. Bile acids act like a detergent, helping to emulsify lipids in food. A lipid droplet from food does not mix well with the rest of the contents of the intestinal lumen. For the droplet (oil) to be absorbed, it must first be encapsulated by bile acids (detergent) to form a micelle. This micelle is then soluble in the luminal contents (water) and able to diffuse from the center of the lumen to the intestinal epithelium (edge of the glass) for absorption. Without bile, these lipids go undigested, resulting in fatty stools, a condition called steatorrhea. Bile is also crucial for proper absorption of cholesterol and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, all of which are transported to the epithelium in micelles.

(All too) common gallbladder diseases

Gallbladder disease symptoms can be steady or occur in acute episodes. Though symptoms will vary slightly depending on the exact disease, pain is usually located in the upper abdomen and may be accompanied by features such as jaundice ( a yellowing of the skin), nocturnal onset, nausea, vomiting, and radiation of pain through to the back and neck. The most common gallbladder diseases are:

Cholestasis: The backup of bile flow in the liver or in the biliary ducts.

Gallstones: Stones formed in the gallbladder from the components of bile. About 20 to 25 million Americans (10 to 15 percent of the adult population) are affected by gallstones. Gallstone disease is the leading cause for hospital admissions related to GI problems, yet over 80 percent of individuals with gallstones never experience biliary pain or more serious complications.

Cholesystitis: A complication of prolonged cholestasis and gallstone disease characterized by inflammation of the gallbladder tissue due to cholestasis and lack of blood flow. About 6 to 11 percent of patients with gallstones develop cholecystitis.

Cholangitis: A serious infection of the bile ducts that sometimes occurs as a complication of cholestasis or gallstones, when the flow of bile is blocked. The infection can also spread to the liver, so quick diagnosis and treatment are very important.

Gallstone pancreatitis: In rare cases, a blockage of the pancreatic bile duct by a gallstone can cause inflammation of the pancreas. This occurs at the sphincter of Oddi, a small round muscle located where the bile duct opens into the small intestine. Similar to cholangitis, this is a dangerous condition, and prompt treatment is crucial.

Risk factors for gallbladder disease

Those who are overweight, female, and over the age of 40 have an increased risk of gallbladder disease. In fact, females are almost twice as likely to develop gallstones, and 25 percent of those who are morbidly obese have gallstones. Underlying diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, liver disease, and cystic fibrosis, as well as a number of prescription medications, can contribute to gallbladder disease.  Pregnancy, oral contraceptives, and antibiotic use have all been associated with the onset of cholestasis.

Lifestyle factors also play a role. Reduced physical activity is associated with a higher risk for gallbladder surgery. Gallstones have also been associated with a Western-type diet high in processed foods and sugar. Curious about the role that gluten might play in gallbladder disease? Well, see below!

Leaky gut affects the biliary system

When intestinal barrier function is compromised, also known as “leaky gut”, gut bacteria that are normally confined to the intestinal lumen can cross the gut barrier and enter the bloodstream. The immune system sees these microbes and their microbial products as foreign invaders, and quickly launches an immune response. This can affect the biliary system, as the resulting inflammatory signaling from such a microbial invasion has been shown to alter the gene expression and function of key transport systems involved in bile uptake and secretion in the liver.

The connection between microbes and biliary function has been known since early 1901. In his classic textbook, The Principles and Practice of Medicine, Sir William Osler reports that pneumonia can lead to jaundice: In this form there is no obstruction in the bile-passages, but the jaundice is associated with toxic states of the blood, dependent upon various poisons which either act directly on the blood itself, or in some cases on the liver-cells as wellWe now know that these “toxic states of the blood” are due to the presence of microbes in the bloodstream (sepsis) and that the “various poisons” Osler describes are inflammatory signaling molecules called cytokines, which affect transporters on liver cells.

The takeaway:

Healthy gut → microbes remain in the colon → proper gallbladder function

Leaky gut → microbes leak into the blood → gallbladder dysfunction and disease

Bile helps maintain gut barrier function

Like many interorgan networks, the gut–biliary connection is a two-way street. As mentioned earlier, leaky gut and microbes entering the blood can lead to gallbladder disease and a backup of bile. However, a lack of bile entering the intestine can itself cause leaky gut and an alteration in gut bacteria. How do we know this?

Researchers found that when they induced acute liver injury in animals, they rapidly showed evidence of increased intestinal permeability. Notably, these changes in the gut barrier preceded any changes in the gut microbiome. Another research group using a mouse model of cholestasis found that stimulating certain receptors in the gut with bile acids resulted in less gut inflammation and improved gut barrier function. This may occur by stimulating host production of antimicrobial properties at the intestinal barrier.

The takeaway:

Healthy gallbladder → bile acids reducing inflammation → proper gut barrier function

Gallbladder disease → less bile entering the small intestine → leaky gut & dysbiosis

The gluten connection: leaky gut, leaky bile duct?

Gliadin, a protein in gluten, can increase the production of zonulin, a toxin that breaks down the tight junctions between epithelial cells in the gut. This causes gaps between intestinal epithelial cells and allows microbes and dietary proteins from the gut lumen to “leak” into the bloodstream. Hepatocytes (liver cells) and cholangiocytes (the cells that line the bile duct) are also connected by tight junctions, forming a selectively permeable barrier between the blood and the biliary system. Research has shown that zonulin is associated with the tight junctions in virtually all mammalian epithelia. In other words, if gliadin compromises the intestinal barrier and gets into the bloodstream, it can also wreak havoc on other epithelial barriers, including the blood–biliary barrier.

Sure enough, research has linked gluten intolerance and celiac disease to increased prevalence of gallstones and biliary cirrhosis. There is also a high prevalence of celiac disease in patients with autoimmune hepatitis. One study found that 42 percent of adults with celiac disease had abnormal levels of liver enzymes. Adherence to a gluten-free diet for one to 10 years normalized liver enzyme levels in 95 percent of these patients.

Intestinal villi, the fingerlike projections on epithelial cells responsible for nutrient absorption in the small intestine, are typically shortened and damaged in celiac disease. This may impair the sensing of incoming dietary fatty acids by enteroendocrine cells, resulting in reduced release of cholecystokinin and insufficient contraction of the gallbladder. Studies have shown that this too can be reversed with a gluten-free diet.

Cholecystectomy

Cholecystectomy, the complete removal of the gallbladder, may be unavoidable in some people with late-stage gallbladder disease. In this procedure, the biliary tract is rerouted, so that bile flows directly from the liver to the small intestine via the common bile duct. Gallbladder removal should be avoided whenever possible, as it has several unintended consequences and significantly alters physiology. Even in the absence of the gallbladder, the liver continues to produce bile.

Without a storage organ, intrahepatic cholestasis, the accumulation of bile in the liver, may occur. Altered bile secretion into the small intestine has also been shown to affect gut microbes and gut function. Additionally, even if a patient has undergone cholecystectomy, he or she may still continue to produce gallstones in the liver or bile ducts if the underlying pathophysiology has not been addressed.

Treating gallbladder disease: the functional way

There really is no conventional treatment available for gallbladder disease other than invasive surgery. Conventional medicine usually only advocates a low-fat diet. While this may alleviate symptoms over the short term, long-term reduction of fat intake only prevents the stimulation of gallbladder contraction by cholecystokinin. This can lead to more sluggishness and an increased risk of gallstones, which is what we are trying to avoid in the first place.

In contrast, a high-fat diet has been shown to protect against gallstone formation, especially during weight loss. On the other extreme, many natural health websites are promoting gallbladder flushes. However, research is limited on flushes as a treatment recommendation so it may be better to look more at addressing the underlying cause (a goal of functional and integrative nutrition/medicine). Recommendations for approaching a gallstone issue include:

Get tested: Markers of impaired gallbladder function include high ALT, AST, bilirubin, LDH, GGT, ALP, and 5ʹ-nucleotidase. Relative levels of these markers can also help narrow down which gallbladder disease you are dealing with.

Change your diet: Many people resolve their gallbladder issues simply by changing their dietary habits. Removing inflammatory foods, such as gluten, processed foods, and sugar can substantially improve gallbladder health.

Heal the gut: While it’s a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg situation as to which comes first, leaky gut and biliary disease certainly go hand in hand. It’s important to address both simultaneously in order to break the cycle of gut inflammation → biliary stasis → lack of bile → more gut inflammation.

Stimulate bile flow: Bitters, such as curcumin, dandelion, milk thistle, and ginger are well known for their ability to stimulate bile flow. These can be taken as supplements, included in meals, or consumed as tea.

Dissolve gallstones: Beet root, taurine, phosphatidylcholine, lemon, peppermint, and vitamin C have all been shown to reduce the impact and even dissolve gallstones.

Consider supplementing with bile: If you’re having trouble with fat digestion, you can also consider supplementing with bile itself from a bovine or ox source until your bile flow is restored.

Adapted from: Chris Kresser 

Research articles and references highlighted in blue

Nutrition Tip of the Day

Be good to your gut! Include Greek yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir or foods high in fiber in your diet.

Daily Inspiration

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