“Why on leg day do I feel like eating the entire pantry?”
My knee-jerk answer:
“The body is telling you to refuel in order to repair muscle damage.”
Thinking about it some more though, I knew I needed to dig a little deeper into the science of properly fueling our bodies for workouts. I want my answer to be the right one!
Upon further questioning, I found out that this person wasn’t just craving food (i.e, kinda hungry, so looking for a snack). No, the food craving was more like wanting “a huge fried combo” with mozzarella sticks, poppers, and chicken wings.
Being hungry after a hard workout is normal. You are burning a lot of calories, after all. This was a unique situation however, more inline with endurance training (marathon/triathlon training) and body building (HIIT, Tabata intervals, etc.). In these cases, proper fuel is essential both before, AND after, the workout. Here’s why…
A single bout of exercise will stimulate protein synthesis within 2-4 hours post-workout. That rate could stay elevated up to 24 hours. Now let’s say you don’t refuel well after the workout, then workout again on an empty stomach the next morning. At the beginning of the next workout, the body’s glycogen stores are low and cortisol levels will be higher (cortisol is normally higher in the morning). To find the fuel for another hard workout, the body will turn to muscle for fuel, and begin breaking down muscle tissue. What you might get afterward is extreme muscle soreness, fatigue, and the urge to replenish protein and carbohydrate stores.
Some people just aren’t hungry in the morning, therefore the urge to eat before a workout might not be there. But, it is a must. You will have a lot more energy for the workout if you eat about an hour beforehand, and as long as the meal is low-glycemic, blood sugar levels should stay level through the workout. Then, refueling after the workout with a small meal that has a ratio of 3:1 or 4:1 carbohydrate to protein, you facilitate muscle repair, and keep cortisol levels and blood sugar levels normal. This will combat cravings throughout the day. Remember, we burn calories all day long, even at rest, therefore we need to keep our fat-burning machine fired up all day long.
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