Healthy eating / When post-exercise hunger pangs bite

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WHETHER you’re an early riser or prefer to sweat it out at the end of a long day, many of us struggle with what to do when the post-exercise hunger pangs strike.

Clare Wolski
Clare Wolski.

How can we provide our body the nutrients it needs to recover and avoid raiding the biscuit tin as soon as we get home?

Exercise is all about stress and damage. When we exercise, whether it’s going for a long walk, high-intensity run or lifting heavy weights, we are pushing our body outside its comfort zone. We are stressing our lungs, our heart and damaging our muscles so that they can adapt and improve.

When we finish an exercise session we want to support the rebuilding and repair of these tissues. Protein is the building block of this repair. Eating protein-rich foods after a workout can help to stimulate “protein synthesis”, which is the building of new body tissues in our lungs, heart and muscles.

Protein-rich foods include: meat, chicken, fish, milk (dairy and soy), yoghurt and eggs.

When you’re ravenously hungry after moving your body, it’s easy to overdo the post-workout snack. I easily find myself getting through three or four sandwich slices of cheese or demolishing several handfuls of lollies before I’ve registered what I’m doing.

The problem with this is that we are often exercising to create an energy deficit (and lose body fat). But if the hunger caused by exercising results in overeating, we have somewhat undone our energy deficit efforts.

Fibre-rich foods can really help to boost the volume of your post-workout snack, without adding too much energy. These foods include: fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cracker/rice cakes.

Delving into the world of sports nutrition you’ll find a lot of information about the best ways to recover from training. Carbohydrates are a common topic of discussion. There is good research to suggest that including carbohydrate with protein in a post-exercise meal or snack can improve the muscles’ uptake of glucose and help to replenish our glycogen stores. This can help boost recovery and help to prepare the body for another bout of exercise.

But whether we need to rapidly recover depends on how intense and frequent the training is. If you are ramping up training for an event, this strategy can be very valuable and it can be worthwhile speaking to a sports nutritionist to determine the best volume and timing of carbohydrate.

However, if you’re including moderate intensity exercise up to five to six times a week, your body is well equipped to recover with a normal pattern of eating. For most of us, choosing the protein-rich and high-fibre snack will meet our post-exercise needs, without overdoing it.

Here are some great post-workout snacks:

  • A small, skim, flat white and a piece of fruit.
  • 150g-200g yoghurt and 2 tablespoons of muesli.
  • Apple with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter dip.
  • Boiled egg and a carrot.
  • 50g trail mix.
  • Two mini quiches.
  • A slice of rye toast with peanut butter.
  • 10 rice crackers and 90g tuna.
  • High-fibre muesli bar.
  • High-protein muesli bar.
  • Yoghurt pouch and a piece of fruit.

Clare Wolski is a practising dietitian at The Healthy Eating Hub, call 6174 4663.

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