How many times have you been told that cardio is the key to weight loss? All over the internet, weight loss programs and promotions find some way to talk about incorporating a cardio workout into your routine. If you’ve been following this advice religiously, then you’re on the right track.
Cardio as a form of weight loss makes sense. This is because of the number of calories you can burn with it and the way your body uses calories post-workout.
Cardio exercise routines can reduce your body fat, control blood pressure, and help you feel confident when you head to the beach. Did you know starting your morning with a little bit of cardio allows you to burn calories all day?
Your body can use the calories you feed it more efficiently by kickstarting your metabolism with a quick workout. But before you grab a bacon sandwich on your way to work, let’s take a closer look at whether you need to eat after a cardio workout.
Feeding Your Body For Your Goals
Eating after cardio will depend on your fitness goal and the type of exercise you have done. If you’re the type to grab a plate as soon as you’re home from the gym, you’re not alone. Plenty of people get into the habit of thinking that eating after a workout is essential. You should feed your body after all the work you’ve put it through so that it can recover, right? Well, the answer isn’t as straightforward.
Cardio burns calories by increasing the heart rate. Comparatively, strength training raises your metabolic rate, which increases the number of calories your body needs to function. So, after 30-45 minutes of cardio, you’ll probably feel energized and active but not hungry. This is because, during a cardio workout, your body doesn’t consume that much fuel. However, if you engage in a more intense activity, you may feel the effect in your stomach. In short, the more energy you burn, the hungrier you feel.
According to Shira Lenchewski, R.D, an LA-based dietician, it isn’t necessary to eat anything after a short cardio workout. Your body only needs water. If you feel hunger, it’s a sign that your body needs a little more. Many nutritionists suggest eating 30 to 45 minutes after you’ve finished cardio. However, the key is to check the nutrients as they differ according to the cardio workouts.
Let’s Get Physical
During a cardio workout, several things happen in your body. First and foremost, your heart rate increases. Second, the blood flow to your muscles increases by about 20%. Third, you’ll notice your breathing may become more labored. Together, these things use energy and help you reach the caloric deficit goal you need for losing weight.
Over time, your muscles get used to working in an increased workload situation. As you become more accustomed to a certain level of workout, you’ll find it easier to complete. You’ll also notice that your body can handle intense workouts better. When combined with a healthy diet plan, regular cardio workouts can be a great way to encourage your body to shed a few pounds.
While that’s all well and good, too many people skip cardio because they find it boring. While it’s true that not everyone finds their happy place on the treadmill, running isn’t the only exercise you can do to get your heart pumping.
There are several fun ways to get your cardio in that don’t involve the monotony of putting one foot in front of the other. Cardio can include anything from dancing to even vigorously cleaning your apartment. Ever break a sweat scrubbing the floor?
If you’re feeling hungry after your workout, chances are it’s time to refuel. Ultimately, it’s recommended you give your body a balance of protein and carbs after an intense gym session. When you exercise, your body starts using up your stored glycogen. This releases glucose into your bloodstream and helps give your muscles the energy you need to finish your workout. When you’re done exercising, your body needs to eat to replenish the glycogen reserves. Hence, the nutrients you need to consume are determined by how much glycogen you’ve used.
For example, the number of carbs you need post-cardio will depend on the intensity of the workout. In most cases, you’ll need to eat more carbs than protein to regain the lost energy. The good news is, after a cardio workout, your muscles absorb the nutrients more efficiently. Thus, post-cardio is the best time to take advantage of restoring your body’s energy supply.
What to Eat After a Light Workout
You probably only need to give your body a bottle of water and a small snack if you’re doing a light cardio workout. A mild cardio routine lasts for about 20 to 30 minutes. A handy trick to remember is that for every one to two grams of carbohydrates you consume, you’ll need around one gram of protein.
The protein you consume will help your muscles recover, and carbs will provide you with the required energy. After a light workout, your goal should be to consume 30 grams of carbs, 10 to 15 grams of protein, and overall 200 to 250 calories.
What to Eat After An Intense Workout
It is likely that after an intense workout, you’ll be hungry. If you’ve been sweating for an hour or more, you’ll be looking for something closer to a full meal once you’ve toweled off. After an intense routine, there is a change in the ratio of carbs to protein you need to consume to help your body recover. This is not the time to cut your calories. Instead, it’s essential to nourish your body.
Post-workout you should be mindful of your carb intake to build your glycogen stores back up. As a general rule, you should aim to consume 350 to 400 calories. Your carb intake should be around 35 to 90 grams, and your protein intake should be approximately 20 to 35 grams.
The Lowdown on Carbs and Proteins Post-Workout
It’s relatively common knowledge that upping your protein intake goes hand in hand with introducing exercise into your routine. This is especially true for people who are trying to build more muscle. However, carbs are also an essential source of fuel for the body. This particular food group often gets a bad rap in the health and fitness community, with plenty of trendy diets canceling it out entirely.
However, your body actively needs carbohydrates post-workout to convert them into energy. Your post-workout meal shouldn’t focus solely on protein, or carbs for that matter. In fact, a combination of both is most effective.
A healthy balance of both macronutrients improves the plasma glucose response of the muscles to the workout. In simple words, the muscles efficiently restore the glycogen required for your next activity. A carb and protein combo is also ideal for sportspeople and athletes who have a short period, let’s say less than four hours, for muscle recovery.
For example, if you have to participate in multiple competitions or games, you can consider having carbs and proteins together for faster muscle recovery.
Apart from muscle building, proteins are also fitting for satiety. Most people find that eating a protein-heavy diet can help them feel fuller for longer. This is especially true for people who tend to be extremely hungry after an intense workout. Protein can make you feel fuller than fat or carbs.
6 Best Foods to Eat After a Cardio Workout
We’ve already talked about why you should focus on fuelling your body with proteins and carbs after a workout. So what exactly does that look like? Consuming the right nutrients while incorporating a routine of exercise is fundamental for achieving your health goals. Whether that’s weight loss, building muscle, or simply toning.
We’ve already said that it’s best to consume your post-workout meal 30-45 minutes after you’re done. This is because a delay in carbs consumption can lower the rate of glycogen synthesis. To help you know what to reach for when you’re done sweating, we’ve come up with a quick list of some of the best, nutrient-dense foods to eat to help refuel your body.
- Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is more than just a food trend. It’s a great quick snack full of essential nutrients. Not only is it rich in protein, but it is also packed with fat-burning calcium. Greek yogurt can also help reduce cortisol in the body that rises during workouts. Cortisol is the hormone that creates the feeling of stress.
Furthermore, the magnesium in Greek yogurt helps to improve bone health and makes muscle recovery easier.
- Blueberries, Raspberries, or Other Fresh Fruit
Fresh fruits are a delicious carb option to have after cardio. As well as replenishing your body’s glucose levels with natural sugars, fruit is also incredibly hydrating.
Besides, berries are especially rich in vitamin C and potassium, thus preventing cramps and inflammation. You can pair berries with Greek yogurt to make a perfect power punch for your post-cardio meal plan.
- Whey and Hemp Protein
Whey protein shakes are mostly made from protein powders, and they contain all the essential amino acids needed by the body. These protein shakes are also made with healthy carbs to boost the energy process.
You can mix whey protein with peanut butter, yogurt, milk, or any fruit to give yourself an extra pump of protein or carbs. Hemp protein is a fantastic plant alternative to whey and may also be easier to digest. It is sugar-free and great for both your digestive tract and brain.
- Wholegrain Crackers With Cheese
Low-fat cheese paired with whole-grain crackers is an ideal post-workout snack. Wholegrain crackers are a better option than shakes or energy bars that are loaded with artificial flavors.
These crackers contain carbs and fiber, while cheese is an excellent source of protein and calcium.
- Coconut Oil
If you think coconut oil doesn’t make for a good snack on its own, then you’re not wrong. We don’t recommend sitting on the couch, spoon at the ready, and tucking into a fresh jar of coconut oil. However, just adding one tablespoon of coconut oil to your post-workout meal can be beneficial.
This oil also helps to reduce post-workout insulin spikes. It is easy to digest and can also act as a detoxification agent to clean the waste products in your body that gather while you’re exercising.
- Pita with Hummus
The sweatier you get when working out, the more sodium and potassium you lose. Pita and hummus are a great option for the days when you have to hit the showers after your session on the rowing machine.
Together, pita and hummus contain carbs, proteins, sodium, and potassium—basically, everything you need to replenish all your depleted stores.
Eat Right and Feel Good
They say, “when you eat and what you eat is as important as your workout.” Whether you’re looking to build some muscle mass or thinking about burning some fat, it is vital to keep refueling your body with the right ingredients. The right post-cardio food will help you boost your performance and achieve your fitness goals quickly.
Consuming the right amounts of carbs and proteins after cardio is essential as they help you maximize the benefits of your cardio. If you are struggling to meet your targets and fuel your body appropriately, consult a certified nutritionist or dietician who can help guide your meal planning.
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