What you should eat and drink immediately after a workout is a topic of ongoing debate. Exercise burns energy and exhausts the muscles of a key fuel source, glycogen. One fact not in dispute is that muscles need to replenish the supply of glycogen, and it takes the proper nutrients to make that happen. Understanding the role glycogen plays in energy may help you decide which is better after a workout: tuna or a protein shake.
When you eat, the digestive system breaks down food and separates the usable nutrients. Some components go to help build cells while others provide fuel. Energy comes from glucose, but what you do not use immediately is converted into glycogen. The muscles store some glycogen normally, but as you exercise, it burns off. Replenishing the muscles's fuel is essential after you workout.
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Proper Post-Exercise Nutrition
The most effective post-exercise food will include both carbohydrates and proteins. Carbs are broken down to create glucose. Protein is building material for cells. Exercise physiologists Wendy Repovich, PhD and Jane Peterson, PhD claim carbohydrates are more vital after exercise because they restore glycogen to the muscles.
Tuna Vs. Protein Shakes
Although experts don't necessarily agree recovery requires both protein and carbohydrates, there is one point of concurrence: Carbs are necessary. Tuna is an excellent source of protein but does not provide carbohydrates. The formulas for protein drinks vary by manufacturer. If you select one that contains protein and carbohydrates, the shake may be better. Of the two, a protein shake will provide both nutrients with less effort.
What you drink is just as valuable as what you eat. Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise. Not everyone will feel like eating after a workout. If you are not going to eat immediately, juice or a sport drink will help bring back some energy and keep you hydrated. Eat within 2 hours after your workout. If you are lactose intolerant or have problems with protein shakes, you could eat tuna with a carbohydrate, as with a tuna sandwich, for instance. Other options that will help provide both carbs and protein include trail mix with nuts and dried fruit or peanut butter on crackers. Regardless of what you want to eat, make sure your selection contains carbohydrates to give you some energy.