Should I Eat Differently After Running vs. Lifting?
Emily R Pappas, M.S.
How we eat greatly affects how we feel—and certainly how we perform. But it can be so confusing trying to figure out exactly what we should eat and when we should eat it, especially as an athlete.
It first helps to understand how your body works depending on the way you move it. This all comes down to your two energy systems:
RUNNING = AEROBIC
If you are going for a steady run at a moderate intensity to improve your endurance, you are primarily relying on your AEROBIC SYSTEM.
The aerobic system uses oxygen to help break down fats, carbs, and (very rarely) proteins to give your muscles (including your heart!) the energy it needs to get that run on.
This type of longer, less intense exercise uses carbohydrates and fats for sustained energy production. And the longer and less intense your endurance training, the more you enhance your fatty acid oxidative capacity (aka your ability to burn fat) in skeletal muscle. Fats take longer to burn than carbs. This is why they help fuel activity that is generally at lower-moderate intensities.
LIFTING = ANAEROBIC
Compared to going for a run, lifting weights is HIGHER INTENSITY and shorter in duration (think time to perform your reps, not the rest times between your strength training movements). True high intensity activity happens too fast for the body to be able to utilize the aerobic system. This is why lifting relies on the ANAEROBIC SYSTEM.
The anaerobic system IS ONLY ABLE TO USE GLUCOSE (aka sugar)to help provide the energy your muscles need to lift those weights. Examples of anaerobic exercise include:
- Weightlifting and powerlifting: Think how long those reps and sets actually last. Each exertion is a short but intense and requires carbs to fuel the process.
- Sprinting or other high-intensity activities: Think HIIT and Tabata—anything that requires short but very intense bursts of energy.
Because of their short duration and high intensity, these types of activities need energy FAST. This means we need to break down glucose (carbs) to give your muscles the energy they need for FAST, INTENSE contractions. You cannot have true high intensity for long periods of time!
So, Should You Eat Differently After Running and Lifting?
Knowing how these two systems work allows us to better understand what sort of nutrition is best for us at any given time. Remember that what your body uses to fuel your RECOVERY is just as important as what it burns during activity.
Because running is aerobic and uses carbs and fats, you need to incorporate both of these macronutrients into your post-run meal for optimal recovery. After a run, turn to a combo of carbs and fats—good fats, of course—for your fuel. Here are some post-run ideas:
- Banana with nut butter + whey protein shake
- Greek Yogurt with fruit and granola
- Avocado on whole grain toast + 3 egg whites
- Whole grain salad with a good drizzling of olive oil + chicken breast
Bonus points if you add in some protein to these options to make sure your muscles receive the building blocks they need to recover!
On the other hand, since lifting is anaerobic and relies on carbs for fuel, you’ll want all the carbs post training, baby! This is because your muscles NEED to refill the glycogen stores that have been depleted from your intense training. ALSO your muscles need carbs to help ENERGIZE the recovery process (muscles require energy to rebuild). So, after a lifting session, you’ll want to fuel back up on mostly complex carbs. Here are some post-lift ideas:
- Oatmeal with dried fruits + greek yogurt
- Brown Rice + veggies + chicken breast
- Sweet potatoes + drizzle of maple syrup +turkey breast
- Whole grains pasta + veggies + lean beef
Whether you go for a run or have a killer lift, you want to adjust how you eat to make sure you’re replenishing yourself with high-quality whole foods that help you repair and recover for your next session!
Still need help figuring out what to eat post workout? Sign up here for a FREE CONSULT CALL with me and we can discuss what is best for you!
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Nordby, Saltin, Helge. (2006). Whole-body fat oxidation by graded exercise and indirect calorimetry: a role for muscle oxidative capacity? . Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports , 16(3), 209-14. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16643200
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