Fact or Fiction: A post-workout sugary snack can be beneficial?

You’ve been told for years to stay away from sugar, that it causes energy crashes, stimulates hunger and in the long run can contribute to weight gain. But numerous magazines and websites urge trainees to consume sugary snacks post workout – including sports drinks and Haribo.

First up, here’s what happens when you eat foods high in sugar. Typically you’ll receive a spike in your insulin level, which is a hormone that carries sugar around in your blood stream. Think of insulin as a taxi or transport system. Many times we eat too much sugar and too much insulin gets released, so your body, in an effort to not go into a dangerous hyperglycemic state, clears all sugar from your bloodstream. And guess what happens when the sugar clears – you end up in a low blood sugar state, get tired and hungry and often reach for more sugar in an effort to wake up. And so the sugar yo-yo cycle continues. I’m sure you’ve all been there!

Now keep in mind the above scenario generally fits with people who eat large amounts of sugar and then sit around, either at work, at home or in the car. However the post workout time frame is a very different story.

During exercise there’s two main things that happen. First, we use up a lot of muscle glycogen and blood sugar for fuel during the workout itself. I’m talking about fairly intense sessions here, you know, the kind I promote here at Angry Trainer Fitness – full body circuits of 30–60 minutes a time. Because you’re using up those precious sugar stores, your body becomes extra sensitive to sugar intake following an intense workout – it’s basically ready to start refueling and gas up the tanks. Remember those insulin ‘taxis’ that carry the sugar around your body? Well during the day and under normal conditions they’re driving around and abiding by the speed limit. But after a workout, they’re ready to go full throttle and race the sugar to the parts of your body that need replenishing. This phase is called ‘heightened insulin sensitivity’ and lasts for about 30–45 minutes max after you workout before returning back to normal levels.

What this essentially means is that you can indeed take in more than normal levels of sugar post workout AND benefit from them, without fear of gaining excess weight. In fact I tell people that if they want a chocolate chip cookie as a treat the best time to eat it is right after a workout! It’ll most likely be used to refuel muscle tissue and it’ll satisfy your cheat.

In fact the more simple the sugar the better! Typically you’ll hear experts urging you to only eat foods that elicit a slow rise in your blood sugar levels. However post workout, we want the exact opposite effect – simple sugars that digest ultra fast and fill the muscle stores up.

Now let me clarify. I’m not suggesting that all of you eat ice cream or cookies after a workout. And depending on your goals, whether they be fat loss or muscle gain, you may want to stay in a low blood sugar state and not consume a sugary post workout meal or drink. It’s all dependent upon your aims. I personally use the post workout shake as the only ‘meal’ in which I get simple sugars. The rest of your day should be made up of fibrous veggies, lean proteins and healthy fats.

Of course if you suffer from any form of diabetes or sugar related issues, you must consult your doctor before you make any changes to your diet. But for those of you that are healthy and looking to get a jump start on the recovery process, some simple sugars right after a workout combined with a scoop of quality whey protein can be just what the doctor ordered!

Fitness Fact Or Fiction… this one’s FACT!