Post-workout nutrition plays a huge role in the effectiveness of your exercise. This is especially true if you’re a morning exerciser.

Not only are you technically breaking a fast, but you’re breaking a fast with your body already geared up, your heart pumping, your muscles burning, and your skin sweating. With a revved-up, hungry body, it’s all about focusing on foods that support your body in times of stress.

Even though exercise is great for you, it also raises your cortisol levels, meaning it healthily stresses your body.

Yet, it’s not just about leveling out cortisol levels. Post-workout foods also should focus on supporting your muscles’ ability to heal and repair, rebuild glycogen stores, and be gentle on your gut.

Your Body and Exercise

Ever wonder what happens to your body when you exercise? Every time you jump on the stationary bike, hit the open road in your tennis shoes, or finish that grueling fitness class?

We all know a few things about our bodies and exercise simply by experience.

As long as you respect your body’s limits, you most likely feel amazing. Not just your body — that super good-tired feeling — but you probably also have a bit of a brighter outlook on the moment, the hour, or the entire day. Maybe your anxiety and stress levels have slacked off a bit. Possibly that creeping depression has taken a backseat for a moment.

What is it about exercise — or movement in general — that makes us feel this great?

When we get up and get moving, there are a few things that happen.

To begin, blood is diverted “from your liver and digestive system to your skeletal muscles.” As you push yourself harder, your muscles begin to generate lactic acid, which causes “the pH of the blood around the muscles” to drop and “prevents the muscles [from] contracting further.” This is your muscles letting you know you’ve reached the stop and rest point.

There’s also a whole mess of activity going on with your hormones.

While there are about eight recognized hormones involved in the physical exertion process, let’s take a closer look at the six most well-known:

  • Insulin, a “peptide hormone produced by the pancreas, insulin regulates carbohydrate and fat metabolism,” this hormone is suppressed during exercise.
  • Glucagon, “simulates the release of free fatty acids (FFAs) from adipose tissue and increases blood glucose levels.” Both of these processes are “important for fueling exercise activity.”
  • Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, is a “catabolic steroid hormone produced … in response to stress, low blood sugar, and exercise.” This is an integral hormone for exercise as it “supports energy metabolism during long periods of exercise” by breaking down triglycerides (fat) and protein to create glucose.
  • Epinephrine and Norepinephrine, are both amine hormones that help “the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) produce energy” and regulate the “body’s function during cardiorespiratory exercise.” Epinephrine — also called adrenaline — “elevates cardiac output, increases blood sugar, … promotes the breakdown of glycogen for energy and supports fat metabolism.” Norepinephrine is very similar to epinephrine, but it also constricts “blood vessels in parts of the body not involved in exercise.”
  • Testosterone is a “steroid hormone” that is produced by both men and women. It’s an important hormone when it comes to exercise results as it is “responsible for muscle protein resynthesis and the repair of muscle proteins damaged by exercise.” Testosterone also “plays a significant role in helping grow skeletal muscle.”

Put it all together, and while your body is working hard, your hormones are truly the champions of how effective an exercise is going to be. Hormones “tell the body to convert fat into glucose, reduce the pain you feel, and improve your mood.” Plus, your brain is hard at work during physical exertion as well, making “neurotransmitters, like serotonin, dopamine, and GABA.”

Hence why you may feel so good after a good workout.

Benefits of the Right Post Morning Workout Nutrients

Coconut Brown Rice Bowl With Avocado Cream Dressing

Coconut Brown Rice Bowl With Avocado Cream Dressing/One Green Planet

We know what’s happening inside the body, yet how do we amplify our body’s ability to make the most out of this complicated network of positive stimulation?

Part of the puzzle is making sure to integrate physical activity regularly. The other piece of the puzzle is making sure you’re getting the right nutrition at the right time around your workouts. While some of us enjoy a good evening yoga class or midday cycle, the summer brings out that morning exerciser in droves! The sun is up earlier, the temperatures are still cool, and it’s easier to implement a fasting exercise.

This means that there are a few extra benefits that you can gain from getting out and getting moving as the sun comes up!

Awakens Your Gut

It’s been a bit of a journey, but over the last decade or so, researchers have unraveled some of the mysteriousness concerning our gut and our health. This can be seen particularly well when we take a look at our microbiome.

What is the microbiome?

In one of my previous One Green Planet articles entitled Understanding the Gut-Hormone Connection, I break down the microbiome:

“The microbiome is very similar to a ‘mini-ecosystem’ in which microscopic organisms thrive. These microscopic organisms, also called microorganisms, create a symbiotic environment called the microbiome and they include ‘bacteria, pathogens — infections agents, — archaea — prokaryote microorganisms, which lack a nucleus, — and eukaryotic microbes — microorganisms that have a nucleus.'”

One of the factors that your post-morning workout needs to consider is that you’re breaking a fast. This means your filling an empty stomach and awakening the gut and your digestive system for the day. When proper nutrition — think dietary fiber! — is incorporated into the post-workout meal, you can avoid any stomach upset while also prepping your digestive system for the day ahead.

Rebuilds Glycogen Stores

When you exercise, your body utilizes stores of fuel, primarily glycogen — the stored version of glucose, which comes from sugars — and fat. Part of eating the right nutrients, especially when it comes to those healthy carbs, is to replenish your body of those glycogen stores. This is particularly important for a post-morning workout, as you need to make sure your body has enough energy to get you through the rest of the day.

Aids Repair of Muscles

Part of the exercise process involves micro rips and tears in your muscles. Some exercises are more aggressive on your muscles — such as weight lifting — yet all physical activity performs this function to a degree. Incorporating proper nutrition post-workout — especially protein for muscle repair — will aid the natural process of healing and even help build either leaner or bigger muscles, depending on the type of workout and the type and amount of protein.

3 Best Post Morning Workout NutrientsPumpkin Oatmeal Lentil Cups

Pumpkin Oatmeal Lentil Cups/One Green Planet

Alright, now that you’re on board with getting those proper nutrients into your body after you’ve had a good sweat in the morning, it’s time to take a look at the specifics! What types of food are best? Let’s break it down by macronutrients. It’s best to get most of your calories from protein — to rebuild that muscle — then incorporate carbs — to replenish that energy — and then focus on fats — to help with digestion!

1. Carbs

While there’s lots of debate around carbohydrates in your daily diet, it’s a well-known fact that healthy, complex carbs help the body recuperate after a rigorous workout.

This all has to do with glycogen!

Glycogen is a “form of sugar that can be easily stored by our muscles and liver” and is sourced from the carbohydrates we consume, which become glucose as they’re digested and then glycogen. While glycogen has other roles, it’s primarily “used as fuel during exercising.” This means once you’re done with your exercise, your body needs a bit of help replenishing these stores to keep you fueled for the rest of the day.

This is even more necessary for post-morning workout nutrition!

By consuming healthy, complex carbs after a morning workout, you’re helping your body rebuild those glycogen stores and refuel for the rest of the day.

Of course, the amount of carbs to consume post-morning workout generally depends on the level of exertion. For instance, endurance athletes will need a higher carb intake post-workout. It’s recommended to consume about “0.5 – 0.7 grams of carbs per pound … of body weight within 30 minutes after training,” which has been shown to result in “proper glycogen resynthesis.”

If you want to add another layer to the exercise nutrition cake, then consider consuming your carbs with a dose of protein as well! It’s been found that “insulin secretion, which promotes glycogen synthesis, is better stimulated when carbs and protein are consumed at the same time.”

Read on to the next section to learn a bit more about protein consumption post-workout!

Alright, so what carbs should you eat? Try to incorporate one or more of the following: sweet potatoes, quinoa, fruits, — specifically low glycemic, gut-friendly varieties such as pineapple, berries, banana, kiwi —rice, oatmeal, and dark, leafy greens. Luckily, these are super easy to incorporate into a morning meal! Try a few of these recipes: Carrot Pineapple Oatmeal, Grapefruit Matcha Green Smoothie, Umami Rice Breakfast Bowl, Brown Rice Porridge With Rhubarb Ginger Compote, or this Frittata with Swiss Chard and Red Pepper.

2. Protein

Protein is one of the best nutrients to have onboard after you’ve exerted yourself physically.

Exercise helps to build muscle, yet it does so in a very interesting way — by breaking down muscle protein. You break it down so that it can heal and reform stronger. If you don’t consume enough protein in your general diet, then your body won’t be able to repair as efficiently, and exercise may cause more suffering than good.

This is particularly important post-workout.

By eating the proper “amount of protein after a workout,” you’re giving your body “the amino acids it needs to repair and rebuild these proteins” while also providing your body with the “building blocks required to build new muscle tissue.”

Protein intake changes depending on the level of exertion and body weight, yet it’s recommended to “consume 0.14 – 0.23 grams of protein per pound of [bodyweight] … very soon after a workout.” A more general recommendation suggests that “ingesting 20 [to] 40 grams of protein seems to maximize the body’s ability to recover after exercise.” 

Which foods have the best proteins post-morning workout? Try a few of these options: tofu, chickpeas, peanuts, almonds, chia and hemp seeds, and quinoa. As you want to load up on protein, make these central to your plate like in these breakfast recipes: Mixed Berry and Tahini Chia Pudding, Southwestern Tofu Scramble With Roast Potatoes, Quinoa Mango Kheer, Peanut Butter Banana Muffins, Chickpea Flour Breakfast Cookies, or this Chickpea Shakshouka with Avocados and Fresh Herbs.

3. Fat

If you’ve read any of my other articles, then you know I not only love but also admire healthy fat!

Healthy fats — such as monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, moderate amounts of saturated, and omega fatty acids — are an incredibly important part of a balanced diet. Fat is a great source of fuel, helps the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, and enhances the flavors and digestibility of our foods!

With that said, while healthy fat is integral for a proper post-workout nutrition plan, it’s all about how much and what type you consume.

It’s been documented that “eating fat after a workout slows down digestion and [may] inhibit the absorption of nutrients.” Yes, fat slows down absorption, but it won’t reduce or block the benefits of said nutrition. Certain studies have shown that adding small amounts of healthy fat to a post-workout meal may be “more effective at promoting muscle growth” and does not affect your muscle glycogen synthesis.

When prepping your post-morning workout meal, focus on loading those complex carbs and proteins, yet don’t be afraid to add just a smidgen of plant-based fat. By choosing plant-based fats, you’ll also be adding more gut-friendly fiber, which will aid digestion for the rest of the day, as well as sneaking in more of those necessary vitamins and minerals.

If you want to include a bit of fat into your post-workout meal, choose a plant-based and nutrient-dense option such as avocado, nuts, nut butter, or a handful of trail mix! Incorporate these fats into small snacks such as this Avocado Tofu Chocolate Mousse, these Sweet and Savory Spiced Nuts, these Dark Chocolate Quinoa Crispies, these Butternut Energy Bites, or these Flourless Avocado Walnut Brownies.

Related Content:

Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home!Mediterranean Lentil Veggie Wrap

Mediterranean Lentil Veggie Wraps/One Green Planet

Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammationheart healthmental wellbeingfitness goalsnutritional needsallergiesgut health, and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked to many health problems, including acnehormonal imbalancecancer, and prostate cancer, and has many side effects.

For those of you interested in eating more plant-based, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest plant-based recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.

Here are some great resources to get you started:

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