One of the biggest misconceptions about Paleo is that it has to be a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet. The truth is, athletes like CrossFitters need to eat more than they think in order to recover from our tough workouts, speed up fat loss, and build the most muscle possible.
What happens when I exercise?
Exercise is primarily a tool for increasing work capacity. This is achieved by increasing muscle mass, cardiac/respiratory endurance, and metabolism. On a cellular level, you are actually inducing micro-trauma in your muscles, and it’s vital to repair those tears so the muscle can grow larger and stronger. On a hormonal scale, exercise increases insulin sensitivity. This is a good thing, because insulin is a storage hormone that will shuttle protein and carbohydrates to where they need to go in the body to start the recovery process. When you don’t eat after a workout, you lose that optimal feeding window, and may crash and burn in the long-term.
Okay, so what do I eat?
Well, if you’re following the Whole9 Meal Simple Template, your meals consist of protein, lots of fresh veggies and healthy fat. And you should be eating until you’re satiated. Traditionally, the types of veggies that are recommended on the Paleo diet are low-carbohydrate, however there’s a certain danger associated with low-carb eating and CrossFit. Any time we tap into our muscle glycogen, we need to eat a good post-workout of meal consisting of protein and a starchy carbohydrate. If we don’t, we risk using all the glycogen in our muscles, then our liver, then our brain. If that happens, there are some pretty serious risks including dizziness, shakiness, coma and death. That’s why we take our post-workout recommendations so seriously (and cause we want you to be your best).
The protein in the meal does a couple of things: it starts the repair of all those micro-tears that we created during the workout. It also stimulates the release of a hormone called glucagon. Glucagon is an energy access hormone that allows us to use body fat for energy (a good thing!). The carbohydrate in the meal gets converted into glucose and goes straight to your muscles to refill those tanks.
Personally, I like to eat some scrambled eggs with veggies and a yam. It’s important to avoid fat in your post-workout meal, as fat slows down digestion (great for increasing the satiety in the rest of your meals, but not appropriate when we’re trying to get nutrients in fast). Also, avoid fruit in this meal as fructose (the main sugar in fruit) will cause all sugars to go to your liver instead of refilling your muscles glycogen tanks. And make sure that you can get this meal in within 30 minutes of finishing your workout. If that means bringing your food to the gym with you, do it. Remember, this post-workout meal is a bonus meal that you get to eat in addition to your normal meals because you exercised. Trust me, you’ll feel the difference pretty quickly and you’ll wonder what took you so long to start making smart post-workout choices (I know I did!)
Your partner in STRENF!
Badier Velji is an active member of the SF Bay Area Paleo Community and writes about nutrition at The Lazy Caveman. Visit his website and follow @TheLazyCaveman on Twitter for more tips on how to improve your nutrition and quality of life.