We all want to look good, feel good, and be able to move well. Two of the best ways to do this are by getting enough exercise and eating a nutritious, balanced diet.
Here’s the situation, you just finished a tough, sweaty thirty minutes on the stair climber or maybe you did an intense leg day. Your effort was great, and you feel great. You know that you worked hard and the pain you feel is good pain. But, how do you make the most of this workout? How do you ensure you eat the right foods to help burn calories and help your body recover?
Well, first off we need to talk about what we mean by burning calories. If you are looking at this question and thinking we have found a magical food that the more you eat of it the more calories you burn, you are mistaken - unless we talk about celery or something like that and even then it’s debatable. The point is food is energy. Food equals calories. So eating food after a workout isn’t going to burn immediate calories; however, there are some principles here that are super helpful for understanding what to eat and why after a workout in order to burn more calories long-term.
What do I mean by this? First, let’s look at what happens when we work out. When we work out, especially resistance training - think bench press, squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, etc. - we are damaging muscle fibers so that they can in turn be repaired and ultimately become stronger. This is a very simplified way to look at exercise, but for this article, I think it is helpful. Where does food come into play here? Well, food is one of the tools our bodies use to aid in repair. Food provides the necessary building blocks to help our muscles grow and become stronger. The main building block for muscle growth and repair is protein. Protein is most commonly found in meat, dairy, eggs, and nuts.
So what do protein, muscle repair, and burning calories have in common? I’m glad you asked, or you know I asked, but still, it feels like you asked. Our bodies burn calories in two primary ways - exercise or movement and normal bodily functions. Some people may see their smartwatch say they burned 300 calories in a workout - by the way, check out our article here for a similar workout - so they assume they can only eat 300 calories that day or they will gain weight. Obviously, if they tried this for even a day they’d realize it doesn’t work like that. Our bodies burn calories when we are sitting, walking, making dinner, and even sleeping. But, here’s the cool thing - the more muscle you have the more calories your body is burning. Muscle needs a greater caloric requirement than stored body fat does.
So what does this mean? It means that if you consume an adequate amount of protein after resistance exercise you can begin to build muscle - assuming your diet and other health factors are in good shape. As you begin to build muscle you burn more calories. So the key here is to consume protein. It doesn’t have to be immediately following your workout - although not a bad idea, but definitely in the next meal you eat.
So, now we know protein is important and a major key to building muscle and burning more calories. But, what are some easy ways to get protein in your diet?
#1) Increase Meat Consumption
Chances are you are already eating some form of meat at lunch and dinner. Instead of making drastic changes to your diet simply increase the amount if you are looking to get more protein. For instance, if you eat turkey sandwiches for lunch double the turkey, or if you normally eat grilled chicken for dinner opt for eight ounces instead of five.
#2) Protein Shakes
These are great for post-workout or as a snack. Try to choose shakes with clean ingredients (no artificial sweeteners and as few ingredients as possible). These can be an easy way to sneak in twenty to forty extra grams of protein daily
#3) Be Intentional with Snacking
Instead of choosing the chips or brownies for a midday snack, opt for Greek yogurt, cheese, or beef jerky. These are all great options to help you get more protein in your diet and ultimately help you burn more calories.
Want some more ideas - check out our protein-packed meal prep recipes here.
There are no magical foods to lose weight, just like there aren’t magic pills to immediately get in shape. The point is that exercise and nutrition are life-long pursuits that are all about building good habits. One of these good habits is consuming enough protein to help you recover from workouts and ultimately burn more calories.
As always, we are here for you and would love to hear from you. Please leave any questions or comments below!