Dietitians Dish: Optimize protein/carbohydrate consumption

By Elizabeth Sommerfeld
Jan. 7, 2014 at midnight
Updated Jan. 6, 2014 at 7:07 p.m.

Elizabeth Sommerfeld

Elizabeth Sommerfeld

So, it's the beginning of the new year, and you are probably working hard at keeping that resolution to start exercising more and eat healthier. While both of these are great resolutions, remember that your body does need energy to fuel and recover from those workouts.

If you've ever known anyone who is an exercise junkie or walked into any nutrition store, you have probably seen lots of big bottles of protein supplements. Many people believe that eating more protein equals making more muscles.

However, this is not necessarily true. You do need increased protein intake if you are doing strenuous muscle workouts in order to repair the muscle after use, but the energy that the muscle uses comes from glycogen, which is partially converted carbohydrate stored in the muscle tissues. Therefore, you can take in large amounts of protein, but if you aren't taking it in at the right times, then the additional protein will just turn to excess calories, which gets stored as fat.

Common thought is that we need to fuel our body before we work out. While you do need to fuel before, remember to replenish after a workout as well.

In an article published by the American College of Sports Medicine, research found that eating a snack or supplement with some carbohydrate and protein close to the time of training (particularly resistance training such as weight lifting) had a significantly greater increase in the person's muscle mass and strength with no additional supplementation.

A range of 8 to 40 grams of protein and up to 40 grams of carbohydrate was suggested as a goal for prior to exercise.

If you have 3 to 4 hours' time before you exercise, consider a well-rounded snack, such as peanut butter and honey on toast with an instant breakfast drink, a fruit and Greek yogurt smoothie with low-fat granola, oatmeal with brown sugar and almonds, a lean hamburger on bun with lettuce and tomato with a side salad and yogurt-fruit parfait or something as simple as a turkey and cheese sandwich with fruit and a sports drink.

If you only have 30 minutes to an hour before your exercise, consider an easier to digest carbohydrate, such as a sports drink or performance gels, gummies, etc., or a jelly/jam sandwich.

For post-exercise snacks, recommendations were similar with 8 to 30 grams of protein, or more specifically, 1 gram of carbohydrate and 1 gram of protein for every 5 to 7 pounds of body weight.

So if you were a 175-pound person, you would need 25 to 35 grams of carbohydrate and 25 to 35 grams of protein after your workout. More glycogen can be stored if you are to take in these carbohydrate/protein supplements immediately after a strenuous workout.

Highest glycogen storage happens within 45 minutes after a workout and remains high for about four to six hours. Therefore, remember to always take a protein/carbohydrate rich snack to eat within 15 to 60 minutes after a workout in order to replenish your glycogen stores and repair your muscles.

Some recovery snack ideas include a smoothie made with Greek yogurt and berries, a sports drink and protein bar, graham crackers with peanut butter or low-fat chocolate milk and a banana.

The main point to remember is you still need fuel to exercise when trying to lose weight.

Elizabeth Sommerfeld, MS, RDN, LDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist and bariatric coordinator at DeTar Healthcare System. Send questions or comments to



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