Calories aren’t the only thing you're burning at the gym. According to Olympic weightlifting and track and field coach Brandon Mentore, who holds a B.S. in Kinesiology, the rate of nutrient depletion from activity happens to the degree of intensity, frequency and duration of activity. Read more from Brandon below.
Exercise is an expense to your metabolic budget. Activity, movement and performance all cost the body nutrients. The more intense or often you exercise, the more you’re body is spending resources to meet the demands. You need to replenish your nutrient stores in order to properly recover from exercise. What’s even more interesting is that certain systems in the body require replenishment before carrying out other processes. For example, glycogen levels (a stored form of energy in the liver) needs to be replenished before your body creates lean tissue. So you could be exercising trying to get lean but if you’re glycogen is depleted and you don’t replenish, you’ll have a tough time generating that lean tissue that you worked for.
There are many levels at which the body requires nutrients post exercise, so we’ll start with the basics.
Exercise at its core is movement, and movement involves muscles, tendons, bones and joints to all work together and communicate. Your electrolyte balance is the basic system that helps you to perform movements. The main electrolytes are sodium, chloride, potassium and phosphorous. The longer the duration and the more intense the exercise the more electrolyte depletion occurs. Hydrating and eating foods that have high nutrient levels will ensure proper electrolyte balance. Many people avoid salt, especially post workout, but salt in small amounts post workout will help you recover much quicker, so don’t avoid it.
Next up the chain involves muscle contraction in particular. Calcium and magnesium play an intimate role in the muscles contracting and relaxing during movement. The more intense and often you contract your muscles the more you deplete these minerals. Replenishing your calcium and magnesium stores are crucial to performance. Having them in the right balance is important as well. Women in particular require more magnesium. There are over 300 chemical reactions in the body that require magnesium, so when stores are low dysfunction can occur. Eating nutrient dense foods as well a multivitamin will ensure you cover all your bases. (Find out what vitamins you should be taking in your 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's)
Next in line are the nutrients that function like a cleanup crew. It’s important to remember that exercise is a stress just like anything else and causes micro damage to the muscles and the body. Obviously, our body repairs and we reap the benefits from that, but micro level damage does occur. Free radical oxidation and inflammation come with exercise, and once again, the more intense and often you exercise the higher the need is for antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. The fat soluble vitamins A, C, D, E, K and the mineral Selenium are the top antioxidants that should be consumed. You can get these through fruits and vegetables which also contain phytonutrients that function as antioxidants as well. The ever popular omega-3 fatty acid is the top go-to anti-inflammatory and can be consumed by eating fish or taking high quality fish oil supplements.
Next are vitamins and minerals that can lend a helping hand to overall metabolism from an active lifestyle. Minerals such as zinc and copper help with hormonal balance, memory and the nervous system. The B-vitamins help metabolism function better. The body is highly primed to receive nutrients after a workout, thus nutrient timing becomes crucial. You have a window of opportunity to give your body what it needs to get the job done, whatever that may be. Be smart and cover all your bases, a properly structured meal and a good quality multivitamin is the best way to go.
For more information, read up on 5 Top Post-Workout Meals, 5 Foods to Pass Up Post-Workout, and 6 Skinny Mom Approved Post-Workout Shakes.