A lot of you guys have seen many a time on my Facebook Page that I enjoy such fine treats as Pop Tarts, sushi, breakfast cereals, and even fat free ice cream after my workouts while you choke down simple fruit with your protein shake wondering whether I’ve lost my mind.
Well I wanted to take a moment to fully explain my actions and why such seemingly horrid food choices may actually play a huge role in why I’m able to make fast gains in the gym, and recover even better in between my workouts.
But before I can get into what’s ok to have and what’s not ok to have in the line of processed “junk”, let’s take a little physiology lesson on exactly what happens to the body in a post workout state – and the subsequent perfect storm that’s created.
By now, you probably already know that training (either weight training or cardio training) plays a huge role in depleting your body’s glycogen stores. Glycogen is simply the broken down form of carbohydrates which are stored in the muscles, liver, and fatty tissues in the body. So obviously, in order to refill these stores your body needs carbs. And carbs play a critical role in the post workout state.
Training in and of itself is a highly stressful situation for the body. The body releases cortisol as a reaction to this external stressor. In order to lower the amount of cortisol in the body, it is crucial to spike insulin. You see, insulin and cortisol act in a very close relationship. The spike in insulin post workout will hence lower cortisol levels and begin the all important cycle of protein synthesis (or in plain English – the rebuilding of muscle tissue).
So how does one create an insulin spike? Through carbohydrates of course!
Now before I go on, I would like if you can watch the following two quick videos that demonstrate exactly what happens to the body – and the carbs you eat – when insulin is introduced to the system.
Both videos use a very crucial term, did you hear it? Ok I’ll give it to you… Sugar. Carbs are nothing but sugar! Whether they are complex carbs or simple carbs, they’re basically just sugar in various forms. Now keeping this in mind, in a post workout state you want to initiate protein synthesis as quickly as you can.
The best way to do that is by getting a very fast and huge burst of insulin in the blood, and the quickest way to do that is by introducing high glycemic index carbohydrates – or basically simple carbs or sugars. This means that the faster digesting the source of carbs, the quicker you get an insulin spike. So wouldn’t it make complete sense to instead of grabbing that slice of fibrous wheat bread to go for something far more fun and yummy instead (like a Pop Tart).
Think of it, Pop Tarts (and other highly processed foods) are nothing but straight sugar. The sugars in them come from various forms such as dextrose, maltodextrin, fructose, sucrose, and even the evil HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP. Now let’s stop and actually talk about that one. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has had a horrible wrap, and rightly fully so. It’s the sweetener that is the base of just about everything you can consider a junk food that has fattened the waists of people worldwide.
The problem isn’t high fructose corn syrup itself, instead it is the ABUNDANCE of the consumption of sugar IN GENERAL within the modern day diet, ALONG with the over consumption of unhealthy fats, and overall calories – while in the face of FAR LESS physical activity than our ancestors. So it’s not one product that has caused the demise of the general health of many people today, it is a combination of things.
To understand what makes HFCS what it is, let’s first take a look at simple corn syrup. Corn syrup is made from processed cornstach. Its chemical make-up is primarily dextrose. And dextrose is basically just glucose but it’s given the name dextrose to differentiate that it is derived from corn. Dextrose and glucose are biologically identical – they are the same thing.
High fructose corn syrup is corn syrup which undergoes a chemical enzymatic process which fuses glucose with fructose in equal amounts making a far sweeter product. Most baked goods in the US are made from HFCS 42 or 55. Meaning the ratio of fructose to glucose is 42% to 58%, or 55% to 45% respectively. So even though you are getting some fructose in there, there still is a good amount of glucose in the compound as well.
Since we’re on the topic of fructose, you may be wondering why not just eat fruit post workout instead of something as “ridiculous” as a Pop Tart. Well, fructose as a sugar is NOT stored within the muscle cells. It is instead stored primarily in the liver (excess fructose can be further broken down into triglycerides and stored in fat cells once liver glycogen reaches its full capacity). So although you may be getting in your carbs, they’re certainly not going where you’re intending.
Glucose is the primary source of carbs for post workout nutrition, whereas fructose just doesn’t cut it. Our goal with ingesting carbohydrates post workout is to stimulate the release of insulin and to replenish glycogen stores within the MUSCLES. Now that you have this information under you belt let’s see how it can be put to use. When it comes to fast digesting carbs, there are MANY options available.
The one thing you want to keep in mind is that although I am saying that choosing a fast digesting source is your best option at this time, you want to make smart choices as well. Generally, these carb choices should be low to non fat. Fat slows down the process of digestion which at this point is something we DON’T want. It will even somewhat blunt the insulin spike we’re attempting to stimulate.
So rule number one is that the food choice should be low to non fat. This opens up a world of possibilities to choose from that are only limited by your imagination. I’ve had everything from the aforementioned Pop Tarts, to fat free ice cream, to sugary breakfast cereals like Cinnamon Toast Crunch to Cheerios, air popped pop corn, and my ABSOLUTE FAVORITES – Pop Chips!
Some of you, I understand, may not want to have things that are processed with sweeteners like HFCS. If it eases your mind, the HFCS is listed further down on the ingredients list for Pop Tarts. Instead, you may want to consider taking a trip down the isles of your local health food store because each of the items I’ve mentioned above are also on the shelves of stores like Trader Joe’s and Wholefoods.
These alternative products contain real sugars and have far less processed ingredients. For example, you can get all natural “Pop Tart” like toaster pastries at both stores. Understand that these are just options that can aid along with any diet plan whether you’re trying to lose fat (as these can be also used for refeeds) or gain muscle.
Sure there are other options that purists will try to shove down your throat like waxy maize and Vitargo, but honestly I would rather kill my sweet tooth, award myself with a small treat a few times a week that fits my macros, and allow for better dietary compliance by applying a simple tactic in my overall plan.
With the fact that I spend a MAJORITY of my time eating whole and unprocessed food, this small drop in the bucket at time where my body can actually USE these so called “empty calories” won’t do much to hurt or hinder my progress.
After all, this game of body transformation is about the CUMULATIVE effects of the efforts we put in. When you are on top of your game a majority of the time, small (and properly structured) deviations don’t do as much harm as one might think.