Muscle Repair and Intense Exercise: Part II

by Angela (Oh She Glows) on June 24, 2009

Missed Part 1?

So we talked about what happens to our body during intense exercise as well as how nutrition can help offset the stress that is incurred to our bodies.



Tonight, I am going to talk about repairing the muscle tissue following intense exercise.

How To Rebuild Muscles After Intense Exercise



When we engage in intense exercise and deplete our glycogen stores, our bodies often use protein in our bodies as fuel. Basically, out bodies are breaking down the muscle to get enough energy for the intense exercise.

This process is known as Catabolism.

Note: Not to be confused with Cannibalism a la Hannibal Lecter! ;)

The process of Catabolism leaves our muscles weak and in need of repair.

Large molecules (proteins) are broken down into smaller units called amino acids. The breaking down of the proteins into smaller molecules leads to a further degradation of the molecule into waste products and eventually the release of energy.


While it is a good thing that our bodies can obtain energy when our glycogen stores are depleted, it is not a good thing that our muscles get broken down and weakened as a result. This means more down time and recovery!



Athletes must act FAST following intense exercise to start the process of muscle repair!

But how does one do this effectively?

Just as there is a 2 hour window of opportunity for glycogen replenishment following exercise, there is also a window of opportunity for protein replenishment.



How does this process work?

Well, in short form, our main hero here is Insulin.

Insulin picks up glucose (think simple carbs!) and protein and takes it to our muscles! Not surprisingly, immediately following exercise, the cells in our muscles are just begging for Insulin to come over. In other words, the muscle cells are highly receptive to insulin and any insulin that so much as ‘drives by’ the muscle cells is going to get put to good use!


Some interesting studies have questioned how the time food is consumed affects muscle recovery.

Group 1: Ate a protein/carb supplement immediately after exercise

Group 2: Ate a protein/carb supplement 3 hours following exercise

And guess what they found out? Participants in group one demonstrated a much higher rate of muscle synthesis as compared to those who didn’t eat until 3 hours later.

The suggested combo of carbs to protein is a 4:1 ratio, however this is widely debated. Other sources suggest a 2:1 ratio.

Carbohydrates are extremely important to have along with protein as it allows for increased insulin release into the bloodstream. So eating a piece of chicken and nothing else isn’t going to do you much good. Remember what our hero insulin does! It transports the protein and carbs to our muscles for repair so you can heal faster.

So what do you eat?

What you eat post workout is going to contradict all of your healthy eating logic.

Following intense exercise you want the following:

Why is this so?

Well, the less fibre and fat that our bodies have to digest, the quicker the insulin response will be. Normally, throughout the day, we try to eat in a way that gives us a steady blood sugar response by eating healthy fats and high fibre foods that are low on the glycemic index.

However, following a workout it is best if what you eat is rapidly digested so the insulin can get to your muscles as quickly as possible. However, that doesn’t mean that you should eat garbage after a workout by any means.

Some good foods that provide instant energy are: Dates, watermelon, pasta, potatoes, millet, wheatabix, corn chips, white bread, maple syrup, etc.

You can make a great recovery shake or juice, by using banana, maple syrup/honey, protein powder, and almond milk. The fibre content and fat content will be low enough to allow for the insulin process to take place quite quickly.



It may also benefit you to eat any of these high glycemic foods during every hour of your workout. Many people enjoy Cliff Shots, GU gels, honey/maple syrup to prevent their glycogen stores from depleting and delaying the catabolic process.

Tonight’s Questions:

  • Do you eat after your workouts?
  • When do you usually workout and how do you plan your meals/snacks around them?
  • Do you pay attention to carbs and protein?
  • How do you define ‘intense exercise’? I struggle with this one…

I’m all over the place with my workout times, but when I workout in the morning I have a green monster before my workout and then following my workout I tend to have cereal with soy milk. I almost always eat after a workout because I tend to be quite hungry!


Don’t forget to check out the new green Monster tee’s in my clothing shop!

Have a lovely evening! I’m off to BAKE…see you tomorrow morning for another SGBC clue and all the baking pics!

Let's get social! Follow Angela on Instagram @ohsheglows, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Katie H June 24, 2009 at 7:18 pm

I feel my best when I exercise in the morning. I have to get a little something in my stomach, usually a smoothie, before exercising or I will feel lightheaded and shaky. Then about an hour after working out, I am ravenous. I don’t usually pay attention to what I eat after exercising, but I tend to crave clean foods. However, when I exercise in the afternoon, I love to follow it with cereal and milk–the perfect carb/protein combo!


Evan Thomas June 24, 2009 at 7:19 pm

Hmm, that was a really interesting and fun read :-) My workout is a run (4-7 miles) first thing in the morning, so my post workout meal is always my breakfast. I usually eat oatmeal and greek yogurt. I suppose that goes against the ideal. I also always have a glass of carrot juice for the potassium, so I suppose that provides some quick, simple carbs.


Katie H June 24, 2009 at 7:23 pm

Oh, and I consider a workout intense if I am completely 100% can’t-move-another-muscle exhausted!


Kelly Happy Texan June 24, 2009 at 7:33 pm

Would it be good to eat something before a workout to replensih glycogen stores?

I realize when we get up in the morning we are low on glycogen in the muscles (at least that’s what I’ve read). So is it best to work out with no glycogen or to eat a little something first?

I really have never thought of eating as soon as I am finished with an intense work out. Usually I’m too hot and sweaty and nothing sounds good. :)


Jessica June 24, 2009 at 7:35 pm

I love your “I like it green.” saying!!! Would you be able to make one of those double v neck tees in black or maybe even green with that saying??? I would buy one immediately as my last “something i don’t need” purchase hehehe!


lacey June 24, 2009 at 7:37 pm

I have found recently that the best thing for me post-workout is a protein shake! I was happy to see this was listed as a recommendation. I work very early so I have to work out later… but its super hot in Nashville and I have been running around 7:30 pm so my shake becomes part of dinner on those days. With weigh training [which is something I am acquiring a desire for still… its not my fav but I really am trying to incoporate it] I use my shake as an afternoon snake before or after, depending on what time I go to the gym.

As a vegan, I try to pay attention to protein so the shakes are a great addition to my daily routine… carbs aren’t a problem for me and so I have to watch not to over-do those :)


[email protected] June 24, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Really helpful post! I love eating watermelon right after a run! I also often crave cold skim milk while running, so I may knock back a glass when I get in. Its a weird, intense running craving I have had since high school cross country and track.


Kimberly June 24, 2009 at 7:48 pm

Hey Ange…non related question to your post (which was marvelous btw!). I read a lot of American food blogs and the girls are talking about Oikos and Chobani yogurt. I am a fellow Canadian like you (Yukon) and was wondering if we can find this type of yogurt in Canada? I was thinking you would know best!



Lex June 24, 2009 at 7:52 pm

Wow, what a perfect time for this post. My muscles are giving me a beating today after booty camp yesterday. About 40m after the workout I went and got a high protein smoothie. Today, however, I did a lot of sitting around on my butt at work and i got stiff. Really stiff. I have Booty camp again tomorrow and I’m hoping I’ll manage throughout!!


Jess June 24, 2009 at 8:08 pm

I define intense exercise as something that SERIOUSLY gets my heart pumping, sweat dripping, and my hands on my knees. That can be anything from a vigorous yoga class or a basketball practice to me. I try and eat before I exercise and have enough nutrients but I haven’t been as good about after/have slacked off. After reading this post I am going to pay a lot more attention to it. Great questions!
<3 jess


Quisha June 24, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Great read. David Beckham is also a good example ;)


EatingRD June 24, 2009 at 8:41 pm

I always eat after my workouts, usually within 30 minutes or as soon as I can. Balancing the carbs and protein is key. I like to have a small bowl of cereal with skim milk and fruit, or some cottage cheese with the same for some added sodium for fluid replacement. I like to eat before too, but for me it has to be at least 2 hours before with easily digested things usually high in CHO. I don’t usually eat during unless I’m exercising for over an hour. According to HHS, intense-vigorous activity is defined as 6.0 METs or more. Running at 10 minutes per mile (6.0 mph) is a 10 MET activity. Or it can be 7-8 on a 0-10 scale. It is recommended to get at least 150 minutes of moderate and/or 75 minutes of intense activity per week minimum. But, this doesn’t really seem that much to me and can vary per person. Intense for me is breaking a good sweat and fatiguing my muscles with some heavy breathing and increased HR a.k.a. spin or kickbox!


Al June 24, 2009 at 8:53 pm

Hey Ange!! Guess who, hehe? I heard of a study that found the best post-workout snack was chocolate milk and a banana. Apparently this gives the best balance of calories and nutrients. Thought it might be of interest to you:) Plus, I am always looking for a good excuse for a big glass of chocolate milk!


Lara June 24, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Chocolate milk is an excellent post workout snack. Protein from the milk and fast digesting carbs from the chocolate. Plus very digestible and easy to stomach. One thing not mentioned in the post (or maybe you did and I missed it) is another negative to your muscles being broken down after exercise is over time you can lose muscle mass which is bad. It leads to overall lowered metabolism and makes you skinny fat. We lose muscle mass as we age to begin with so we need to take care not to do anything that can us to lose it.


Lara June 24, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Oh and my former trainer used to say it was really bad to workout first thing in the AM on an empty stomach. With no glycogen in your system your body will start breaking down muscle for fuel, not the fat that you often hear about. Most sources I have read say do not do early AM workouts on empty stomach.


Bec June 24, 2009 at 9:40 pm

wow great post:) love the info


Nicole June 24, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Great post! I’m training for a 15K next month and have been wondering how to properly refuel. After my workouts I tend to eat about a half hour later (after my shower) When I run my long runs I tend to eat a piece of fruit immediately after to give myself sugars and then I eat about an hour later when I start to feel like i can handle food again.

I noticed above Lara mentioned exercising on an empty stomach is bad. I usually eat something small like a 1/2 banana before a shorter workout but lately I’ve been running without eating…I’m definitely going to research that!
Thanks for the info!!

Oh and as far as intense workout? I think intense is a hard, long run, sprint and hill training, lifting, swimming…where you’re really pushing yourself and really exhausting your body (I play soccer too so I consider playing in a game an intense workout) But when I just run my pace run for three to five miles without really pushing too hard and without lifting, I just consider that moderate. Sorry this was so long but thanks for the post! Great topic!


lena June 24, 2009 at 10:12 pm

cool and informative article! thanks!

I normally have a chocolate milk drink after a swim and if i workout from home, i eat my oat/cereal breakfast after my workout. :P but i don’t really eat much before a workout, just some fruits. however, i eat a proper breakfast before a swim as i find i can power my way better if i ate a substantial meal an hr before than if i go with only fruits!


hstryk June 24, 2009 at 10:31 pm

Hi! I’ve been reading your blog for a week now. I thought I’d finally take the time to respond to your questions. Sorry if they are a bit lengthy.

1. Yes. After an exercise of about an hour or so I try to drink Fluid Recovery drink. It has the 4:1 ratio, low sugar, natural ingredients and whey protein isolate. Sometimes I will pack an almond butter and jelly sandwich on an Arnold Whole Wheat Sandwich round. If I forget to pack Fluid or a sandwich, I have Clif Shots and Clif Bloks in my gym bag. If I don’t take something I get low sugar very easily. Also if I’m at my gym after intense exercise I go into the sauna for about 10 minutes and stretch/massage my muscles. After strength training I try to take in a protein shake within an hour.

2. I workout morning and night so it takes a lot of planning! I prepare a lot the day before and figure out where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing and what I have to bring. AB&J’s are great for night workouts because they are more sustaining than a Fluid drink, and help prevent me from the late night eating sprees. Pre-workout if I feel I need some extra energy I keep dates in my gym bag too. I try to avoid depending on the Clif stuff.

3. I try to track my diet as much as I can using my Buckeye Training log. I want to make sure I’m getting plenty of protein, and not over doing carbs. I also watch my calorie intake. For some reason, no matter how active I am, I gain weight very easily. I’m trying to keep my BMI down so my endurance is best for racing.

4. Intense exercise to me is exerting myself for over an hour. If I’m drenched in sweat, it’s probably a good bet that I’ve exerted myself to the point where I need nutrition asap. Swimming for me is hard to determine, but usually I know when I’ve pushed myself to the point of “intense”. I can swim for an hour but not really push myself, I don’t consider this intense. Something just triggers in me during intense workouts where I push myself and want to keep going. After those workouts I tend to pay more care to restoring my body through nutrition.


april June 24, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Sometimes I exercise in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon but I always eat afterwards. If I do strength training I get shaky and weak but once I eat I feel much better! I define intense workouts as ones where my heart rate is very high!


Help Meghan Run June 24, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Great info, Angela! I have done some work in exercise physiology and am currently doing sports nutrition, so this stuff is particularly interesting to me. I focus on carbs before my workout (even when I get up early to run) because we need that glycogen and that energy for our muscles. Then it’s important to get *something* in you right after the workout, whether it’s Gatorade or food or what have you. And then (the sooner the better!) a good balanced meal with good carbs and protein.


Christina June 24, 2009 at 10:46 pm

I don’t usually eat before exercising because I’m horribly afraid of getting stomach cramps and I workout right when I wake up anyways. I usually eat about an hour afterward though to refuel!


Menden (Skinny Menny) June 24, 2009 at 10:53 pm

I workout in the evening after I get home from work…I usually have a small snack in my car on my commute (it takes an hour to get from work to the gym), and then I work out. After I get home, it’s time for dinner, so I don’t feel bad about “replenishing” with a big healthy meal!

When I used to work out in the morning, I’d work out on an empty stomach and then have a protein shake as soon as I got home. An hour or so later, I’d have my breakfast of protein/complex carbs/healthy fat.


Holly June 24, 2009 at 11:10 pm

Interesting post. I’ve read that a lot of the research on protein intake post workout is fairly baseless. We consume protein throughout the day….most of us consume far more than necessary (protein powders, much?!). The body is smart and and can take that protein and put it to use when necessary. If we break a bone, we don’t all of a sudden start drinking loads more milk for the calcium. Although, it is of course important to fuel properly for your workouts both before and after.

I would consider working out at or above 70 % of your max heart rate as an “intense workout.” Wearing a heart rate monitor will help you maintain your intensity. Good luck!


Haleigh June 24, 2009 at 11:11 pm

Thanks for the info!


Heather @ Health, Happiness, and Hope June 24, 2009 at 11:26 pm

Wow, this is such great information Angela! You definitely did your research on this one. I find it so interesting that what is best for our bodies post-workout isn’t really what you’d normally deem “healthy” foods. Thanks for doing taking the time to share this! :)



Danielle C. June 25, 2009 at 12:04 am

I always make sure to eat within an hour of my workout, if I know that we have dinner planned later or something I will make a protein shake or something similar (milk and cereal).


Tay June 25, 2009 at 12:43 am

That was all review from my last quarter’s sports nutrition class ;-) hehe. But I ALWAYS eat after a workout. I know it’s important to stop the breakdown of my muscle! And if I don’t eat right after, I get a weird stomach ache later and am famished the rest of the day!
Usually if I workout for 30-40 minutes or less (at the gym, or a super easy run), I don’t necessarily make myself eat if I’m not hungry. But any longer than that I do….with carbs of course!


Jessica June 25, 2009 at 3:02 am

aw you are just the best girly! im ordering some now!


Emmanuelle June 25, 2009 at 6:46 am

Hello Angela,

I have been reading your blog for some time now, now’s the time for me to answer :-)

I usually work out after work, in the evening. Now, one thing you have to know: I am French, live in Belgium, and we don’t have at all the same way to organize meals actually: here it’s usually three meals a day, and not necessarily am and pm snacks. Lunch is around 12.30-1 pm, and dinner around 8pm. We don’t have night snacks (or they are part of dinner and they’re desserts ;-).
Anyway,I only snack in the afternoon if I work out later, and then I have dinner after my work out, when I go home. I usually call my boyfriend when I get off the gym so he knows it’s time to fix some dinner.
So I eat about 30-45 minutes after working out, and then I crave protein and carbs and vitamins, so in the end I have a good balanced

Intense exercice, well I would say exercice that turns me into a red-faced sweaty monster!

Sorry for writing a novel, and please don’t blame me for the mistakes, I’m not English mother tongue ;-)



leslie June 25, 2009 at 8:09 am

thank you for posting this. sports nutrition is something i’m really interested in – i want to feel strong and athletic, and with that absolutely comes proper nutrition. i used to think it would be crazy to eat before/after a workout – why replace the calories you worked so hard to burn? thankfully my views have matured. :) i always always eat after a workout, even if i’m not hungry – usually something with carbs and protein like a smoothie or yogurt and granola. typically i exercise an hour or two after breakfast, so my big bowl of oats and fruit gives me lots of carbs for fuel.

i struggle with what intense exercise is as well. i think it’s a very personal thing – no one can tell you that what you’ve done isn’t “enough.”


Amanda June 25, 2009 at 10:16 am

I love a cold smoothie or glass of chocolate milk after a run. I did my long run this past Sunday and it was muggy out! I was craving chocolate milk the entire time!!


Fitzalan June 25, 2009 at 10:32 am

I am a huge fan of smoothies after a hard workout. If I am doing a run of 6 miles+ over my lunch break, I always bring a smoothie with me to work and put it in the freezer. Mine today has almond milk, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, a bit of fresh squeezed OJ and half a scoop of vanilla protein powder.

I have learned that having a smoothie post-workout definitely aids in the recovery and keeps me from feeling achy and sore later on. I aim for the 3:1 or 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein.

I think anything that is over 1 hour starts to get into the intense workout realm.

So your post brings up a question—at the end of a very active day (morning run, lunch gym and maybe a post work few holes of golf), I feel exhausted. Simply put, my body does not want to move anymore. I eat throughout the day and try to keep hunger at bay but would you think this is due to a lack in carbs and/or protein or simply that I pushed my body to its limits that day?

Happiness Awaits


Sue June 25, 2009 at 10:35 am

Good morning Angela…I usually work out first thing in the morning (like 4:45…I know sick!). I find I can’t eat anything at that time, so I am one of those horrible people that don’t eat before. Shortly after my workout I make a protein shake (frozen fruit, yogurt, milk, protein powder, flax seed, now since reading about the green monster, spinach). That usually holds me over until my morning snack at work which is usually fruit and some kind of protein.

Thanks for the great post…really interesting.



Holly June 25, 2009 at 10:52 am

Awesome and informative post!


elliebelle June 25, 2009 at 11:02 am

I usually work out in the evenings after I get home from work. I have tried to work out in the mornings, but I just feel so lethargic. So usually after a sweat session, I have dinner – which sometimes is just a smoothie. I often have larger lunches to help me get through the day. :) Thanks for all the great info!


Nigel Bennett May 3, 2017 at 5:12 am

Excellent health tips..


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