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What happens if I don't eat after a workout?

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Sometimes I come home from a workout, (this usually happens more with cardio workouts than weight lifting) but I feel tired and lazy and forget to eat. I don't eat until hours hours later and if I run at night, I'll sometimes fall asleep without eating anything until breakfast the next day.

I know it's important to eat after a workout so you restore your muscle... glycogen? And your muscles can repair and build, but if I don't eat, what happens? Why do I need to restore my muscle glycogen stores?
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Depends how often and how hard you work out. Unless you work out intensely 5 or more days a week for an hour or more each time, or unless you work out for more than two hours at a time, eating right after a workout isn't critical.

The rational behind eating after a workout is that your glycogen stores replenish maximally for 1 hour after working out. If you miss that window it can take up to 24 hours to replenish fully.

However, this only matters if A)you plan to work out strenuously in less than 24 hours or b) you don't eat enough carbs in your everyday diet to replenish.

So, more than likely it isn't a problem at all! 
I usually workout for a long time, like 1-2 hours. That's why I'm so tired when I get back home. But I'm eating enough. I usually eat a lot during the day and then run at night and fall asleep sometimes without  eating a post workout meal. What are glycogen stores? What do they do for my body and why do I need to replenish them? 
This is really a big topic to cover, but if you are working out for that long, you should probably consider reading some sports nutrition books.  Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes by Monique Ryan is a good one, and Nancy Clark has some good stuff too.  If you're doing that much exercise, and it's cardio, then you definitely fall into the 'endurance' category. 

If you are tired to the point where it's affecting your workout and making you that tired, you should probably consider consuming something during the long workouts to help fuel yourself.  Energy gels or drinks are good.  For post-workout food, it doesn't need to be much (4:1 ratio of carb to protein is recommended), and you can drink an Accelerade or eat an energy bar on the way home from the gym to meet this requirement.

Here are some articles for you: ition/a/Carbohydrates.htm a/aa081403.htm
when you deplete your gycogen stores, you will feel tired and sluggish, and your muscles recovery will be hampered. The biggest problem is when your blood sugar gets too low, your body goes into freak out mode and starts to produce insuline to help replenish glycogen stores in the muscles. The problem is your body won't just stop when you have enough glycogen it will overproduce to prevent another blood sugar drop. Over production of insulin will cause bodyfat gain. Which is never a good thing, if you often don't feel like eating at least get a recovery drink and keep it in the car, so you can drink it on the way home
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Is there a way to tell (by tracking hunger, or something) whether your body is overproducing insulin as a result of this effect? Could you be gaining more fat than you're losing or would you just slow down progress some?

And would a (pretty tough) 1-hr workout 3x/week pose a danger of this happening?

I have the opposite problem. I work out after work (7-9 pm), and even with a healthy snack beforehand (some plain yogurt with fruit/nuts) I often feel like I'm starving at the gym. Makes it harder to get through the set of weight machines when I feel light-headed.

I sometimes break down and get gatorade or an energy bar, but I really hate to use calories on "non-food" instead of being able to go home and eat  real food for dinner.

the only way to tell, is if you gain weight! by then it is too late
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Could I be at risk of this happening with 3x/week of a hard 1-hour workout?

I have gained weight since I started but it's so hard to tell if it's muscles retaining water, or muscles building, or actual weight (fat) gain. On the other side of things I don't want to eat too much because that would cause me to gain fat too. I guess I'm not sure how to strike a balance.
Dec 05 2007 20:53
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For the love of god, consume something after a hard workout. If you cant handle real food at least take down a shake. Post work-out nutrition is vital for health, weightloss, and living. You are using energy your body needs you must replace it. You will go into starvation mode, your body will eat away at your muscles slowing weight loss. You will be very surprised at how much wieght you can lose by eating after your workout. You will be putting your body at risk for some serious issues and injury. No matter how much you believe not eating will make you lose weight you are wrong.

heres one article explaing it there are millions of others.


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OK sorry I didn't mean to mislead -- I DO eat after a hard workout. If for no other reason than just good ol' hunger!! But sometimes it takes a little while -- I clean up after myself at the gym, then have a 15-ish min drive home. I usually grab a few handfuls of something, then take a shower, prepare my meal and only then eat. I don't know what sort of time scale this insulin response works on. But I guess the thinking is I don't want to eat too many cals right after the workout, because I know I will have the cals in my dinner anyway.
The single best thing for me after a workout is a big glass of skim milk. Sometimes I even put some low-sugar chocolate syrup in it. I find that it takes the edge of my hunger and has just the right balance of carbs and protein, and it's really refreshing.
fowerbud, as long as your diet is good, most likely you are gaining muscle, with a little water and fat. try to get your body fat tested about once  every four weeks to help track your progress.
I would just take a protein bar and or a piece of fruit and eat those on your drive home.  Have a peanut butter sandwich.  
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That's the thing though -- I don't WANT to gain fat. I'm fine with gaining muscle, but I'm also ok with maintaining muscle. Fat gained will just have to be lost later... also the exercises I am doing supposedly target fat loss... so why am I gaining fat??

I bought a box of Kashi bars. A lot of times I'll have one shortly before I work out. I will have one right after. Or a glass of milk when I get home sounds nice too!
Well, you might find  Build and Burn by Mike Roussell an interesting read on that front - it's basically close to impossible to only add fat-free mass while training, which is why bodybuilders alternate bulking and cutting cycles.

 The strategies for doing so vary widely, of course, but The Fat Loss Troubleshooter: A New Bodybuilder's Algorithm by Dr. Lonnie Lowery is a good place to start thinking about where you could make changes.

 Oh, and are you following that nutritional regime from Dave Barr in that article you showed me? I switched over to following Barr's instructions - which is exactly what BodyScience told me to do some time earlier, if I'd paid attention in class back then I'd have made the transition months ago - and the results have been extremely satisfactory to say the least.
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I am A-OK with not being able to only add fat-free mass. I would be plenty happy with just losing the fat and maintaining the fat-free mass. This is to avoid needing a cutting cycle later.

I will read both of those links, I am wondering though how much time I need to give this before I start to trouble shoot. I have been doing the Real Fast Fat Loss for about 4 weeks now; I think tonight is my last day of Week 4. Is it too early to draw conclusions or is it appropriate?

The Dave Barr article -- I assume you're referring to The Top 10 Post Workout Nutrition Myths? I have to admit I am not, except where I happen to unintentionally (which, having written this, seems to happen more than I thought). I am reluctant about the drinks because I prefer "real" food to something that has been processed to "just-add-water" form. You could probably call me out on that since I know I do eat processed foods... but I would prefer to get the appropriate nutrients from "real" food, if that makes sense. I do eat breakfast and other balanced food throughout the day, and I do like to "fuel" on something before the workout (the pre-workout feedings he recommends). I also often eat right before I go to bed ("nocturnal feedings"), more by necessity since by time I eat after getting home from the gym it's pretty much bedtime. But for that reason too I don't often get a chance to fit in multiple post-workout meals. So I guess the part of his advice I DON'T follow is the multiple post-workout shakes, and my nutrition is in solid instead of liquid form.

Does solid food really decrease the benefits that much over a shake? If I were to follow the advice in the article, I would basically eat solid food until early evening. This usually consists of breakfast around 9, lunch around 1, a snack in the afternoon (4-ish or whenever I get hungry). Then maybe at 6-6:30 I would have my shake and go work out, maybe 7-8. Then at 9 I would have another shake, and a third at 10... but the point is I wouldn't have any solid food for dinner. Which seems a little odd... is this how it works out for you?
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OK, one more thing.

The way I understand it, it is possible to add fat-free mass while losing fat -- it's just horribly inefficient. After all, if it takes a consistent caloric deficit to lose both and a consistent surplus to gain both, what happens if you have neither (ie eat maintenance calories) and train?

Also, I can live with a tradeoff between how strict you're willing to be about this (in my case: how much of my sanity I'm willing to give up) and the efficiency of results. But common sense would tell me that even if you don't monitor your diet as closely as these articles would suggest you should, but generally eat a clean and balanced one, that your work in the gym would pay off, though perhaps at a slower rate. But the results I've seen seem to counteract this argument. I think I am eating a very reasonable diet (in terms of "cleanliness", balance, and calories) and it certainly feels like I am doing my part in the gym. And I would have expected and been happy with a slow decrease in measurements. But what doesn't make sense is so far I have only seen an INCREASE in both measurements and weight.

So the obvious "answer" here is that I must either be eating too much or not working out enough... which is a bit scary considering I don't feel like I could eat much less (without living hungry, I mean), so if this is all I get to eat with this kind of exercise, I'm a little nervous about what my diet would have to look like if I stopped exercising so vigorously.

I guess these are mostly "thoughts for open-ended advice" rather than specific questions...
solid food takes longer to digest, which means you could miss the "anabolic window" which is when your body will use nutrients the best. There is nothing wrong with what you are doing as long as you consume enough protein. But trying to lose weight too fast can really back fire,and cause fat gain
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I will try to increase my protein consumption, especially at dinner. I do like my carbs. :) Also the Dave Barr article I linked to in the last post says that there are a lot of different opinions on how long this "window" is, and he seems to agree with the conclusion of a recent study that it actually lasts 24 hours.

Also -- definitely not trying to lose weight too fast, I'd be happy not losing any weight at all! My goal is to decrease body fat percentage.  But I am not happy GAINING weight, which is what has been happening (well, unless it is purely muscle weight, which apparently is impossible...)
don't sweat the weight, get your body fat tested once a month, it will be a better measuring tool. the window refers to when your body needs the most nutrients and really needs the nutrients. It is very difficult for the body to have a 24 anabolic window, in fact I would  go as far as saying it is impossible.
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