Fitness editor Jen Sinkler asks the experts when to eat after exercising, how often to change up a workout routine, how to look fresh after a workout and how to cure “computer neck.”
Q1: Eating After Exercise
How essential is timing for postworkout nutrition?
A: The answer varies depending on your fitness goals, and whether they involve fat loss, muscle building or sports performance. “Your body is better able to process and absorb nutrients — particularly carbohydrates — in the 60 minutes following your workout,” says Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS, author of Nutrition Periodization: Taking Traditional Sports Nutrition to the Next Level (Bull, 2011). “The general recommendation is to consume carbs, protein, water and a little salt as soon as you complete your workout, but this is aggressive for the recreational fitness buff.” Seebohar is referring to the fact that these guidelines were developed from scientific studies of endurance athletes, and he notes that the body can recover all of its carbohydrate stores within 24 hours following a workout, even without an emphasis on the postworkout window.
As you get leaner, nutrient timing becomes more important because you’re fine tuning, notes Jill Coleman, MS, ACSM, founder of MetabolicEffect.com. Especially if you want to add muscle, postworkout nutrition is “extremely important,” she says. “Eat a 1-to-1 ratio of protein (preferably whey, because it’s absorbed more quickly) and higher-glycemic-index carbohydrates (like bananas, potatoes or honey) within 60 minutes,” she explains. “This combination will maximize muscle synthesis, shut off cortisol (a muscle-stripping hormone) and facilitate recovery.”
If your primary goal is fat loss, though, you’ll want to take a different approach, says Coleman, because a high-carb postworkout meal blunts the fat-burning effect. She instead recommends choosing protein and fibrous veggies, and suggests waiting to eat for at least an hour or two after exercise.
Q2: Changing Up Your Fitness Routine
How frequently do I need to switch around my workout routine?
A: If you’re bored and your results have stagnated, it’s time for a change (the exception being those who have never stuck with any one program for longer than a few days). “A major goal of any training program should be to see constant improvement, and an effective way to achieve this is to vary your workout every three to six weeks. Early on in a new program, you should see consistent results, be it strength gains, weight loss or increased overall performance,” says Tyler English, PES, CPT, professional natural bodybuilder and coauthor of The FIT Formula (CelebrityPress, 2011). “But there will come a point where your strength plateaus and you may notice a decrease in your overall performance. You can combat this by increasing your intensity, tweaking the workout (varying repetitions, sets, rest periods and exercises) or changing the entire program every few weeks.”
Let’s say that you train three times a week, alternating between three different strength workouts over a four-week period, and that you do three sets of 12 reps of each exercise. Over the next four weeks, you might increase your number of sets to four and decrease the repetitions to eight. The increase in sets will allow your body to perform an increased work volume, and the decrease in repetitions will allow you to lift a greater total amount of weight. This will improve your results and keep things fresh — until it’s time to mix it up again. Consider working with a personal trainer who can help you periodically develop an updated program.
Q3: Freshening Up After a Workout
I want to work out over my lunch hour, but I don’t have time to totally redo my hair and makeup afterward. Any suggestions?
A: On workout days, make a conscious choice to keep your hairstyle natural and your makeup light from the beginning. “Use a mineral foundation that’s free of dyes, parabens, petrochemicals and perfumes,” suggests Bridget Lionetti, regional educator and master stylist at the Crosstown LifeSpa in Eden Prairie, Minn. “You don’t want a bunch of chemicals seeping into your skin, and you don’t want a heavy makeup blocking your pores and streaking.” With a high-quality mineral-based product, she explains, the minerals bind to each other and resist sweat. This means you may not need more than a light dusting of powder to eliminate shine postworkout — or you can just go with the glow.
When it comes to hair, your best bet is to start your workout days with a low-maintenance style that gets your hair off your face and neck. If your hair is long, wear it in a high ponytail, a messy bun or a braid. If you want to wear it down during the day, opt for a low, loose ponytail during your workout so you can simply shake it out afterward. If your hair is short, don a cute headband. Work a little water or styling spray through any dents left after the fact. Dry shampoo can blot up any oil or excessive moisture after your cool-down.
Fitness Fix: Curing “Computer Neck”
All that time at your desk can take a toll on your neck and cause problems throughout your upper body. Here’s how to do damage control.
Characterized by a forward-leaning head posture, “computer neck” is often accompanied by pain, tightness and loss of motion in the neck, shoulders and midback. It can also manifest as a headache, arm and hand disorders, or tightness or dysfunction of the jaw or lower back. The probable cause? Too much keyboard times spent jutting our chins toward the screen. “The weight of the head on the spine increases by 10 pounds for every inch your head moves forward, making the neck muscles work harder. This posture decreases the curve of the cervical spine, rounds the shoulders, displaces the first rib and jaw, contributes to core weakness, and inhibits the gluteal muscles,” says Amy Wunsch, MSPT, founder of Results Physical Therapy in Santa Clarita, Calif. “Get your workspace evaluated by a professional ergonomics expert,” she advises. Also, stand up a few times an hour, even if it’s just for a second.
Want to know if you fit the forward-head profile?
- Standing barefoot, simply look straight ahead with your arms resting at your sides.
- Have a friend take a picture of you in this position from the side.
The center opening of your ear, middle of your shoulder, hip, knee and ankle should be in vertical alignment. If your head rests in front of any of these points, you have computer neck.
Get Your Head Back in Line
If you’ve been building the muscle imbalances that result in computer neck for a while, it is going to take time and diligence to see significant results. You can expect a small amount of immediate improvement, says Wunsch, but consistency is key.
- Sitting or standing, tilt your sternum (breastbone) upward. Keep your chin parallel to the floor.
- Slowly glide your chin back until you feel a mild stretch in the back of your neck.
- Place a closed fist between your chin and chest.
- Nod your chin into your fist for five seconds. Repeat five times.
- Stand in a door frame with your elbow bent and right forearm on the wall just outside it. Your elbow should be at shoulder level.
- Step through the door frame with your right leg, keeping your shoulders square. Hold for 30 seconds.
- Repeat with your right arm straight, thumb facing the wall and hand at head height. Hold for 30 seconds.
- Repeat the position where you feel the most stretch in your chest three times on each side.
Repeat on the other side.