by Stephanie Greunke
With the endless list of post-workout nutrition options out there, who would think to look in the baby food aisle? Turns out those little jars of fruits and vegetables aren't just for diaper-clad babies in high chairs. If you've witnessed a shredded bodybuilder downing Gerbers after a workout, you know it's a funny sight. So why turn to Stage 1 purees to recharge? There are a few reasons.
1. Nutrient Profile : Just like real food combinations, baby food combinations can provide a good balance of the three macronutrients: carbs, fat, and protein. Although your body's post-workout (PWO) needs vary based on the type and intensity of exercise you do, PWO nutrition pretty much boils down to the right balance of carbohydrates and protein. So how much of each of those nutrients is in a typical jar of baby food? Let's look at the nutrition facts for three varieties of baby food, paying special attention to their carb/protein profile:
Earth's Best Apples and Cinnamon Oatmeal:
Fat: 1 g
Total Carbohydrate: 23 g
Protein: 2 g
Earth's Best Tender Beef Spinach:
Fat: 7 g
Total Carbohydrate: 7 g
Protein: 5 g
Earth's Best Country Vegetable Chicken:
Calories: 100 g
Fat: 2.5 g
Total Carbohydrate: 14 g
Protein: 4 g
So how does this compare to a typical non-Stage 1 PWO snack? As an example, GNC's Total Lean Shake has 9 grams of protein per serving and 30 grams of total carbohydrate. You'll need to eat a few jars of baby food to get as much protein as this particular shake, but the carbohydrate content is about the same. If you're a serious athlete training at high intensity, you'll probably need more than that. Otherwise, baby food stands on its own two feet, infantile though it may be.
2. Digestibility . Baby food is also easy for the body to assimilate. Just think about the fact that a 6-month-old baby's fragile and rapidly expanding stomach is able to digest it comfortably. Although the research hasn't irrefutably proven that purees are better than solid foods after a workout, they're certainly easier on the stomach. If you have a hard time eating after a long workout, you still need to give your body the nutrients it needs. Baby food can be a gentle but nutritious option if you have a sensitive stomach.
3. Convenience . Baby food is also very convenient for post-workout nutrition. You can pack several jars or plastic containers in your gym bag for on-the-go fuel that is also inexpensive and shelf stable. And with all the varieties out there, you can mix and match fruits, vegetables, and meat products to get the best macronutrient profile for your particular needs. A jar or two of baby sweet potatoes with a hardboiled egg is a healthy post-workout snack that provides protein, carbs, and fat.
Personally, I have reservations about eating some varieties of baby food, for the same reason I'm hesitant to give them to my own young children. Baby food can be surprisingly high in sodium, sugar, and other undesirable preservatives. For example, that "Country Vegetable Chicken" dinner above contains 75 mg of sodium, which is quite a lot for a baby and for an adult. A 2009 study by researchers at the Children's Food Campaign found that some varieties had more sodium per 100 grams than a fast food cheeseburger. A good rule of thumb? If you wouldn't give it to your baby, don't eat it yourself.
In fact, if you find that you like the consistency of pureed food after a workout, you can easily get the nutrition and texture without having to worry about undesirable added ingredients by making it at home. It's super easy to make: cook your vegetables, fruit, or meat, mash it up with a fork or in a blender, and freeze in ice cube trays. It may not be as convenient as the shelf-stable stuff, but at least you know exactly what's in it.
Keep in mind that the exact details of post-workout nutrition vary based on the kind of exercise you just completed. Endurance training, for example, is going to require more carbohydrates than a strength training workout. The important thing is that you give your body quality food that is easily assimilated. If Gerbers is your way to get those nutrients, go for it. But personally, I wouldn't recommend the "mac 'n' cheese" varieties.
Stephanie Greunke is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Personal Trainer, and Whole Health Educator specializing in paleo nutrition, fitness, and holistic wellness. She's a contributor to BreakingMuscle.com, a site for elite athletes, trainers, and coaches