Sweet Potato Chia Seed Protein Pudding + Pre/Post Workout Nutrition Basics

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I crave this pudding ALL. THE. TIME. Yeah, it’s that good. It tastes like pumpkin pie and is filled with protein, healthy fats and fiber. This “pudding” takes almost no time to whip up and hangs out in the fridge until you are ready to devour it!

In my opinion this is a perfect post-workout option if mealtime is just a little too far away. I love having something all ready for me after I get back from a run or from climbing! It makes hitting that optimal window of recovery that much easier.

Let’s chat basic nutrition surrounding fitness and exercise. I will do a more in-depth post at some point but wanted to share my basic philosophies that I operate on. I’ll touch on how pre and post-workout fueling should differ due to they type of exercise performed, nutrient timing and some examples of pre and post-workout foods.

Post-workout nutrition certainly varies depending on the type of exercise you do. Generally broken down into two categories, aerobic and anaerobic exercise, fueling needs will differ after either one of these sessions. Aerobic and anaerobic exercise have different effects on the body due to the presence or lack of oxygen, respectively.

Aerobic exercise generally includes more steady-state activities such as running, swimming and biking. These types of exercise require your muscle cells to have constant fuel and oxygen. In this state, the muscle cells can perform repeatedly without fatigue. Think: a couple miles of running at a steady pace, a leisurely swim or a bike ride through gently rolling hills. Basically anything you can sustain over a long period of time. For all you rock climbers out there, sport climbing can be loosely filed under this category.

Anaerobic exercise on the other hand is defined as bursts of activity over a shorter period of time. The body, instead of using oxygen, pulls on energy stored in the muscles to create strength and power. This process is called glycolysis and is the type of exercise that can leave you feeling breathless. Think: sprinting, heavy weightlifting or jumping. Again, for the rock climbers out there, the intensity of bouldering hard moves can be considered largely anaerobic.

Now that we have a better understanding on the two main types of exercise, it’s easier to see why our bodies might need different nourishment after a workout depending on the type. If aerobic exercise is mainly your jam, long cardio sessions or climbing long sport routes where your body has been using primarily oxygen, the best source of refueling will be carbohydrates. Yes, protein is important too, but is better used by the body if consumed AFTER an aerobic workout. To recap: focus on protein and fat before a cardio-type workout and carbohydrates after.

Anaerobic exercise needs to be fueled a little differently. Since the body does not rely on oxygen in this state, only what is available in the muscle stores, those stores need to be replenished after they are broken down. Carbohydrate fueling before anaerobic exercise is your best bet for giving the muscles the fuel that they will need to use, while protein and a small amount of fat will help to repair the broken down muscle fibers.

Next, let’s talk nutrition timing post-workout. This is a controversial topic with plenty of literature already written, with plenty of testing done. That being said, I simply listen to my body and go from there. Analyzing how I feel immediately after and the day after to find what works best for me.

The long-touted “30 minute window” that is typically recommended after an exercise session does have some validity. However, there is some wiggle room depending on if your body is more fat-adapted or not. Fat-adapted athletes typically do not eat as often and can go longer stretches of time without needing fuel. Comparing this to a typical athlete largely fueled by quick burning carbohydrate stores, the key here is pay attention to how your body feels after refueling right away or waiting. If, one day, you refuel within one hour of a workout and another day, skip post-workout nutrition, compare the two to see how you feel and if skipping the post-workout nutrition causes more hunger later in the day.

Personally, I try to eat either a snack or a full meal within an hour after finishing a workout. I try to not go longer than that because I can get overly hungry and have a hard time recovering for my next workout. This means I bring snacks EVERYWHERE with me! I always have meat sticks and fruit bars in my purse so I can be sure I’m getting adequate pre or post-workout nutrition so I can fuel my body adequately for recovery. It does take a little planning ahead but is so worth it when meal times seem really far away and the climbing session went longer than I thought 😉

Now for the fun part: foods I love and use for pre and post-workout nutrition. I tend to perform best on a mixture of carbohydrates and protein before my workouts with a small amount of fat. Typically for me, this is either a breakfast of chicken sausage, sweet potato and some veggies or a meat stick + fruit bar consumed about an hour and a half before my workout. I’ve found this hour and a half window works best for my body and being able to digest food properly before a workout, but some people might be able to eat right beforehand. It all depends on your personal preference, play around with it and see what works best for you!

After a workout, if my normal meal time isn’t close enough, I love to have things like this chia pudding on hand. Other options include meat sticks, a piece of fruit or leftover sweet potatoes. Smoothies are great options with blended fruit, protein and some greens. Brands I love for on-the-go nutrition include EPIC bars, Rx bars and these fruit-based Kind bars. However, if I’m at home I will either make a tasty smoothie or nosh some pudding!

Okay, okay let’s get on to the real star of the show. Want to learn more about all the benefits of chia seeds? I wrote a post you can find here.

NOTES: This chia seed pudding is super customizable. Don’t have sweet potato on hand? Cool, switch it out for canned pumpkin or butternut squash. Don’t have coconut milk? Use whatever dairy or non-dairy milk you have on hand. The collagen can be switched out for your favorite vanilla protein powder! Lastly, you can switch out the pumpkin pie spice for plain cinnamon. The only thing that reaaaalllyy needs to stay the same is the chia seeds 😉 They give the pudding an amazing texture and thickness!

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Sweet Potato Chia Seed Protein Pudding

(PALEO, GLUTEN-FREE, DAIRY-FREE, WHOLE30 option, GRAIN FREE, VEGAN)
SERVES 3-4
PREP TIME: 5 MINUTES            COOL TIME: 2 HOURS

Ingredients:

1½ c. coconut milk, canned or from a carton (read above NOTES section for substitutions)

¾ c. sweet potato puree, pumpkin or butternut squash (can use canned or homemade)

¼ c. maple syrup, honey, liquid sweetener of choice (or 2 dates, pitted for Whole30)

¼ c. collagen protein or vanilla protein powder of your choice

¼ c. chia seeds

2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

toppings (optional): unsweetened coconut flakes, pumpkin seeds, more chia seeds, gluten-free granola, dried blueberries, dried cranberries, or any chopped nuts.

Method:

  1. Combine all ingredients except for toppings in a blender and blend until the mix has reached a smooth consistency.
  2. Divide into 3 or 4 small containers and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours to thicken.
  3. Top with desired toppings and enjoy after a workout, for breakfast or at anytime!

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