For many people, training is the easy part. It’s getting the diet right that can be a challenge. Beyond making good food choices and feeding yourself the proper amount of calories, there is also an option as to when you give your body key nutrients. The right timing of meals can help you get the most out of your training. One very key period is the post workout time. How should you feed yourself after you train?
The training period by far will be the most demanding time of day for your body. In that 60-90 minute period you have easily burned 400-600 calories, (possibly a lot more depending on your level) plus you’ll have triggered your resting metabolism into an elevated state. You will have reduced and possibly depleted your muscle and liver glycogen stores, broken down muscle tissue, lost fluids via perspiration and respiration and reduced your normal level of hydration, and even taxed yourself mentally on occasion. During rest, your body will recover and repair the damage from the workout and ultimately grow stronger, leaner, and more muscular. Proper post workout nutrition is a big part of that process.
The good thing is that practicing good post workout nutrition isn’t hard. It’s just something you need to be aware of and do with consistency. Basically, after your workout you will need protein and carbohydrates. Ideally you’ll want fast digesting carbs unless you’re deep into prep mode, and low fat easy to digest protein.
After training, especially intense resistance work, your body needs protein/amino acids to start the repair process. You have stimulated your body to repair and grow via the damage you did in training. The amino acids from protein are the raw materials it will use for this. Yes, your body will have some amino’s available in the bloodstream from prior meals if you’ve been eating properly. But if you want to maximize the repair and growth process and allow it to continue, the last thing you want is a gap in your nutrient deliver and uptake at the time when your body is most ready for it. You wouldn’t want to run out of bricks or concrete when your workforce arrives to build your new home. Delaying the feeding process for no good reason and allowing any current store of amino acids you have to become depleted will not help you make the best longterm progress.
You also need to replenish your muscle and liver glycogen stores with carbohydrates so that you can be fully recovered for your next workout. Your body can replenish up to 75 percent of its muscle glycogen stores within the first 2 hours after training. That’s where the theories on the “2-hour growth window” come from. It is really a window of opportunity to maximize your recovery. And since you won’t grow until after you recover, twiddling your thumbs and playing video games instead of properly fueling your body will not help you. Training has created a heightened need for nutrients and your body is prepared to uptake them if you make them available.
If you are controlling the amount of carbs you intake for fat loss purposes, taking them in pre and post workout are great options. If your body does not recover from your training, not only will this effect your future workouts but also your ability to build/keep muscle, which will slow your metabolism making fat loss more challenging. The sooner you can feed yourself after training, the sooner your body can start repairing the damage and building new tissue.
Yes, the body can create needed glycogen out of protein, but it is an inefficient process and not ideal for recovery, growth, or even maintenance as it will break down muscle tissue as part of the process. (If you are on an extremely low carb or ketogenic diet, that’s a topic I will cover in an upcoming article) Fats consumed immediately post workout can slow the digestion and uptake of protein and carbs so it would be better to stay with low fat food choices, at least for that first post training meal.
A very popular and effective option for the serious trainee is the post workout shake. This can be a quick and easy way to give yourself needed nutrients, especially if you won’t be able to eat a solid meal for some time. Having a fast acting protein source like whey hydrolysates will almost immediately feed your muscles, bypassing the normal time frame it would take for digestion and absorption. Combining this with high glycemic, fast acting carbs to trigger an insulin release for faster and better uptake of glycogen and other nutrient into the muscle will really maximize your nutrient replenishment and therefore recovery. This is a great option if you will do multiple workouts within a day (like an MMA fighter or triathlete) or your training is so long as to have pushed you past an ideal eating time window.
Here’s a basic breakdown of some post workout options:
Post Training Meal (20-30 minutes after workout)
Lean Protein: chicken, fish, egg whites
Fast Digesting Carbs: White rice, white potato, rice cakes, melon, banana, etc. (can use high sugar options during a bulking phase – just keep them low fat)
Post Workout Shake: Whey Isolate or Whey Blend plus fast digestion carbs (can be part of a shake or eaten)
Post Training Meal (60-90 minutes after shake)
Protein: chicken, fish, lean steak
Medium or Slow Carbs: red potato, sweet potato, brown rice, black beans, etc.
Option 3: (for low carb or keto dieters)
Post Workout Supplements: Bcaa’s, creatine, L-glutamine (for glycogen replenishment in the absence of carbs)
Post Training Meal: (30-60 minutes after training)
Protein: chicken, turkey, fish, steak, eggs,
Fibrous Carbs: broccoli, greeen beans, mixed veggies, leafy green salad, etc.
Fats: EVOO, avocado, walnuts, almonds, coconut oil, hard cheese, etc.
If your goal is to get the best possible recovery and growth, then your post workout nutrition needs to be consistently optimal. If it isn’t, you risk not getting all the results that you earned with your hard training. Progress can often be slow at best, especially as you become more advanced. Make sure that you are getting the best possible progress by using your post workout nutrition to give your body the nutrients it needs the most during the time it can best utilize them.
Photo: C. Redd