Most gym goers are completely unaware of how important post-workout nutrition really is. When you are in a training session or working out, you are under stress and creating microscopic damage within the body. In order for the body to heal itself, it has to be supplied with the right nutrients in order for recovery and growth to occur. Remember, exercise is just the stimulus, the actual results occur when you are recovering. Post-workout nutrition is your time to cash in on this opportunity. So why is this the case and how does this work?
Types Of Nutrients To Eat
The best nutrients to eat post-workout are high glycemic carbohydrates (CHO) and protein. High glycemic CHO is the staple nutrient to eat post-workout. In my other article, Should Athletes Use Low-Carb Diets?, I mentioned the CHO is the only nutrient that can be burned anaerobically. Anaerobic means without oxygen. Strength training (barbell training, calisthenics, plyometrics, kettlebells, etc.) and conditioning (sprinting, agility work, rope work, sled work, etc.) is mostly anaerobic training. If you are training in one or any of these disciplines, then you are training your anaerobic energy system; therefore, CHO is crucial to your success.
After anaerobic training sessions, your body’s supply of CHO (glycogen) is heavily taxed, and, depending on the intensity of the training session, drained. After training, the goal is to replenish these glycogen supplies so the body can begin the muscle repair process. Unfortunately, many well intentioned trainees do not understand this and as a result limit their recovery capacity.
Why Protein Alone Is Not Enough
The main reason why most trainees do not adequately resupply their muscles is due to the huge obsession with powdered protein. With the old diet fad of low-fat diets in the 1980’s and with the now emerged low-carb diets now protein has seen a recent upsurge in popularity. Many people believe that protein will help them big bigger muscles and will help them lose weight. Another turn on of these diets approach is the fact that they tell you to CONSUME MORE protein. It is much easier to tell people to eat more of something than to eat less of something. As much as I would love to go on a rant about this, Ill provide a link to an article conducted by The Washington Post about the popularity of protein for further interested readers.
Let’s get back to post-workout nutrition.
Most of the time when you ask gym goers what they have after a workout, they respond with a protein shake. Nothing personal against protein shakes, but they really don’t do much. In the previous section I explained that the most important thing to do after a workout is to replenish your body’s glycogen supply. Without this glycogen supply, protein synthesis is hindered. All that powdered protein is sent to the liver to be converted into glucose. Not much, if any, of it will actually be used to repair the damaged muscle. Therefore, in order to get the most bang for your buck, you need to eat at least a 2:1 CHO to protein ratio after a workout. If weight loss is the goal then lower the ratio to a 1:1. The main point is that you need to have CHO with your protein in order for that protein to be really effective.
Quick And Effective Post-Workout Meals
- Any plain flavored protein powders with cocoa powder, honey or maple syrup added.
- Chocolate milk, or any other flavored low-fat milk.
- Flavored protein powders with a few pieces of fruit added (banana, watermelon, etc.).
- Fruit smoothie with protein powdered added
As you can see, there are plenty of options and it takes nothing more than a slight change to your post-workout nutrition.
Time Is Of The Essence
There is a certain “magic window” after a training session that provides the most benefit for recovery and protein synthesis. Research shows that after training there is a brief 45-min window where eating an effective post workout meal has the most effect. Furthermore, the research also shows that if the post workout meal is consumed after that window (~2 hrs), then recovery is slowed significantly. The reason is because anaerobic training increases insulin sensitivity of the muscles. Eating CHO causes your pancreas to release insulin, which signals the muscles to take in key nutrients that it needs. With increased sensitivity, the muscles will take in nutrients quicker. This helps to give your body a huge jumpstart on the recovery process and get you ready for your next training session.