Post-workout nutrition can be a bit of a complicated topic. Some research studies say that you should have your meal/shake immediately after your workout. Other studies say that you have a 45-minute window. And other studies say that you can refuel any time within 2 hours.
And that’s just talking about nutrition timing, let alone what you should be including in your post-workout meal!
To make it easier for you, here are a summary of the post-workout nutrition “rules” that will help you get the most from your training.
Why is Post-Workout Nutrition So Important?
Post Workout Nutrition is simply the nutrition that you give your body after training. It has 3 specific, and very important, purposes:
- Refill glycogen levels (your energy stores)
- Reduce protein breakdown (increase muscle size/quality)
- Increase protein synthesis (repair any damage caused by the workout)
Optimum post-workout nutrition can therefore re-energize your muscles, enhance the recovery process for reduced incidence of injury, and improve your performance in subsequent workouts.
Yes, what you eat post-workout is a big deal!
Forcing Your Muscles to Get Bigger and Stronger
The process of working out is simple – You’re breaking down the muscles and then repairing them so that they are stronger and bigger than what they were before the workout.
This process happens through the breakdown of old, damaged proteins (called Protein Breakdown) and the build-up of new ones (called Protein Synthesis). This process of breakdown and build up is called Protein Turnover.
As I’m sure you can imagine, during a workout there is more of a breaking down of proteins rather than building up of proteins. Every muscle-up or human flag you perform actually breaks down your muscles a little further, which represents an opportunity to build them back up, bigger and stronger.
This muscle growth (called Muscle Hypertrophy) occurs when Protein Synthesis outpaces Protein Breakdown.
The protein breakdown process happens during the workout and the process of protein synthesis happens through many things post-workout, one of these being your nutritional choices.
Multiple studies have shown that with correct post-workout nutrition, protein synthesis is stimulated and protein breakdown is suppressed, which is why this topic is so important!
However, simply eating more protein is not the answer. (Fellas, put down that scoop of protein for just a minute!)
I’m sure you’ve experienced this feeling: You’ve just finished a tough workout – your muscles are pumped and your endorphins are flowing. But your body feels exhausted.
This is a sign that your body’s stored carbohydrates (glycogen levels) are significantly depleted. Glycogen is basically sugar (i.e. carbohydrates) that’s stored in your muscles as an easily-accessible form of energy. Once it’s depleted, it takes time and nutrition to build it back up.
This is why it’s so important to get a combination of protein AND carbohydrates after your exercise sessions.
Now, you can definitely eat a meal of chicken breast and brown rice after an exercise session, however whole food meals aren’t necessarily the most beneficial choice.
What? Aren’t whole foods are supposed to be the pinnacle of proper nutrition?
This may be true in most cases (a whole food diet is great!), but post-workout there are two reasons why things are different:
1. Whole foods take longer to digest – and after a workout you want the nutrients delivered as quickly as possible to your muscles
2. Some people don’t have the appetite immediately after training, therefore eating whole foods isn’t desirable
This is when liquid forms of nutrition (i.e. shakes and smoothies) come into play.
With more intense workouts, I suggest you start by taking 30 grams of carbohydrates and 15 grams of protein per hour of workout time. So, if you make it through a 2-hour workout, your post-exercise meal will include at least 60 grams of carbs and 30 grams of protein.
This applies primarily to workouts focused on building muscle. Exercisers who are looking to shed 10 pounds or more don’t need to be as concerned with carbohydrate:protein ratios as they do with their overall calorie intake. Achieving a modest calorie deficit should be their overall nutritional goal.
Want some recipe ideas?
Try these 4 simple smoothies that provide the protein and carbs your muscles are looking for post-workout:
The Green Monster
Roasted Strawberry Smoothie (omit the sugar!)
Raspberry Almond Chia Smoothie
When Should You Eat?
You now know that getting the right type of post-workout nutrition will aid your body in enhancing Protein Synthesis, ultimately leading to a leaner, stronger you. But when should you eat these perfect meals?
This concept has many names: Some call it the “window of opportunity,” some call it the “golden hour.”
In simple terms, studies have shown that there is a time window during which your body is geared to accept nutrients that will inspire muscle repair, muscle growth and muscle strength.
This window “opens” immediately after your workout and closes sometime 1-2 hours later.
If your body receives the correct nutrients during this window of opportunity, you’ll receive the maximum benefits because your muscles are literally primed to devour any nutrients you send their way.
On the other hand, if your body doesn’t receive the correct nutrition during this window, even if it’s only an hour after the window “closes,” you run the risk of decreased muscle glycogen stores and inhibited protein synthesis.
In other words, you won’t maximize the muscle gains you could have achieved. So, work hard and then eat (or drink) up!