What Should I eat after a workout?
Coming off the heels of last week’s post where we went over what you should eat before a workout - it’s only natural to discuss what is best for post workout meals.
There are many myths when it comes to eating after a workout. Many believe that you need to drink a protein shake a minute after your workout is done (I used to believe this) or believe that eating after a workout only adds calories that you’ve just burned.
What I want to do for you here today is give you a sense of what each macronutrient does for the body and why it’s good to include them in your post-workout meals. I also want to give you ideas of what meals you should be eating after you put in the hard work in the gym. As always, the important thing here is making the most out of your workout by re-fueling the body properly!
What does post-workout nutrition do for you?
You’ve just wiped sweat from your brow and have a chance to sit in your car and take stock of the workout you just did. Maybe your legs are still shaking from that 500m row for time that you did. Maybe you are now feeling the endorphins pass through your body and you feel amazing and proud that you’ve accomplished your workout task of the day.
Now what? ..Your body is feeling primed for good nutrition to help it grow and progress the way that you want it.
If you care about your body composition, your performance and keeping your body injury free it’s vital that you consider your next meal.
During your post-workout phase your body has used its glycogen stores to fuel your workout, your muscles have potentially used protein to fuel your weight lifting, and you have slight tears from pushing heavy weights.
If you start filling your body with crap after a workout (ie. fast food, snacks, deserts) your body will not receive the same benefits and grow the way that it can with proper choices post workout.
You NEED to consider the benefits of eating a proper meal post workout. For example some of the benefits of post workout nutrition are
Less muscle soreness
Increased ability to build muscle
Improved immune function
Improved bone mass
Improved ability to utilize body fat
When you workout intensely what is happening on a micro level are small tears that need to be repaired in order to build muscle. You need to break it down to build it back up. I know the thought of your muscles “tearing” can be a bit off-putting but on a very small level this is the basis to getting stronger, and more lean.
Let’s talk a bit more about each macronutrient and why it’s important to make the most out of your workout.
Carbohydrates role after your workout
If you read last week’s post on what you should eat before a workout you now know that carbohydrate intake prior to a workout is important for maximizing potential energy to be used during your workout.
Carbs play a significant role in your post workout game as well and shouldn’t be avoided just because you hear “carbs are bad”!
After a workout, your glycogen stores have been used to generate energy for the muscles. When you feel that fatigue overtaking your body after a hard workout - your body is crying for energy, specifically carbohydrate to help replenish these lost storage's.
Keep in mind however the intensity and style of your workout. If you just did an hour of endurance training (went for a run, rowed, swimming etc.) your body would have used much more glycogen stores than if you kept strictly to resistance training (weight lifting, dumbbell circuits).
For example an endurance athlete who has a morning run and an evening run will need to eat far more carbohydrate to replenish, store, and to use for the second bout of exercise in a day.
For those who are lifting heavier weights for 45 minutes and doing a short burst of 10 minute cardio - the carbohydrates necessary will be far less (albeit, still necessary for proper recovery).
Protein is your powerhouse!
I think most people know that protein is one of the more important things to consider when we talk about post-workout nutrition. We’ve either all seen it or have done it ourselves...mixing up that protein shake after a workout and drinking it on your way home.
There is good reason that this is the norm - your body needs protein to help promote protein synthesis (the creation of new protein in your cells). What protein also does is to help prevent the breakdown of your muscle (muscle needs protein to repair itself, and grow).
In the past however - it was recommended by health professionals that protein be consumed almost immediately after you finish a workout to generate the growth and repair of your muscle tissue.
It was thought that this “anabolic window” was ever closing and that if you did not have protein within it, you would not benefit in the same way that you would have with fast-acting protein powder drinks. (more on timing later)
What about fats?
Fat’s don’t get the same excitement as carbs and protein when it comes to post workout nutrition. Fat has been thought (in the past) to slow your metabolism and therefore slow the process of repairing and rebuilding your muscle.
Fat shouldn’t be your main goal when it comes to post-exercise nutrition but it shouldn’t also be totally avoided.
Fat plays some role in muscle glycogen synthesis (repairing energy stores) but also does a far less better job than carbohydrates.
To keep it simple - fats should be eaten in moderation after your workout but not totally avoided!
Timing your post workout nutrition
This topic is by far the most popular... When is it most beneficial for your body to consume food after a workout to gain the biggest benefit?
As mentioned above there is this old belief that the “anabolic window” is a time shortly after a workout (45 minutes or so) in which you will gain the biggest benefits from eating protein and carbs.
This theory has since been re examined and re thought. It’s not like your body will start breaking down to a point that your workout is now keeping you from recovering and advancing yourself.
So what then, is the best time to eat a meal after your workout?
As long as you are eating a regular meal 1-2 hours after your workout you will reap the benefits of protein synthesis and the re absorption of nutrients.
You don’t need to stress if you forgot your protein shake, or if you have to run errands after your workout. As long as you are within 2 hours of finishing your workout - you can still have the same benefits as that person who is mixing their shake before their last set is done!
Keep in mind that it does matter when you last ate before your workout. If you for example fasted and did an early AM workout - you’ll want to try and eat closer to your workout, probably within the hour after finishing.
If you ate a pre-workout meal an hour before, you can wait up to 2 hours before eating a meal!
With everything it’s always relative to you as an individual and something that you will need to figure out on your own!
Great meal choices for post workout!
Based on when you last ate - you can go anywhere from 45 minutes - 2 hours before eating this post workout meal.
These meals should consist of mostly protein and carbs with water to help re hydrate you.
A good recommendation for protein amount will be about 40-60 grams for men (2 palms worth) and 20-30 grams for women (1 palm).
Carbohydrates should be in a similar fashion eating about 40-60 grams for men (2 cupped hands) and 20-30 grams for women (1 cupped hand).
Use some of these meals to help grow, repair, and ultimately make the changes you wish to see!
Grilled Chicken with roasted vegetables
Egg omelet with vegetables and a side of toast
Salmon and sweet potato
Tuna salad on whole grain bread
Cottage cheese with fruit
Protein shake with banana
Oatmeal, whey protein with almonds
Ground beef skillet with brown rice and broccoli
Make sure to focus mostly on your protein and carbohydrates in your post workout meals!
Drinking a shake is fine but it’s not the end all be all. Find what works best for you, enjoy your food and keep on progressing!
There’s no doubt that by eating these meals and having this information in mind will propel you to make that next milestone of change!