Time to chat about post-workout nutrition because it’s super important :) What we eat after a workout is essential to recovery and achieving our goals. I remember that some of my friends in college did not want to eat after a workout because they thought they were “un-doing” everything they did. This was so not me – no, I usually rushed to the pasta bar which was still doing my body a disservice but at least I was not starving myself.
I usually have a hard boiled egg and a banana right after I finish a workout. (Then I have my “breakfast” or my first meal of the day). IMPORTANT NOTE: Your post-workout does not replace a meal – it is a necessary source of additional nutrients.
I am really excited to dive into this in more detail in my studies in my Sports Nutrition course as right now my coursework has only scratched the surface. So what do I think we need to eat post-workout?
Protein + Carbohydrates + Water
Protein, carbs and water are the necessary components in order to replenish our body, glycogen storage (the storage of carbohydrates in our muscles and liver, aka our energy) and re-build our muscles. Am I getting too science-y? I promise it will make sense.
So what do you eat? Well, that’s not an easy answer. Your post-workout nutrition really depends on you, your body, your activity and your goals.
But I want to give you a few quick tips in thinking about your post-workout nutrition.
Timing: Various research shows the importance of eating/drinking within 10-45 minutes of activity. After exercise, our bodies have tiny tears in our muscles. Our body is likely dehydrated and possibly even glycogen deficient. The enzymes that help our bodies re-synthesize our muscle glycogen (energy) are most active following exercise – the longer we wait to eat, the longer it takes to recover. Your body is best at storing this recovery nutrition right after exercise so be prepared and eat something when you are still sweating! It’s super easy for me to throw a hard boiled egg and banana into my gym bag before leaving the house.
Protein: Protein provides the necessary amino acids for muscle proteins to repair. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and we need to obtain the essential amino acids because our body cannot produce them. Our muscles are made up of three branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) and the most abundant of these BCAAs is called leucine (it is believed to best stimulate muscle protein synthesis). Therefore we need to replenish our body by eating (or drinking) sources of protein – especially leucine.
Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are needed to replace the glycogen loss and increase their storage. Carbs are the most effective way to reduce post-workout soreness as well.
Hydration: Water is necessary to replace the loss of water we experienced through exercise. Our body is made up of 70% water – our blood is 90% water. We need water in order for our systems to function properly and effectively.
So what exactly and how much do you need to eat?
Well, as I said, this depends on you: your body, your activity and your goals.
Your body: How tall are you? How old are you? What is your body composition?
Your activity: How intense is your activity? Are you going for a walk, a 3 mile run, a 10 mile run, lifting weights, or yoga? How hard did you work? (Be honest…)
Your goals: Are you looking to lose weight? Are you striving to maintain weight? Are you aiming to gain weight?
I wish I could write a customized plan for each and every one of you (I can one day if you want to be my client!) but right now I can offer this:
An excessive amount of protein is not necessary. Most studies show that our bodies do not absorb more than 20g of protein at one time. Half of a “meal size”* portion of protein is a good place to start for your post-workout nutrition. The best foods containing the amino acid leucine are found in animal protein sources: chicken, beef, eggs, whey protein and other high quality dairy sources.
Your post-workout carbohydrate is very important too. Half to a full “meal size”* portion of carbs is also a good place to start. Your protein to carbohydrate ratio will (of course) depend on your goals. If you are looking to gain muscle (aren’t we all?), look to eat higher glycemic carbohydrates with lower fructose content (like bananas, apricots, prunes, kiwis and cherries) and starchy veggies (like sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin and beets).
And of course – drink lots of water. What’s lots? I’m not going to tell you “8 glasses a day!” or “# of ounces”. I really think that’s silly because we are all grown-ups. Drink water. Pee often. It shouldn’t be too yellow.
*What the heck is a “meal-size”?! Good question: my meal-size is different from yours and yours is different from mine. How much would you eat at a meal to feel full? Eat about half of that after a workout. REMEMBER: your post-workout is not replacing a meal*
I want to touch on protein powder and protein shakes really quickly. I haven’t used protein powder in awhile as I don’t really consider it to be “food” (and you know how I feel about eating real food) but I do think it could be a beneficial option (for some). Edited: I have since found success with a post-workout smoothie. Click here for the recipe.
The idea behind protein shakes is that it skips a digestive step because the nutrition is already in liquid form. Without giving you even more nerdy-science-confusing-speak… because our bodies do not have to work as hard to break the shake down some believe we absorb the nutrients better. Better absorption, better performance? Maybe.
Now there are plenty of junk protein powders out there – heavily processed, filled with sugar and other chemicals. I have tried quite a few protein powders (like these and these). I really like North Coast Naturals’ brown rice protein powder because it is virtually tasteless and plant-based. However, it is also not a complete source of protein and therefore not as high in leucine. In order to obtain all of the amino acids, taking a BCAA supplement (like in capsule form) is an option. If you are looking for a complete protein source for your shakes, 100% New Zealand whey is ideal.
There is no “one size fits all approach” to anything. The moral of the story is this: your body needs to recover from the losses you undertook during the exercise. You need to repair your muscles, refuel your tank, and rehydrate. Depending on you, your body, your activity and your goals this varies from person to person.
I have tried a variety of post-workout snacks and meals over the years. From stuffing my face with pasta, to a few different protein oatmeal creations (like this one and this one), to protein pancakes (like these and these), to experimenting with a bunch of protein powders (like these and these), to a hard boiled egg and banana. I am getting stronger but could I perform even better? (Now, I’m not trying to get greedy or anything…) Maybe. There’s always room to improve and try new things.
Do you feel like you are getting the best results and making the most out of your workouts? If not, then maybe it is time to change things up.
Disclaimer: I am studying to become a Registered Nutritional Consulting Practitioner but I am not a doctor or personal trainer. My blog posts are based upon my coursework, additional research, personal views and experiences. For specific questions regarding your diet and exercise plan, please consult a professional.
Questions of the day…
What do you eat after a workout?
What are your thoughts about protein shakes?
Are the above “infographics” helpful?!
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