What you eat is important, but when you eat can be the key to your goals.
Understand what is post workout nutrition to maximize your workouts
Just as the name implies “post workout nutrition” is what you eat, or consume after you are done exercising. It’s a broad topic, but there are three essential elements:
- The body manages nutrients differently at different times, depending on type and level of activity.
- Your before, during, and especially post nutrition is important.
- When you consume certain nutrients after you exercise (hence, post-workout nutrition), your body composition, performance, and recovery improve.
There are a lot of studies that examine the composition of sports drinks to variations on amino-acid profiles. New studies keep revealing post-workout nutrition strategies for professional athletes and everyday recreational exercisers.
Why should you care about your post workout meals? There are three main benefits:
- Decrease protein breakdown
- Increase protein synthesis
- Replenish glycogen
Or, said another way, it will:
- Repair damaged from training
- Make your muscles bigger and/or better
- Replace your energy stores
All of this helps you to look better, perform better, and stay injury-free so you can continue to feel great.
Other benefits of proper post-workout nutrition are:
- Improved ability to build muscle
- Improved bone mass
- Improved ability to utilize body fat
- Improved immune function
- Improved recovery
- Less muscle soreness
These benefits are not based on gender or age. Everyone can experience the upside of good post-workout nutrition strategies.
Why is nutrition during and post workout so important?
Intense exercise damages muscle tissue at the cellular level and our bodies need energy.
That is how you get bigger (or smaller), leaner, and stronger. To do this, you need to repair immediately.
Recovery, or repairing and building, happens by breaking down old, damaged proteins (protein breakdown) and the making of new ones (protein synthesis) – together, these processes are known as “protein turnover.”
After resistance training, protein breakdown is very high, while muscle protein synthesis is slightly increased, at best, or not changed at all. Basically, your body is breaking down more than building up after a workout.
When people speak of metabolism in regards to muscle, they are actually talking about these two restrictions:
- Rate of muscle protein synthesis
- Rate of muscle protein breakdown
For muscle hypertrophy (growth), there needs to be a positive protein balance during recovery. So, when you provide your body with the nutrients it needs for protein synthesis to happen, you don’t fall behind protein breakdown.
Here you can see how endurance athletes may struggle with protein synthesis dropping and when protein breakdown increases.
Studies have proven the role the right type of nutrients plays in this trend. Specifically, after exercise, protein synthesis can be stimulated, and protein breakdown can be suppressed.
The misconception is that protein is the only concern. When you workout, stored carbohydrates are considerably tapped.
So, post workout, you need both protein and carbs.
The nutrients you give your body through the consumption of food/supplements during the workout and the periods after your workout are critical to establishing the idea metabolic environment.
What you should know about workout nutrition
Accessibility largely influences the delivery and transport of amino acids and glucose.
Said differently, for your body to use nutrients to rebuild and recover, those nutrients need to be accessible. And if they are not, your body is less likely to use them. Just by having what your body needs the body understands what to do next – repair.
The two ways to improve accessibility are:
- Consuming amino acid/glucose mix during and after exercise will increase the rate of protein synthesis
- Capitalizing on the increase of blood to your skeletal muscles during and after exercise because nutrients are moving through your body faster
So, improve accessibility by increasing rapid blood circulation and providing the blood with more nutrients.
A “window of opportunity”
The “window of opportunity” is a workout nutrition phenomenon. Specifically, during and after a workout.
Your muscles are ready to accept nutrients and stimulate muscle growth, muscle repair, and muscle strength.
As the term suggests, this window starts to close quickly after your workout ends. Research says immediately after a session (and up to 2 hours) is the most critical “window” to take advantage of post workout nutrition, even though protein syntheses last for about 48 hours afterward.
To optimize your fitness, give your body the proper nutrition within this open window.
If you delay for too long, even a couple of hours after the window is closed, both muscle glycogen storage and protein synthesis are decreased.
After your the last rep of your last set, get your post workout nutrition in.
What should you eat?
Again, there are two requirements for post-workout nutrition:
- protein synthesis needs protein
- carbohydrates to replace muscle glycogen (and improve the role of insulin in the transport of nutrients to cells)
Eating whole food meals will meet your post workout nutrition requirements. But, eating a mixed meal isn’t always sensible for a few reasons:
- Sometimes you are not hungry right after exercise
- It takes time to digest whole foods, and nutrients need to be accessible right way
- A refrigerator is not alway available to keep meals ready for consumption
This is why nutrition in the form of a liquid that has fast digesting carbohydrates (e.g., dextrose, glucose, maltodextrin, etc.) and proteins (e.g., protein hydrolysates or isolates):
- May quicken recovery by using insulin for nutrient transport into cells
- Might result in quicker digestion and absorption
- Is easier to tolerate during and after exercise
Aim for about 20 grams of protein post workout if you want to maximize muscle protein synthesis.
What type of workouts should you do?
If you are doing endurance, interval, or resistance training for more than 45 minutes, go ahead and have your workout drink during or after exercise.
Anything less, like walking or leisurely riding your bike, do not warrant a recovery drink.
Those activities do burn energy and can be used to lose fat, but they do not require a recovery drink. Fat loss is a different goal from performance and recovery because it requires an energy deficit.
If you are performing energy expenditure work while keeping your food intake low for fat loss, consider taking a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) supplement.
Review and Action
- When you are training (exercising/working out) intensely, drink 15 grams of protein and 30 grams of carbohydrates (in 500 ml water) for every hour you are active.
- You can either drink this right after you are done or during your session.
- You can also make your own post workout drink or shop around for a supplemental drink that is already formulated. As long as it has quick digesting carbohydrates and proteins.
- Post workout, eat a whole food meal within a one to two-hour window.
- If your goal is fat loss, you will need BCAA’s as a workout drink. The rule of thumb is 5 to 15 grams per hour training. If you are over 200 pounds, you will need closer to 15 grams, and closer to 5 grams if you are under 200 pounds.
- And if you are already lean, but you still want to drop fat, you can cut the post workout drink in half, or take a dose of BCAAs.
- You will not get the stimulation for muscle growth and recovery if you sit on the couch drinking carbohydrates and protein.
- Know that glucose is faster absorbed than fructose, and in high amounts, fructose may cause gastrointestinal issues, increase fatigue and increase cortisol levels.
- Creatine may help you maximize your workout nutrition.
- To create a positive nitrogen balance post workout, essential amino acids might be better than nonessential ones.