What should eat after I workout?
The health and fitness world can be a confusing place at times. Most of us just want to get in shape, feel good and look amazing. (I mean, we're doing all this work, making a few co-workers jealous isn't a lot to ask is it?)
But with all the information, exercise trends, fad diets and fit-teas out there, it's hard to know what to do. In this blog I'm going to throw all the bullshit out the 20 minute anabolic window and make post-workout nutrition easy to understand and even easier to get right.
Move over breakfast, we've got a new “most important meal of the day”
Why does post-workout nutrition matter that much anyway? What's going on in our bodies that's different than any other time of the day? And why should we care?
There's a lot going on in our bodies after a tough training session but the main things we want to look at are; protein breakdown and depleted glycogen stores.
Protein: The building blocks
After a bout of resistance training and/or some fairly high-intensity cardio, we have created some damage to our cells on a micro level. This is actually a good thing because this is what signals the need for protein synthesis (muscle building). It is this process that creates the improvements that we are looking for. Just like the process of sun tanning turning the skin darker, the micro cell damage will stimulate overcompensation and lead to stronger, bigger/more toned muscles.
However, protein synthesis can't take place without some protein actually being available, shocker. In addition to this, we want the synthesis to take place within the first hour; the aforementioned anabolic window. If protein isn't derived from an outside source (food) then it will be taken from an inside source (muscle). And that is the reason why post-workout nutrition is so important; negligence can leave us broken down. So, for these reasons, we need an easy-to-digest source right after our workout.
More on that later.
Carbohydrates: The workforce
The second thing mentioned was depletion of glycogen stores. Glycogen is stored glucose that is sitting idly by in the liver and muscles waiting to be used for energy. Carbohydrates are broken down fairly easily by the body and turned into glucose to be used right away or stored for later (glycogen).
When our glucose/glycogen stores drop too low, we run out of steam and our system slows down. This can leave us in an catabolic state. Which means that now our body is going to that inside source for energy again. This is why we need a quick source of outside energy in order to kickstart that recovery process and top up those glycogen stores. You'll want to be getting this in your stomach within 20 minutes or so after your last rep, or even during your cooldown if that's possible.
Enough science, just tell me what to eat
Ok, ok. For protein synthesis, as mentioned, the easier to breakdown the better. Whey protein fits the bill nicely here. Whey (made from milk) is a very pure form of protein so easily broken down by our enzymes and uploaded, so to speak. This is what is commonly called “protein powder”. About 20-30 grams should do the trick. Plant based protein powders are also available and haven't been proven to be any better or worse than animal based.
If adding extra calories to your diet is a concern for you then amino acids will be a perfectly apt substitution.
The next best source of protein in this situation would be egg whites. The white from 1 egg will yield about 3 grams of protein so 6 to 10 egg whites will be needed. This can make it a bit impractical right after your training session. I don't recommend eating them raw and I don't know about you but I don't fancy bringing a hot plate and frying pan to the gym. It is, however a decent option if you get home fairly quick after your training session.
The third and final option I will present is Greek yogurt. A little easier to stow in the gym bag but at 10 grams of protein per 100 grams of yogurt, it's more expensive than whey to get the required amount.
My top picks for simple carbs are: pretty much any recovery supplement. I found one that I like a long time ago so I stopped searching but I'm fairly sure that there isn't much difference between them all. I use Vega Recovery Accelerator because I like the taste and it has a bit of protein in there.
If you don't have a recovery supplement then fruit juice will do the trick but, like the yogurt, it will end up being more expensive than the supplement so it makes sense to invest.
The last suggestion from me here is plain old fruit. The sugars from fruit will metabolize pretty quick, not as quick as the supplement but quick enough.
The only issue I see with fruit is that sometimes we don't want to eat anything right after a tough training session and timing is a factor here.
So to wrap this up, for optimal recovery after a training session, get in some simple carbohydrates as quickly as possible and some easily digestible protein within the next hour. It makes most sense to get both at the same time.
My personal choice, and you can figure out what works best for you, is the Vega Recovery Accelerator I mentioned before mixed with amino acids from DotFit.
So there you have it. That's all there really is to it. Hopefully this can help ease your confusion and make your fitness life a little bit better.
Peace out ✌