We’ve been there too and know how frustrating it can be to feel like you’re putting in the work but not seeing the results you want.
That’s where your nutrition, and in particular, post-workout nutrition comes in! That post-workout re-nourishment can be key to your recovery and seeing those performance changes continuing in the right direction.
Why your post-workout nutrition is important
Post-workout nutrition is a topic that tends to be overlooked, and I think it is important to shed some light on the benefits of giving your body what it needs to recover. After an intense workout, your body needs to be re-fuelled. When you don’t replenish your body, it can leave you feeling fatigued and stall the recovery process. When you don’t restore what you have lost, it will put your body at risk of further damage during your next workout. What you have after your workout is meant to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (growth & repair), reduce post-exercise muscle soreness (good-bye DOMS), avoid post-exercise blood sugar crashes and fatigue, help control spiked hunger pangs later in the day/ into the next day, and improve performance at next workout (especially if multiple training sessions in one day).
What is the ideal composition?
Similar to pre-workout nutrition, you want to primarily focus on protein and carbohydrates, but here we can have a bit of fibre and we want to also add antioxidants to optimize recovery.
Eating protein after exercise stimulate muscle protein synthesis, leading to increased or maintained muscle tissue. Therefore it is optimal for better recovery, adaptation, and performance. There’s no real evidence that protein powders, especially the fast-digesting kind, are any better for us than whole food protein after training. You could totally do a shake if that’s what is convenient but there’s no need to chug a shake and then sit down to a full meal. You can have just the meal instead and save that shake as a bedtime snack.
You need to consume enough carbohydrates to promote some insulin release. Insulin is the hormone responsible for shuttling carbohydrates and amino acids into the muscle. In doing this, glycogen re-synthesis is accelerated and protein balance becomes positive, leading to rapid repair of the muscle tissue. Research has shown that a carbohydrate intake of 0.6 to 1 grams per 1 kilogram of body weight maximizes glycogen synthesis and accelerates protein repair depending on intensity level and duration of exercise. A blend of minimally processed whole food carbohydrates (think rice, quinoa, potatoes, sweet potatoes), along with some fruit (to better restore or maintain liver glycogen) is the best choice
What to avoid eating after a workout
While sipping coffee pre-work can be great for your training endeavours, consuming caffeine post-workout may not be the best choice when it comes to overall health and performance. What many of us don’t realize is that during workouts, our cortisol levels increase, and consuming caffeine post-workout further stimulates cortisol when we should be prioritizing reducing stress/ catabolic hormones. Repeated exposure to caffeine throughout the day still results in elevated cortisol levels in the afternoon even when additional stressors like workouts aren’t a part of the equation. In short – eat food, hydrate well, and get some sleep post-workout and wait a while before having that coffee. Usually we suggest at least 2hrs post-workout to have our cortisol drop.
When should you eat?
The age old bro-science “anabolic window” has been disproven in research suggesting that there is some flexibility to the timing of your post-workout meal/ snack. While you don’t have to rush to get that post-workout shake in the minute you finish training, we also don’t want to mess around forever before eating. Failing to eat within a two-hour window following training can slow recovery. The timing of your post-workout is dependent on when and what you ate prior to training. If you had a very light pre-workout meal or ate several hours before training, then it’s important for you to get that post-workout meal into your system within 30-60min. But if you ate a normal-sized meal closer to training (or a small shake closer to training), then you have a full one to two hours after training to eat your post-workout meal and still maximize the benefits of workout nutrition.
Putting it all together
For most of us, the best post-training meals will contain some combination of high quality protein, high quality carbohydrates, and some fruits and vegetables. These whole foods provide an awesome blend of nutrients that build muscle, supply energy, decrease inflammation, and boost recovery. In terms of timing, you have about one to two hours on both sides of your training to still get maximal benefit.