Reaching fitness and body composition goals has a lot to do with how you fuel your body. Understanding proper post-workout nutrition will greatly help you to lean out, recover faster, and perform better.
To maximize your efforts in the gym, you need to give yourself premium fuel in the form of quality nutrients. You need to consume this fuel within 15-3o minutes of your workout to maximize results.
Why Is Post-Workout Nutrition Important?
When you push yourself at the gym you are actually breaking down muscle and depleting carbohydrate and muscle protein stores. Without proper nutrition, your body will struggle to remodel damaged tissues and replenish burned energy stores. This will blunt the recovery and lean muscle building process, and while you may be training harder or lifting more you may not be seeing the results you want. If you don’t put fuel in the tank, how do you expect to get anything out?! Proper fueling post workout will help you build lean muscle, decrease inflammation and cortisol, and you will recover much faster.
What Should I Eat?
With high-intensity workouts like we do at Boulder Mountain CrossFit, protein and carbohydrates are needed in the post-workout meal. How much protein and carbohydrate you need can vary depending on your size, training intensity, length of workout, and goals.
A general rule is that if your training session taxes glycolytic pathways (think 5-20+ minutes of intervals / continued work: The Chief, Nancy, Cindy, Murph) your need for post-workout carbohydrates will increase. If your workout is primarily heavy weight training with adequate rest periods, your need for post-workout carbohydrates will decrease.
For the carbohydrate portion of post-workout meal, we prefer using starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, yams, squash, or pumpkin. These starchy vegetables are a nutritionally dense carbohydrate option.
For the protein portion of your post-workout meal, we recommend 2-3oz of lean meat, which accounts for around 20g protein. This can also be consumed in the form of a supplement, and we recommend whey as the source for this type of protein. When choosing a protein supplement, it is important to consider what works for your body (how does it make you feel?), and what is the source of the protein you are choosing (is it clean / free of growth hormone?). There is a lot of crap out there, so be an educated consumer and if you have questions be sure to ask your coach.
When Is The Optimal Time?
As soon as possible! It’s understandable that you may not want to eat a large meal after working out, but a small-moderate sized portion of both carbohydrates and protein is essential to recovery, repair, and strength gains. The chart above details the ideal timing for your post-workout fuel. The ideal timing for this meal is 15-30 minutes post-workout, and the metabolic window continually closes beyond 30 minutes. How do you avoid missing the ideal timing for your post-workout meal? BRING IT TO THE GYM EVERY TIME YOU GO! You will notice that many of the people training with us are eating something whether it’s a supplement or real food during cooldown / stretching. No excuses, plan ahead and make it happen!
A couple other things to consider with a post-workout meal are minimizing fat content and considering your carbohydrate (sugar) sources. While fats are an important part of a balanced diet, they act to slow down the transit of the carbohydrates and protein through the stomach. We want our post-workout nutrients (carbohydrate and protein) to be absorbed and utilized as quickly as possible, so save the fats for other opportunities throughout the day. Lastly, fructose tends to fill up liver glycogen stores whereas glucose can replace lost muscle and liver stores. For athletes that need a rapid repletion of muscle and liver glycogen, a mixture of glucose and fructose (mostly glucose) is the best bet.
You work hard in your training and you deserve results. Put some work into planning a solid post-workout meal and you’ll greatly improve the results from your efforts. If you need some more help with this, talk to your coach next time you’re at the gym!
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