I’m just going to be straight up and honest most of the time after a workout whether its strength work in the gym, a spin class or running training the first think I think of is food! Not only am I normally hungry but most importantly I want to give my body the best possible recovery I can. Then I will be able to put in 100 per cent for my next workout whatever that maybe.
Obviously the nutrition you will need after your workout will completely depend on the activity, not only the type of workout in terms of strength or cardio but also the intensity and length. During exercise you push your body in many ways from increasing your heart beat, oxygen demand, maintaining your body temperature and removing metabolic waste products such as lactic acid.
There are two main components to post workout nutrition are Carbohydrates and Protein.
Lets start with Carbs:
All the processes above take up energy and therefore its essential to replenish these energy stores. When you eat carbohydrates you break down and release insulin. Inulin will act to transport carbs and amino acids to the muscles that have been working hard. This will help to resynthesize and break down the carbohydrates to increase glycogen storage which again will increase protein repair.
You want to aim to have about X3 as much carbohydrates to the amount of protein that you eat after. It is recommended in research to take in around 0.8-1.2g of carbs for 1kg of your body weight. The best bet is to try to aim for about 1g but edit this depending on the length and intensity of your workout. Therefore if you have been for a very long cardio session you will need to aim towards the 1.2g if it’s a short session or strength 1.2g will mostly likely be too heavy. If one of your aims of exercise is weight loss remember that excess carbs will be converted to body fat. However do NOT skimp on what you need to recovery this will only cause more problems than it will solve.
When you think about post workout nutrition the first thing you properly think of is protein, especially you gym bunnies out there. If your goal is to build muscle then your protein intake should be higher with the aim to have around 1.6g of protein per kg of body weight. Before everyone gets carried away with having lots of protein shakes, you can only absorb 20-25g every 2-3 hr!! Therefore having more than this is a complete waste as all you will do is pee it out!! It works out that you need around 5-10g of protein for every 200 calories that you consume.
You need protein to help rebuild and aid the recovery of muscles you have worked when you exercise. As you exercise and push your muscles you will cause micro tears in the muscle. After you finish exercising your body starts to decrease the rate that you syntheses protein, while it will increase the amount of protein that you breakdown. You want to increase the protein you consume as well as the essential amino acids that can be found in them. As this can lead to a more positive protein balance which should help to optimize your recovery process.
For more information check out my complete guide to Protein.
You have noticed so far that I have missed out this food group entirely. After a workout you want a meal that is relatively fat free as it can actually slow down the transportation. Furthermore it can affect the ability to absorb carbohydrates and proteins that are essential to a post workout recovery. To get the most rapid response of nutrition to your muscles where they are needed after your workout you should avoid fats straight away. This doesn’t mean generally, fats are significantly important to our health and play an important role in nutrition and wellbeing. However, generally after a workout is when you should keep them lower than normal.
When and how much?
The research suggests that you should eat or refuel within 15-30 minutes after exercising. However if you are going to eat protein as part of a meal in the next two hours you may be able to get away with leaving it slightly longer. Research has proven that it is more beneficial to eat immediately after a workout compared to an hour later however this may not always be the most practical.
Here is when should try to get within the 15-30 mins window:
- If you aren’t going to eat your next meal for more than 2 hours
- If you are working out again in under 12 hours
- If it was a high intensity workout
Shakes Vs whole food:
A very popular question that always come up when you talk about post workout nutrition is whether you should have a meal replacement in the form of a protein shake or whether you should have ‘real food’. There is many different theories to what is best and it depends completely on you. Many people can’t stomach a substantial meal after a long hard workout and therefore a shake that is easy to digest will get all the nutrients you need. You can always have a snack or meal later on when you can stomach it.
Shakes are generally absorbed quicker as they are a liquid and will not take as long to digest compared to having a meal. Obviously if your buying a pre made shake you want to look at the nutritional information associated with them as they can have loads of added sugar and other nasty chemicals. The benefit of whole food is that you know exactly what has gone into them and they almost always going to be less processed.
My Protein Bars
So recently I decided to make my own protein bars. I used to have my trustworthy Bounce Bars after I went for a cardio session. I loved the peanut ones as they were delicious but also didn’t feel like I was going to break my teeth on them like some other protein bars. I had a look at the ingredients and thought as I had a lot of them already in the cupboard so I decided to try and make my own. Firstly I want to say I have based these on what I would need after a 5km run, so these bars maybe a bit large for some people.
Ingredients per Bar: Peanut and Cranberry Protein Balls
- Museli Base/Oats :24g
- Protein Powder (I used natural Vanilla:Myprotein impact Whey): 16g
- Peanut Butter (try to get one with only peanuts in the ingredient list: my favourite is meridian): 10g
- Dried Cranberry: 2 cranberries
- Cut up the Almond and dried Cranberries into small pieces
- Measure out all the other ingredients (museli, protein powder, peanut butter and Honey). Then add the almond and cranberry pieces to the bowl
- Mix them all together.
- Add water, you want to do this very slowly by adding a tiny bit each time till they bind together nicely into a ball. If you add too much they can be a bit wet but you can save them later don’t worry!
- Shape the mixture into a ball shape
- Chill in the fridge for a couple of hours. (If you did add a bit too much water then leave them in for longer. You can always reshape them again later to be perfect.)
- Carbs: 25g
The ingredients are just my favourites and what I normally use. I was not sponsored for including them in the post.
Van Loon et al. (2000a). Maximizing postexercise muscle glycogen synthesis: carbohydrate supplementation and the application of amino acid or protein hydrolysate mixtures. Am J Clin Nutrition. 72(1): 106-111.