Whether you are a strength training athlete or an endurance athlete, your post workout meal is essential to recovery and will help you to perform at your best each and every time you workout! Any exercise you perform essentially tears down old muscle in order to rebuild better or more functional muscle. Exercise breaks down the carbohydrate stores (glycogen) and muscle protein structures in your body. Then, your immune system is forced to come in to clean up the mess you made. This is called remodeling.
While this process is very complex, this rebuilding or remodeling of muscle only takes place if the muscles are provided the correct materials. That is why the post-exercise period is not a time to be taken lightly. Remember you invested a significant amount of time working out, or breaking down your muscle and you want to make sure your body repairs itself to be better adapted for future demands.
To remodel your muscle post-workout you need to give your body the raw materials it needs, namely protein and carbohydrates.
Your post workout fuel should be rich in protein and carbohydrates, but also fat free. Eating essential fats during this period can slow down the digestion and absorption of your carbohydrates and proteins. Your post workout meal should promote the most rapid recovery of carbohydrates and protein to your depleted muscles.
Timing your post workout meal is another crucial factor. You should consume your post-workout meal immediately after exercise. Your muscles are primed for nutrient uptake at that time or “the window of opportunity”. As time passes after your workout this window gradually closes and you diminish your chances of promoting full recovery. Research has shown that consuming a post-workout meal immediately to 30 minutes after working out is superior to consuming more than 1 hour later.
So what should you eat? We suggest that a light, easily digestible protein like egg whites, chicken or salmon would be ideal. Along with a carb-dense vegetable or a low sugar fruit for your carbohydrate. Sometimes, however this is hard to travel with when you are going to the gym. That is why consuming a liquid form of nutrition containing rapidly digesting carbohydrates and proteins has become so popular after training. Some great examples of post-workout fuel are the following:
- A protein shake and banana
- A hard boiled egg and a carb dense vegetable (yam, sweet potato, beets, or even butternut squash)
- Chicken breast with any of the above carbohydrate choices
According to Precision Nutrition, look for something with at least 20 grams of protein and 30 grams of carbohydrates per hour of workout time. The second you drop that last dumbbell or step off your bike, you should be refueling your body.
Make sure to save your workout recovery drink for after weight training, interval, and endurance training lasting 45 minutes or longer. Casual exercise like walking the dog, or riding your bike to the park doesn’t require a workout recovery drink.
Meal planning and preparation is always key here. The more prepared you are to fuel after your workout, the more return you will get on your investment (your body) and the more beneficial your next workout will be!