When you’re serious about athletic training you pay attention to what you’re eating before each session so you have plenty of fuel in the tank. But did you know what you eat afterward is just as important?
Let’s take a few minutes to go over why post-workout nutrition is important and what you should be eating.
Why Post-Workout Nutrition Matters
After an intense training session, your body is fairly depleted. That’s because exercise of any kind is a physiological stressor. It makes us feel fatigued, muscles are sore and hunger increases. The body needs to refuel and start repairing.
During exercise, you use up stored energy called glycogen and your muscle fiber experiences micro-tearing. This is actually a good thing. The breakdown of the fiber allows muscles to rebuild and grow stronger. However, this is only possible if muscles have what they need to stock up on glycogen and repair themselves.
Some trainers believe whole-heartedly that post-workout nutrition is actually more important than what you eat before hitting the gym. If you fail to eat properly post-workout it impedes recovery, you won’t maximize muscle growth and you won’t realize the full benefits of your workout.
So, if you really want to make your training time count be prepared to chow down shortly afterward.
When and What to Eat After a Workout
The two things that are depleted in muscles during and just after a workout are protein and carbohydrates. That’s what you need to replace with your post-workout nutrition.
The carbs help boost the glycogen that was depleted. The protein aids in muscle fiber repair.
You need to consume these nutrients within an hour of your workout or you’ll miss the post-workout nutrition window.
Leverage Liquid Nutrients
One of the best things you can do for your body is to have a nutrient-rich shake or smoothie shortly after working out. It can provide the nutrients your body needs plus hydration. Another thing to consider is that liquids are easy to consume after a workout, can be nutrient-dense and are easy to digest.
Liquid meals are also absorbed quicker than whole foods giving your body a fast injection of carbs and proteins. Liquids can be fully absorbed in as little as half an hour. With whole foods, it can take up to four hours.
A few good liquid meal options include:
- Chocolate milk (seriously!)
- Smoothie with low-fat milk and fruit
- Protein shake
For protein, you want to focus on lean options. That way you’ll get the nutrients without unnecessary fat and calories. Here are some lean protein options:
How much protein do you need to consume? Nutritionists estimate that 0.14-0.23 grams of protein per pound of your body weight is ideal. That ends up being somewhere between 20-40 grams of protein for most athletes.
Carbohydrates are what you need to replenish glycogen, especially if the training session involves cardio. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple carbs and complex carbs. What you want after a workout is the latter. Good complex carbs include:
- Whole grain bread
- Whole grain wraps
- Sweet potatoes
- Dark leafy greens
You’ll need to consume roughly 0.5-0.7 grams of carbs per pound of your weight to hit the right amount of carbohydrates.
At Optimal Sports Performance, we can help you with the training portion so you can focus your attention on pre and post-workout nutrition. We have adult, pro athlete and student-athlete training programs that will help you improve on a specific skill or build a solid foundation for any type of physical activity.