No matter what your training goal, your results are heavily influenced by a number of factors. Some of those factors are under your control – the workout you follow for example. In contrast, some factors are beyond your control – such as your genetics.
If you are training hard and eating right, you should make good progress toward your goals. Add to that equation adequate rest and sleep, and the sensible use of quality supplements such as creatine, BCAA’s, and protein powder, and you really are doing almost everything you can to ensure your success.
However, there is one thing that many exercisers still fail to consider that could make a big impact on their progress – post-workout nutrition.
POST-WORKOUT NUTRITION – WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?
After exercise, your body is in a depleted state. Exercise causes muscle breakdown, called catabolism, and also uses some or even all of your carbohydrate stores, properly called glycogen.
For recovery and muscle growth to occur, you need to halt and reverse catabolism and restock those depleted stores of glycogen. The sooner this can happen, the better.
To facilitate this, your body increases the rate at which it will synthesize protein into muscle tissue and convert carbohydrates into glucose. It’s literally like a wrung-out sponge that will soak up anything you send its way. This phenomenon is relatively short-lived so, if you want to make the most of this crucial window of opportunity, you need to act fast. That means taking post-workout recovery nutrition seriously.
POST-WORKOUT NUTRITION – YOUR OPTIONS
To make the most of your increased ability to process nutrients, whatever you consume immediately after exercise needs to be fast-acting. That means high glycaemic index carbs and easy to digest protein. Fats, even healthy ones, should be avoided at this time because they can delay the digestive process, defeating the object of effective post-workout nutrition.
1) The best choices for post-exercise nutrition are fluids. Fluids are generally easier to digest than solids and will get to work sooner than “real” food. This makes high-quality protein supplements perfect for gym use. No mess, no fuss – just put a scoop or two into a shaker cup and you are done.
2) Alternatively, take an isotonic sports drink and mix it with a scoop or two of your favorite protein powder. This might not be as tasty but it’s equally effective.
3) If you don’t mind consuming liquids and solids at the same time, you could have a regular protein shake and a high carb snack – such as a banana, a bagel, or 3-4 rice cakes. As you probably have easy access to these things, this is a viable option for most exercisers.
4) Flavored milk is another acceptable option. Milk contains protein and carbs and even whole milk is relatively low in fat. It’s also cheap, readily available, and tastes pretty good too. If you are lactose intolerant, this is not the option for you unless you can find lactose free milk. This might not be the most high-tech post-exercise option but it’s undeniably better than doing nothing!
5) If you prefer to eat rather than drink, you might want to consider any of the protein and carb bars that are currently available. High in protein and carbs, they taste not unlike candy bars so it’s an acceptable way to satisfy your sweet tooth. On the downside, these bars can be expensive and, if you are a big guy, you may need to eat two.
6) A tuna sandwich, made with white bread, could also work as it contains fast-acting carbs and protein. However, you need to take into account that some people find exercise diminishes their appetite and may not feel like eating immediately after exercise.
CONTINUED POST-WORKOUT NUTRITION
Your ability to take in and utilize nutrients is greatest immediately after exercise but remains elevated for the next few hours. This means that, in addition to your preferably liquid post-training feed, you also need to eat another high carb, high protein meal in the next 1-2 hours. This should give you adequate time to get your hands on some real food.
Because you are still relatively nutrient-sensitive, this meal should also contain high glycaemic carbs and easy to digest protein. Fat intake should remain low to ensure you can make the most of the food you are eating.
Good carb options include:
Combine a sensible-sized portion of the above with your preferred source of lean protein – beef, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, etc.
Once the post-workout nutrition window closes, your subsequent means should include healthy fats, plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and provide you with adequate calories, protein, and carbs according to your nutritional needs. Carbs should be, in general, lower on the glycaemic scale as fast-digesting carbs are, at this time, more likely to be converted to fat.
Good post-workout nutrition can make a significant difference in your rate of recovery after exercise. Get it right and you should see much better progress from your workouts. Yes, you’ll need to be organized enough to carry food with you to the gym, but your efforts WILL be rewarded!