What to Eat After You Work Out (Post-Workout Nutrition)

Part of working out is knowing what to eat both before and after you do it.

Since this is such a critical subject with respect to the benefits of your workout, you really need to read what follows.

If you consistently eat the wrong foods, it may seriously detract from what you are trying to achieve.

It could even be potentially harmful.

 

The Importance of Eating after a Workout

 

If you want to know how to eat appropriately after you exercise, you need to know how your body is affected by it.

As you work out, your muscles consume glycogen stores for fuel.

As a result of this, glycogen becomes partially depleted in your muscles.

As well, some of the protein in your muscles also decomposes (1,2).

After you work out, your system attempts to regenerate the glycogen stores and the muscle proteins.

If you eat the appropriate nutrients right after you exercise, this will aid your body in accomplishing this faster.

It is specifically crucial to consume carbs and protein after you work out.

If you do this, then your body will:

  • Reduce muscle protein decomposition;
  • Increase muscle protein growth;
  • Regenerate glycogen stores;
  • Improve recovery.

The Takeaway Point:

Eating the right thing in your post-workout meals will aid you in regenerating muscle proteins and glycogen stores.

It will also stimulate the rebuilding of new muscle.

 

The Importance of Protein, Carbs, and Fat

 

The following is a discussion of how protein, carbs, and fat are involved in your body’s recovery after you work out.

 

Protein

 

We have already discussed the fact that exercise causes the breakdown of muscle protein (1,2,3).

The rate at which this occurs is dependent upon the specific exercise and your level of training.

However, even consummate athletes have muscle protein breakdown (3,4).

If you eat an appropriate amount of protein in your after-workout meal, then your system will have the amino acids that it requires to regenerate the proteins.

It also will provide the components necessary to build new muscle tissue (1,5,6).

It is appropriate that you eat 0.14-0.23 grams of protein per pound of body weight for your after-workout meal.

Studies have indicated that eating 20-40 grams of protein optimizes the body’s ability to recover after a workout.

 

Eating Carbs Aids Recovery

 

The glycogen stores in your body are used as energy during exercise.

Eating carbs in your post-workout meals helps restore them.

The rate at which the glycogen stores are consumed is dependent upon the specific activity.

Endurance sports result in the use of more glycogen than resistance training.

As a result of this, if you do endurance sports, you may need to eat more carbs than a bodybuilder.

Eating 0.5-0.7 grams of carbs per pound of body weight after you work out will cause proper glycogen resynthesis.

Also, insulin secretion, which helps glycogen restoration, is better stimulated if you eat carbs and protein together (7,8,9).

So, if you eat carbs with protein after exercise, you will optimize protein and glycogen synthesis.

Consuming a lot of carbs to restore glycogen stores is most important for people who exercise often.

If you rest for one or two days between workouts, then this is not an issue for you.

 

Fat is Not Harmful

 

A lot of people think that, if you eat fat after a workout, then it will slow digestion and prevent the proper absorption of nutrients.

Even though fat may slow the digestion of your post-workout meal, it will not diminish its benefits.

As an example of this, there is a study that indicated that whole milk improved muscle growth more than skim milk after workouts.

Another study indicated that even after eating a high-fat meal after working out, muscle glycogen synthesis was not diminished (10).

It may be a good idea to reduce the quantity of fat that you eat after exercise.

However, if you include some fat in your meal, it will not affect your recovery.

The Takeaway Point:

Your post-workout meal should include both protein and carbs.

This will promote glycogen storage and muscle protein synthesis.

 

Working Out the Timing of Your Post-Workout Meal

 

The ability of your body to restore glycogen and protein is heightened after you exercise.

As a result of this, you should eat a mixture of carbs and protein right after exercising.

Even though you don’t need to time it perfectly, many experts recommend that you eat a meal within 45 minutes after your workout.

It is thought that if you push off carb consumption by even two hours after a workout, you may end up with as much as a 50% lower rate of glycogen synthesis.

However, if you ate a meal before exercising, it is assumed that the benefits of that meal will apply after your workout (11,12).

The Takeaway Point:

Eat your meal within 45 minutes of your workout.

However, you can wait a little longer, depending upon when you ate your pre-workout meal.

 

Foods to Eat after a Workout

 

The essential point of your post-workout meal should be to give your body the appropriate nutrients for recovery and to optimize the benefits of the workout.

If you pick easily-digested food, then you will absorb the nutrients faster.

The following is a list of what to eat after working out.

These foods are easily digested.

Carbs:

Protein:

  • Protein powder
  • Salmon
  • Chicken
  • Protein bar
  • Tuna
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Eggs

Fats:

Hydration

It is very important to hydrate yourself both before and after your workout session.

When you have enough water in your system, this gives you the proper internal environment for your body to get good results.

When you exercise, you lose water and electrolytes by sweating.

When you restore them, this can help with recovery and performance (13).

It is particularly crucial that you restore your fluids if your next workout is within 12 hours.

Depending upon the intensity of the exercise that you do, water or an electrolyte drink are good for restoring your fluid losses.

The Takeaway Point:

It is vital that you drink fluids after your workout to replace what you lose.

 

Summary Thus Far

 

You should always eat some carbs and protein after your workout.

Doing this will stimulate protein synthesis, improve recovery, and optimize performance during your next session.

If you can’t eat within 45 minutes of your workout, you should at least not wait any longer than two hours.

Restoring lost fluids is essential, and will help optimize the benefits of your workout.

 

Foods that You Should Avoid

 

We have discussed foods to eat after a workout.

However, there are many foods that it is a bad idea to eat after a workout as well.

The following is a list:

  • Smoothies from Pre-Made Mixes

These drinks may be convenient.

However, they usually contain a lot of added sugars. Drinking sugary drinks can halt the fat burning process.

Instead, try to make your own smoothies from scratch with a protein base.

  • Spicy Foods

Spicy food is hard to digest. Your body needs foods that are easy to digest.

  • Soda

You might have a craving for caffeine or carbonation after you work out.

However, you should definitely not drink soda.

Your body needs to hydrate, and soda is not a good way of achieving that.

Also, soda might make you feel bloated.

  • Heavy Proteins

Some proteins, like a thick, juicy steak, are hard to digest.

  • High-Fat Foods

While we have mentioned before that some fat is not a problem, you should avoid deep-fried foods.

Too much fat slows the digestion process in the gut.

  • Chocolate
  • Fast Food

No matter how much you crave it, you should avoid fast food after your workout.

If you do eat it, then you will be consuming unhealthy trans fats.

  • Simple Carbs

Simple carbs are the refined sugars and flours that go into white bread, pastries, and other tasty foods.

Consuming high amounts of simple carbs will work against you if you are trying to lose weight because they slow down your metabolism.

  • Energy Bars

One would think that energy bars would be a good choice for the best post-workout food.

They do contain a lot of protein. However, most of the bars on the market are mostly sugar.

They also are no nutritionally better than a candy bar.

You should get your protein from a whole food source like eggs, and pass over these tasty bars.

  • Sports Drinks

Although they are marketed as the perfect hydration tools because of their electrolytes, the truth is that they contain a ton of sugar.

A good alternative to these drinks is coconut water.

You could also try a healthy smoothie.

These sports drinks will essentially cause your blood sugar to spike.

  • Raw Veggies

One site that I saw claims that you shouldn’t eat raw vegetables after a workout.

This is somewhat counter-intuitive because vegetables are ordinarily a part of a healthy diet.

Some claim that you shouldn’t eat raw veggies after your workout because they fill you up.

If you get filled up with the veggies, then there will be no more room left for the important carbs and protein that you must eat after your workout.

  • High-Fiber Foods

The same site says that you should avoid high fiber foods after your workout because they may cause cramping and bloating.

  • Prune Juice

Prune juice is ordinarily a very healthy drink.

However, it has a laxative effect, something that you don’t need after a workout.

Running and other exercises may already have this effect on the body, so prune juice would only exacerbate it.

  • Candy

A big no-no after working out is consuming anything that will spike your blood sugar and cause a crash.

This means that you should avoid the refined sugar that is found in candy.

Candy also lacks nutrients and is basically just empty calories.

Instead of getting your sweetness from candy, try drinking a protein-packed homemade smoothie after your workout.

  • Black Beans

You should stay away from black beans in any form after your workout.

They have a high fiber count of 15 grams per serving. This will slow down the digestive process.

Also, it is likely that eating beans after you work out will make you gassy.

  • Sugary Drinks

Not only is soda of all types a poor post-workout choice, but also juices should be avoided at all costs because of their high sugar content.

They are also slow to digest. Also, they reduce the fat burning effects of your workout.

This is because they adversely promote fat storage.

  • Fried Eggs

Eggs are a great way to get your protein needs after your workout.

However, you should only eat them raw or hard-boiled.

If you are going to be visiting a restaurant after you work out, then you need to be particularly mindful of this.

  • Alcohol

You should never drink alcohol after you work out.

Drinking after you train dehydrates you, reduces protein synthesis, and gives you a lot of empty calories.

  • Protein Shakes

Many protein shakes that are sold commercially are filled with junk that will hinder your workout success.

  • Nothing but Water

At all costs, you should avoid having nothing but water.

If you don’t eat, then your body will consume the muscle that you just added during your workout.

 

Conclusion

 

So, it seems that the best post workout food is a combination of healthy protein and complex carbohydrates.

There is some conflict of opinion as to what to avoid after your workout.

Some authorities are much more negative about fat intake than others.

However, if you stick to a portion of protein, a portion of complex carbohydrate, and a moderate amount of fat, you will not go wrong.

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