It’s the most important meal of the day. What you eat after your workout is going to determine how quickly you start to recover from exercise. The faster you can recover and rebuild muscle, the sooner you can retrain those muscles. And the sooner those muscles are at full functionality, the faster they can start metabolizing fatty acids at their full potential.
In order to determine what you need to eat after a workout, you first need to understand the purpose of your post workout meal. Your post workout meal serves 3 main purposes:
- To replenish the energy used during your workout
- To provide the protein needed for protein synthesis in order to rebuild muscle
- To provide all the essential vitamins and nutrients necessary for growth
If you are working out with a high intensity like you should be, your muscles are going to be using muscle glycogen for energy. Muscle glycogen is synthesized from glucose, and glucose comes from carbohydrates.
Eat Carbohydrates Post Workout
The first macronutrient that needs to be fulfilled in your post workout meal is carbohydrates. After you work out, your insulin sensitivity is at its highest. This is one of the few times when you can eat carbohydrates without any real fear of them being stored as fat.
In fact, even though your muscles have a finite capacity to store carbohydrates, this post workout window is one of the few times that can lead to muscle glycogen super-compensation. In layman’s terms, this simply means that after you work out, your muscles have the potential to store more carbohydrates (glycogen) than they otherwise would have if you didn’t work out first.
Eat the majority of your day’s allotment of carbohydrates in this meal. Because of the increased insulin sensitivity, you have the added benefit of being a little “looser” with the type of carbohydrates you eat.
You typically want to have lower glycemic index (GI) carbs in your meals; however, in your post workout meal, you can eat carbs that are higher on the GI scale. This doesn’t mean to go and eat a bunch of processed foods and sugar. Continue to stick to whole foods. Remember, our priority is to be healthy.
Whole grains are a good carbohydrate source to eat post workout. They have a higher glycemic load. This basically means that they are a little more carbohydrate dense.
Oatmeal, rice, and whole wheat are a few of these carbohydrates. Aim for 1/4 to 1/3 your lean body weight in grams of carbohydrates for your post workout meal. The harder you work out, the more carbohydrates you will need.
Eat Protein After Your Workout
The second macronutrient that needs to be fulfilled in your post workout meal is protein. Your muscles are primarily made up of protein building blocks called amino acids. During exercise, you tear down your muscles so that they can be rebuilt bigger and stronger. This happens in a process called muscle protein synthesis. In order for protein synthesis to occur, you need protein.
When I eat after a workout, I either eat a meal consisting of whole foods, or I use a shake that also consists of whole foods such as fruit, oats, spinach, or milk, and then I “fortify” it with ground flax seed and lemon-flavored fish oil (great for omega-3 fatty acids). It tastes great, has a huge abundance of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and keeps me healthy and fit. Aim for 1/4 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass.
To summarize what you should be eating after a workout, you want to eat a good amount of carbohydrates, protein, and nutrients. This will help to jump-start protein synthesis (build muscle) and replenish muscle glycogen stores (energy) so that you can recover faster, start metabolizing fat quicker, and get back in the gym sooner to start the process all over again.
What are some of your own meal ideas that you like to eat post-workout?