Should you be concerned about post-workout nutrition?
The truth is, most likely not. But just in case, let’s take a quick quiz to find out.
- Are you sleeping at least 7 hours per night?
- Are you drinking half of your bodyweight (lbs) in ounces of water daily?
- Do you have at least 5 servings of vegetables per day?
- Do you eat protein with each meal?
- Are you exercising regularly?
If you answered no to any of those questions, I think the first step is to nail down all of these habits before you get too focused on post-workout nutrition.
A lot of people who want to transform their body seek out advanced nutrition strategies or quick fixes to get lean, but here’s the reality – most people don’t need, or aren’t ready for, these advanced strategies.
Mastering the basics is often enough to get you most, if not all of the way to achieving your fitness goals. Being consistent with the basics, and focusing on lifestyle habits, will have a far more positive impact on your health than worrying about post-workout nutrition strategies.
When Is Post-Workout Nutrition Helpful?
The other major point with post-workout nutrition is that it’s really only effective after an intense workout. Walking your dog, or doing some light stretching doesn’t elicit a big enough response in the body to justify a post-workout shake.
On the other hand, if your shirt is soaked with sweat or your muscles are shaky from fatigue then the workout was probably intense enough to earn a post-workout beverage.
Who Should Focus On Post-Workout Nutrition?
If your current fitness goal is to build muscle, or if you practice intermittent fasting and workout on an empty stomach, then you would probably benefit from including a post-workout shake in your diet.
Reason being, there could be an advantageous “anabolic window” whereby muscle cells are more receptive to nutrients after an intense workout. Many sources say that this window lasts from 1-3 hours post-workout.1 If you want to build muscle, it might be beneficial to replenish your muscles immediately after your weight training session. Building muscle also requires you to eat more calories than you burn, so a post-workout shake might help you meet your calorie needs.
If you’re training in a fasted state, then you’ll definitely want to eat after your workout to feed your muscles and fuel your energy stores.
Post-Workout Nutrition Isn’t That Important
However, under most circumstances, studies have found that post-workout nutrition isn’t as important as many people make it out to be.2
Yes, glycogen stores (stored carbohydrates) will be used during an intense session and will need to be replaced with dietary carbs.
Yes, you need to consume protein to ensure that you give your body the building blocks it needs to repair and recover from the micro-damage of exercise.
But in the grand scheme of things, the research is inconclusive about the need to get specific nutrients into your body right after your workout. The consistent finding is that, as long as your daily overall protein intake is adequate, then the actual timing of when you consume eat isn’t that important.3
Drinking enough water, getting into a good sleep habit, and eating your veggies every day can seem pretty unsexy (and also requires a number of lifestyle modifications). But, if you can master these basics, you will be a healthier, fitter person for the long-term.
There’s a great analogy that the coaches at Precision Nutrition use – “Be careful of mowing the grass when the house is on fire.” In other words, don’t focus your energy on the minor things when the major things need attention. Post-workout nutrition is one of those minor things.
If you fall into the category of someone who is focused on building muscle, or frequently workout fasted, then post-workout nutrition is something you might benefit from.
Benefits Of Post-Workout Nutrition
The 3 main goals of a post-workout meal are:
1. Prevent muscle breakdown.
2. Promote muscle growth.
3. Replace glycogen (stored carbohydrates).
Ok, so what’s the best way to accomplish these 3 things?
Having a protein shake within 2-4 hours of exercise that contains a 2:1 ratio of fast-absorbing carbohydrates to protein is a great way to satisfy all of these requirements.
You also want to avoid fat in the post-workout window because fat slows digestion, which is not ideal for quickly getting nutrients into cells.
Research varies on the best ratio of carbs to protein, but I would shoot for at least a 1:1 ratio, up to 2:1 if you had a longer, more intense workout. For those looking to put on muscle, you could probably go up to a 3:1 ratio.
Perfect Post-Workout Meal Example
Post-Workout Protein Shake Recipe
1 large Banana
1.5 cups Coconut Water
1 scoop Whey Protein
1 cup Ice
Instructions: In a mixer, blend all ingredients until smooth.
Carbs: 53 grams
Protein: 28 grams
Fat: 1 gram
If Fat Loss Is Your Goal, Be Careful With Shakes
If fat loss is your primary goal, I would be careful about post-workout meals and shakes. The main goal with fat loss, as you probably know, is maintaining a calorie deficit. And maintaining a calorie deficit can be challenging hunger-wise. In this case, you’ll want to select foods that are satiating and that help maintain steady blood sugar levels to help control hunger.
Post-workout shakes are highly effective at getting nutrients into your body and replenishing your muscles quickly, but they do very little to create a feeling of fullness. If anything, the fast-absorbing carbs might increase your hunger a few hours later. This is just something to be mindful of. I’ve found that with many of my fat loss clients, shakes are not something that work well.
I hope you now understand when to focus on post-workout nutrition. Do you use post-workout nutrition strategies? What have your experiences been?
- Rasmussen BB, Tipton KD, Miller SL, Wolf SE, Wolfe RR. An oral essential amino acid-carbohydrate supplement enhances muscle protein anabolism after resistance exercise.J Appl Physiol. 2000;88(2):386-92. ↩
- Verdijk LB, Jonkers RA, Gleeson BG, et al. Protein supplementation before and after exercise does not further augment skeletal muscle hypertrophy after resistance training in elderly men.Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(2):608-16. ↩
- Tipton KD, Elliott TA, Cree MG, Aarsland AA, Sanford AP, Wolfe RR. Stimulation of net muscle protein synthesis by whey protein ingestion before and after exercise.Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2007;292(1):E71-6. ↩