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Post Workout Nutrition: What and When

By August 7, 2015October 18th, 2018Nutrition
Post Workout Nutrition

By: Michael Simmer BS, CSCS, LMT, FST-1, TPI-1

When we talk about post workout nutrition it is important to discuss several factors that go into our meal choices, including what is happening while we exercise and why our bodies need and crave fuel after a workout.

Exercise Effects on the Body

Exercising in its simplest terms is a breaking down and rebuilding of our muscles and it can cause “micro-damage”. When muscles regularly undergo microscopic tears, damage can build up over time causing those well-known post training symptoms most have dealt with. To successfully recover from this, our bodies require specific nutrients.  These include a full range of quality amino acids (ie.: BCAAs), quality carbs (glycogen) and essential fatty acids (omega 3’s) as building blocks in order to activate protein synthesis,(create new muscle protein), replace lost glycogen stores and reduce muscle and joint inflammation. 

Post-workout Nutrient Needs

Research supports that a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein is the most successful combination of macronutrients to support glycogen replenishment immediately post-workout, this meal or snack is best consumed within 20 minutes of the workout. Roughly 2 hours after a workout, clients should consume a higher protein meal. After training, consuming or supplementing with BCAAs can help support protein synthesis and muscle tissue repair. Five grams of BCAAs is considered the ideal dose to refill energy lost during training and sustain capable recovery BCAAs can be found in plant-based foods. Mindful post-workout nutrition can support faster recovery, and the faster and more completely you recover, the sooner you can do it all over again.

Generally, post-workout nutrition has three specific purposes:

  • Replenish glycogen
  • Decrease protein breakdown
  • Increase protein synthesis

In other words, athletes/exerciser want to:

  • replenish their energy stores
  • increase muscle size and/or muscle quality
  • repair any damage caused by the workout
  • Proposed benefits of good post-workout nutrition include:
  • Improved recovery
  • Less muscle soreness
  • Increased ability to build muscle
  • Improved immune function
  • Improved bone mass
  • Improved ability to utilize body fat

These benefits seem to work for everyone, regardless of gender or age.

Another aspect that goes into post workout nutrition is availability; Availability strongly influences the amino acid/glucose delivery and transport. In other words, in order for our bodies to use raw materials to rebuild and recover, those raw materials have to be available. And if they’re available, then our body is more likely to use them. Simply having the materials around can signal to our body that it’s time to rebuild. This means that as soon as you drop that last dumbbell, you should be consuming some type of post workout nutrition.

So why not have a nice steak dinner after working out after all more is better right? You could certainly eat a whole food meal that meets these requirements after exercise. However, whole food meals aren’t always practical for different reasons.

  • Some people aren’t hungry immediately after exercise.
  • Whole food digests slowly, and we want nutrients to be available quickly.
  • A whole food meal that requires refrigeration might be less practical.

On the other hand, consuming a liquid form of nutrition that contains rapidly digesting carbohydrates and proteins or isolates have been shown to:

  • Accelerate recovery by utilizing insulin for nutrient transport into cells;
  • Result in rapid digestion and absorption
  • Be better tolerated during and after workouts.
  • Data indicates that it may only take about 20 grams of protein after a workout to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

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