By Martin Ebner
If you're looking for big results both in and outside of the gym, you need to take your post workout nutrition seriously.
To get a better idea of why it's important to fuel up post exercise, it's important to know what happens to your body when you workout. While you may feel pumped and full of energy during and shortly after a tough workout, you're actually depleting your muscles of glycogen (energy) and causing microscopic tears and other damage in the muscle tissue. While this might sound alarming, the “damage” caused during a workout prompts muscle repair which allows your muscles to grow in size, quality and strength. This process however can only take place if you provide your body with the building blocks necessary for recovery.
Related: How to speed up recovery after exercise
The magic window of opportunity
To feel the full benefits of post-workout nutrition, It's important to consume healthy and adequate nutrition as quickly as possible following your workout.
During this whimsical window (up to 2 hours following a workout) your muscles are primed and ready to accept nutrients that can stimulate muscle repair, strength and growth.
While you may be tempted to hold off on your post-workout nutrition until lunch or dinner (depending on when you workout), try to avoid this. If you don't provide your body with adequate post-workout nutrition quickly enough, it will struggle to recover due to a decrease in muscle glycogen storage and protein synthesis. Both of which can be detrimental to your fitness goals.
Which workouts qualify
A good way to decide whether you actually need a feed following exercise is to determine how difficult your workout was on a scale of 1-10. 10 would be maximum effort, 1 would be a leisurely stroll to the shops.
As a general rule, reserve post-workout nutrition for intense (6 or above) weight training, interval and endurance training workouts lasting 30 minutes or more.
Note: If your main goal is weight loss, you can still have a post workout snack, just keep it small and stick to the 2:1 (carbs to protein) ratio (see below).
Related: 10 signs of a great workout
What to eat
Post workout nutrition should be purposeful, not an afterthought. It's not a simple case of eating whatever you fancy. It must serve to replenish energy stores lost through strenuous activity, to increase muscle size and strength and to repair any damage caused by the workout. After all, you've done the hard part. Now put a little effort into what you put in your mouth to really reap the rewards of your workout program.
Carbs and protein
Immediately following a workout (or as soon as possible) you should aim to consume a meal rich in simple carbs and a complete protein (those that contain all 9 essential amino acids).
A ratio of 2:1 (carbs to protein) is the optimal macronutrient proportion to kick-start the muscle repair and building process following exercise.
Try to minimise fat consumption immediately following a workout as it can slow down the digestion and absorption of nutrients which can hinder the recovery process.
Note: Post workout nutrition is quite different from food consumed during the rest of the day. While fast acting carbs, protein and minimal fat is optimal post workout, you should aim to consume ample amounts of complex carbs, protein and healthy fats throughout the rest of the day.
Simple carbs are very easily broken down by the body and therefor are preferable to complex carbs post workout. Examples include:
Unsweetened fruit juice
Bread and pasta (white flour)
Complete proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids necessary for muscle repair and development. Examples include:
Whey and casein protein
Eggs and Dairy products
Quinoa and Amaranth
5 easy post workout meals
Use the following 5 delicious and easy to prepare post workout recipes to get you started.
Banana, Coconut and spinach smoothie
Both easy to make and consume following a tough workout, this has to be one of my favourite post workout meals.
1. Throw the Chia seeds in the blender and give them a blitz until they're finely ground.
2. Add the coconut water, soy milk, sugar, banana, spinach and protein powder to the blender and blitz until it forms a nice cream texture,
3. Serve with ice.
200 ml Unsweetened coconut water
200 ml Unsweetened soy milk
1 Medium banana
1 Tbsp Chia seeds
1 Scoop (25g) Protein powder
1 Handful of raw spinach
444 calories, 61g carbs, 34g protein,
Banging BLT Sandwich
I'll not insult your intelligence by giving you instructions on how to make a Sandwich. I will however advise you to grill the bacon and remove the fat post cooking.
2 Slices of bread (white or wholegrain)
3 Rashers of bacon (fat removed)
Handful of Lettuce
1 Tbsp low-fat mayo
401 calories, 42g carbs, 25g protein, 10g fat
Tuna, cucumber and Rocket Bagel
1. Place the tuna, cucumber, tomato, spring onion and mayo in a bowl, give it a good mash with a fork until the mayo is mixed throughout.
2. Add the mixture to the bagel and top with a handful of rocket.
3. Serve and enjoy.
1 Bagel (Medium)
1 Can Tuna in brine (100g)
1 Tbsp low-fat mayo
Diced Cucumber (go wild)
1/3 Diced tomato
1/4 Diced spring onion
Handful of Rocket
422 calories, 59g carbs, 30g protein,
Overnight Oats so good
You'll want to prepare this one ahead of time (Preferably the night before).
1. Add the oats, milk, chia seeds, and honey to a jar. Screw the lid on tightly and give it a good shake.
2. In a separate bowl, mix the protein powder and yogurt until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
3. Add the berries and yogurt to the jar and give it a good stir.
4. Seal and store in the refrigerator overnight.
5. Following your workout, give it a quick stir and enjoy straight from the jar.
150 milk (Almond, soy or cow)
1 Scoop (25g) Protein powder
150g Greek yogurt (Fat-free)
1 Tbsp ground Chia seeds
1 Tbsp Honey
540 calories, 66g carbs, 42g protein,
While protein supplements should never replace real food, they can be extremely useful following a tough workout, when short on time or if you need to bump up your protein consumption without adding additional calories.
If you don't have time or access to a kitchen following your workout, instead of dragging on with an empty stomach or grabbing something of little nutritional value out of convenience, make yourself a protein shake and combine it with 2 pieces of fruit. 1 scoop provides around 23 grams of protein and each price of fruit around 20g sugar, making it the ideal 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein.
Check out Myprotein for their great range of protein supplements.