With a workout plan in place, it’s important to stay consistent while slowly progressing each week. You don’t want your training to get stagnant because, over time, as your body will become used to doing the same thing. Workouts need to be intense and focused in order to drive your results.
But the workout is just part of the equation. What you do after your workout is what will really help you to gain strength, build muscle, lose fat, and enhance your fitness. This is where rest, recovery, and most importantly, nutrition, are critical to achieving your goals.
This article will look at what to eat after a workout but, before we look into that, let’s understand what actually happens inside your body when you workout.
Why It Matters What You Eat After a Workout
You may think that training in the gym is where you build strength and muscle, but that’s not the case. The gym and the workout are what sets the stage in order for you to improve your body. When you workout, you’re putting the body through a form of stress. Your body adapts to this stress in various ways; it gets bigger, stronger, fitter, and leaner.
When you strength train, you are breaking down your muscle tissue on a microscopic level. The act of resistance training creates small tears in the muscle tissue. When these tears are repaired, they get a little bit bigger than they were before. This is the act of muscle gain happening on a micro level.
However, you don’t just break down the muscle tissue and expect it to repair back bigger than before. It requires proper nutrition, hydration, and recovery. This is why it’s important to focus on what to eat after a workout.
The same thing goes for enhancing your fitness and cardiovascular function. Engaging your muscles, and cardiovascular system allows them to push through plateaus and improve your fitness levels. This will also require proper nutrition to do so. The most important thing to remember from all of this is what you do at the end of one workout helps prepare you for the next one.
What to Eat After a Workout to Gain Muscle
Protein is going to be one of the obvious choices here but it is only part of the equation. Protein does a lot of things in the body such as:
- Building enzymes and hormones
- Immune system function
- Keeping hair and nails strong
- The building block for skin, bones, ligament, and cartilage
- Balancing fluids
- Maintaining proper pH
- Transporting and storing nutrients
And in our interests in regards to fitness, it helps to build and repair muscle. Those microscopic tears in the muscle tissue require protein in order to build back larger and stronger than before. When you are finished working out, your muscles are like a sponge and are wanting to absorb protein to replenish and repair.
So after a workout, you want to make sure you get a serving of protein within 30 to 60 minutes. There’s varying information about how long you can wait and still get the benefits of protein, but why wait when you’re trying to structure your workouts and meals? It’s true you don’t need protein the second you’ve finished your last rep, but you want to consume some relatively soon after training.
Since your muscles are a sponge, it makes sense to get some easily digestible nutrition in after a workout. This allows your body to make use of it quicker and not have to spend a long time digesting, absorbing, and transporting those nutrients. Protein shakes can be very helpful in this situation, but they’re not absolutely necessary. Think of protein shakes as convenience and time-saver for those situations when getting adequate protein intake may be more difficult.
The Best Protein Sources and How Much You Need
Some good post-workout protein sources include:
- Grilled chicken
- Oatmeal and whey or plant-based protein
- Cottage cheese
As far as how much you need to consume, the recommended amounts involve consuming 0.14 to 0.23 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight in that first meal 30 to 60 minutes after a workout. If you weigh 150 pounds, your post-workout protein requirement would be 21 to 35 grams of protein.
This will help decrease muscle protein breakdown and increase muscle protein synthesis. Muscle protein synthesis is basically just a way to say growth, but it’s where the hard work from the gym is created.
How Many Carbs Do You Need?
Whereas protein is important for muscle recovery, carbohydrates help to refuel your body and muscles. When you work out, you use the glucose that is stored in the muscle and liver as glycogen. Intense workouts deplete these glycogen stores and your post-workout nutrition helps to restore them.
The type of activity you do will determine how much glycogen is required. High endurance activities like swimming, running, and cycling will require more than resistance training (though resistance training still will use it). After intense workouts that have more of a cardiovascular emphasis, you will want to consume 0.5 to 0.7 grams of carbs per pound of body weight. For the 150 pound person, this ends up being 75 to 105 grams of carbs.
A good combination is consuming carbs and protein together after a workout as the combination of the two can lead to more insulin secretion. This insulin secretion allows for more protein and glycogen to be uptaken by the muscles and this results in better repair and replenishment.
Your best carb choices after a workout will be the ones that are absorbed a bit faster and are easily digestible. Look for things like:
- Rice cakes
- White rice
- Chocolate milk
- Regular and sweet potatoes
What Not to Eat After a Workout
Since you have depleted your body from exercise, you want to restore as many nutrients as possible. Not only will this help nourish the body but, it’s clearly needed for improvements to fitness and physique. Consuming nutritionally devoid foods will not help to accomplish this.
Manufactured, processed, and junk foods are the ones that are devoid of nutrients. They are full of artificial ingredients, additives, and chemicals and will not help to replenish the body. They are also full of calories that are more likely to end up stored as body fat. They will also not fill you up because your body will still be requiring the nutrients that it deserves.
You will continue to be hungry for those nutrients your body craves and it will result in overeating. This is the opposite effect you want to have, especially after exercising in the hopes of getting fitter, leaner, and stronger.
What to Drink After a Workout
Water is always going to be your best bet before, during, and after working out. Sports drinks are often consumed, but if the workout hasn’t been that intense, you are probably taking in more calories than needed – and often more than you burned.
Sports drinks can have a place, especially if it’s intensely vigorous exercise outside in the heat. This type of training can cause your body to lose a lot of water along with electrolytes through sweat. A sports drink is the easiest way to replenish all of this in those conditions.
However, water will still be a sufficient choice. Water does a lot of things besides keeping you hydrated, such as:
- Regulating body temperature
- Transport of nutrients
- Digestion and absorption
- Cognitive functions
Water also helps with performance and recovery. If you are playing a competitive sport, and allow yourself to become dehydrated, this can affect your decision making and thought process. This is when you start to make plays and decisions you normally wouldn’t. This is why you want to make sure to drink through your exercise consuming 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes.
After your workout, you want to consume at least 8 ounces of water. When drinking water in relation to exercise, you don’t want to chug it but sip it.
Drinking water too fast can lead to cramping. You want to think of it the same way you would water a plant. When you water a plant you sprinkle on the water. If you dump it all on it just floods and pools and this is a similar impact that happens in your body.
Another tip is to drink water that is room temperature, so it’s not a shock to the body – like ice water is – when consumed.
How Long Should I Wait to Eat After a Workout to Lose Weight?
Even if weight loss is your goal, you still need to replenish your body with carbs and protein. These are both important in the healing and recovery process, and will also prepare your body for its next workout. However, you may be able to wait a bit longer to consume them.
If you’ve been doing any form of cardio, fasted cardio, or high-intensity interval training, your body gets to a state where it’s still able to burn calories and body fat after the workout is done. The act of burning fat is called lipolysis and you want to ride this wave after your workout. If you eat immediately following training, you can interrupt this process. But you also do n’t want to wait too long as your body still requires nutrition.
Waiting the same amount of time –30 to 60 minutes after a workout to eat – will allow your body to get the most fat-burning benefits from the workout. It’s also important not to go more than 2 hours after a workout without eating as you’ll start to undo the progress you made from the workout.
Exercise and nutrition need to go hand-in-hand if you’re looking for results. Whether it’s muscle gain, fat loss, improved fitness, or all of these things, it’s vitally important to pay attention to what you eat after a workout.
A priority needs to be made on protein and carbohydrates and the timing of these things will help determine your success. Avoiding the things that will set you back in your progress is also critical. Consistency and discipline with training and nutrition will be the magical combination to get the most out of your workouts.
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