I know you have heard it before “abs are made in the kitchen”. As silly as it sounds, it is true! Yes, what you do during your workouts is very important to reaching your fitness and/or fat loss goals; however, if you are not feeling your body with proper nutrition (especially post-workout) your results might be lacking.
If the above statement is true, you want to read the rest of this article. Even if it is not true, you might find some great tips about what types of post-workout foods you can eat to optimize your results and really get the most out of each and every workout.
The entire day’s worth of eating is very important in overall weight loss, energy levels to push hard in your workouts (or survive the day), and overall health; however, what you eat around your workouts can really make a large difference in results.
Pre-workout food is going to fuel you through your workout because the worst thing that can happen is having your mind ready to dominate a workout, but your body is dragging due to lack of energy.
Post-workout food is going to help your body recover from the workout, reduce muscle soreness, help with protein synthesis (how your body builds muscle), and restore glycogen levels (stored energy in your muscles!).
What Post-Workout Foods Are the Best?
When it comes to what you eat after a workout it’s important to look at macronutrients compared to calories of foods.
The foods we eat contain three macronutrients: fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Each of these macronutrients supplies the body with energy.
Carbohydrates are our body’s most direct source of energy. This is why you hear of athletes carbohydrate loading before an event – because to do so provides the body with a ready supply of energy for use during intense exercise.
When we eat carbohydrates, our bodies store them in the muscles as glycogen, which it then uses for energy throughout the day. As we exercise, we begin to deplete glycogen from carbohydrates which typically lasts for about an hour and a half. About 50 percent of our body’s energy comes from carbohydrates when we exercise.
Fat also supplies fuel to the body, but much more slowly than carbohydrates. During the first 90 minutes or so of exercise, fat metabolism accounts for about half of the body’s energy requirements, and that jumps up by about 25 percent after we’ve depleted carbs during long-term exercise lasting more than 20 minutes.
When you exercise, your muscle tissue sustains minute bits of damage – micro-tears.
Protein as a post-workout food helps the body to repair the micro-tears that occur in the muscle tissue during a workout, which assists in building stronger muscles. Protein may also be metabolized for energy, although it must first be converted into body fat before your body can use it as fuel.
Post-workout foods timing is crucial to limit the amount of cortisol in your body and start the recovery and repair process of your muscles and should be consumed within 30-60 minutes of your exercise. Remember, cortisol is your body’s stress hormone that leads to muscle breakdown and fat storage. Even though exercise is good for you and your fitness goals, it is still a stressor for your body, especially as muscles are broken down. What you eat or drink is also very important as you will read below and this is the one time to limit any kinds of fats as they will slow down the absorption of the carbohydrates.
Although complex carbs are the way to go with their high fiber content and slow breakdown in your body, this is the one time it is different. You want a faster acting carbohydrate combined with a quality protein to take advantage of an insulin response in your body and help drive the protein and nutrients into your muscles and cells to aid in recovery. The more lean tissue you maintain, the higher your metabolism stays and the more body at you can ultimately burn.
Usually, a shake is the best way to accomplish this as it will be easier to digest and will also aid in hydration. You will normally want about a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein so anywhere from 30g:15g up to 50g:25g (180-300 calories) If you’re starving, a meal is ok, but it still takes some time to digest.
As a rule of thumb, if the workouts are resistance intensive or hard cardio workouts (like intervals), or for a long duration (60-90 minutes) then the pre and post nutrition is extremely important. If it is just a light walk, don’t go calorie crazy.
Image: Precision Nutrition
1. Chocolate PB Protein shake: Monkey around with ½ or 1 medium banana, 1 tablespoon peanut flour or PB2 (peanut butter flavour without the extra fat), and 1 scoop of whey protein powder, 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, blended with ice. If you use a frozen banana no ice is needed. Optional also to add a handful of spinach to get your greens in (no you can’t taste it!) or 1 tbsp of cinnamon to help with inflammation.
Note: Any other protein shake mix that includes protein powder and fruit/veggies. If it’s just a quick snack right after a workout on the go, try just protein powder and water with a banana or apple.
2. Cottage cheese (or Greek yogurt) crunch: half a cup to one cup fat-free cottage cheese, 1 teaspoon honey or agave, ½ cup whole-grain cereal or oats, and a dash of cinnamon.
3. Egg muffinwich: Ditch the fast-food and opt for 1 whole egg, fresh spinach, 1 slice low fat cheese, and 1 slice Canadian bacon served on an whole wheat English muffin.
Note: This could also be made into an omelet, loaded with veggies, with the english muffin on the side.
4. Protein pancakes: mix 4 egg whites, ½ cup rolled oats, ½ cup low fat cottage cheese, 1/8 teaspoon baking powder, and ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Cook on preheated griddle (medium low heat) until it bubbles, then flip and cook another 30-60 seconds. Top with fresh berries or sliced banana. (I have many more recipes for protein pancakes, ask me if you want more)
5. Pita and hummus: One 7-inch pita with two spoonfuls of hummus.
Protein bar: For a quick, store-bought fix, feed those muscles with a protein bar. Just watch the sugar content. Look for bars with 10-30 grams of protein, less than 10 grams of sugar, and the fewest number of ingredients you can’t pronounce! I really like Quest Bars and they are one of the only processed bars I will eat because they contain no artificial ingredients.
NOTE: Don’t Fall for food marketing scam. Click here to learn how to spot the “healthy fakes”
Choose a meal that contains lean protein and carbohydrates:
Meat, Veggies, and squash: Try a handful of lean roast beef, chicken or other lean protein with an equal portion of butternut squash (or sweet potato/quinoa/brown rice), with a serving of green vegetables.