Nutrition after a workout, or as its sometimes known, recovery nutrition or post training snacking, has been talked about and researched at length over the last two decades (1). There are, however, still some myths which exist around it.

For many of you visiting a gym lately, you will have seen some of these myths in evidence both from the supplement companies advertising and the crowd of people who have no sooner finished their last weights rep than are rushing to the water fountain to fill their protein shakes / mix their recovery products.

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When looking at post workout eating, it’s important to separate the process into the relevant groups. A large portion of people work on the assumption this might be athletes and non athletes, but far more relevant is; twice or more per day training and once per day training.

Following exercise the body will have an elevated carbohydrate sensitivity and an elevated protein synthesis rate for several hours (1). This allows the food you eat to be absorbed and used to restore energy (muscle/liver glycogen) and repair damage (muscle protein synthesis) following exercise.

As you’ll all know, if you are exercising / training again soon after your previous session, the priority is returning the body to its best possible state as soon as possible. For example a triathlete (recreational or olympian) who swims in the morning for 1.5 hours and then cycles for 2 hours in the evening has a time constraint on their recovery from the swim before the cycle.

For someone doing a 30 minute run on Monday and then not doing another run until Wednesday they have 48 hours to recover and so have longer to return to being fully recovered.

A large amount of research has been completed on endurance sports and the recovery from these exercise sessions before the next workout (more often than not later in the same day), this has lead to the standard message of “the sooner the better” when consuming your post exercise meal as it will lead to greater gains.

This is played on by advertising particularly for supplement companies leading to the aforementioned queue at the water fountain in the gym – “I’ve finished exercising if I don’t get my shake within 30 seconds then I won’t get the gains from my workout and therefore won’t improve”.

In addition to the after workout snack / meal, there is a case to be made that the pre-exercise meal, has an impact on recovery, especially based on the time taken for complete digestion and absorption of nutrients.

If a pre-exercise meal is eaten it will provide nutrition for the initial stages of exercise, the remainder which isn’t digested at the beginning of the workout, will be used as the immediate post exercise nutrition (2). This will potentially relieve some of the time pressure with regards to consuming your post workout snack / meal.

In summary there are some simple rules which you can follow:

1. If you’re training again within 24 hours, consume your carbohydrate and protein as soon as possible to ensure the nutrients are delivered to the body faster. This will help return the glycogen stores to their original level before the next workout.

2. If you’re next training session is 36 hours plus away then use your next meal (within 4 hours) to refuel and repair. Ensure that you have a balanced diet with adequate carbohydrate, proteins, fats along with vitamins and minerals to ensure your recovery is complete before your next session.

3. If you’re next workout is 36 hours plus away but know you wont be eating an adequate meal within 4 hours, or will forget to eat due to a busy work day (meetings etc) then consume an after workout snack within an hour of completing you workout.

4. If you’re next workout is 36 hours plus away but know you will suffer from increased hunger and therefore over eat at your next meal then consume an after workout snack within an hour of completing you workout to prevent this from happening.

When we are looking at the specific foods which should be targeted following a workout these general guidelines will help:

Discover what to eat after a workout-02

Twice Per Day Training

Recommended foods: Protein and carbohydrate

Why:  When looking at speed of recovery carbohydrate and protein combined have been shown to increase the speed of energy (glycogen) absorption (3). This does not affect total glycogen absorption, therefore given enough time total glycogen will be returned to normal, however, when training again soon after time is limited (3).

Quanitites:  

Endurance (high carbohydrate use) (4)

Carbohydrate: 1-1.5g per kg of body  weight (g/kg BW)

Protein: 0.3-0.4g/kg BW post workout. Throughout the day 1.2-1.6g/kg BW.

Resistance (varying carbohydrate use)

Carbohydrate: as needed usually <1g/kg BW

Protein: 0.3-0.4g/kg BW post workout. Throughout the day 1.6-2.0g/kg BW. (5)

Examples: 

For a 50kg individual the targets would be 50-75g carbohydrate and 15-20g protein.

The examples below contain 50g carbohydrate and 20g Ppotein:

• 2 medium-large bananas, 75g chicken breast
• 15 dried apricots, 150g low fat cottage cheese
• 500ml fresh orange juice, 200g low fat yoghurt

Once Per Day Training

Recommended foods: Mixed meal including protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals (6).           

Why:  The body will require a balance of nutrients, carbohydrate for energy restoration, protein for repair and feels of satiety. Vitamins and minerals are vital to ensure adequate absorption and use of the carbohydrates and protein.

Quanitites:  A mixed meal of varied sizes will be adequate, the key is the overall volumes of carbohydrate and protein throughout the day.

Carbohydrate (4) Light exercise (3-5 hours per week): 3-5g/kg BW per day
Moderate duration and intensity (10 hours per week): 5-7g/kg BW per day
Protein (5) Endurance exercise: 1.2-1.4g/kg BW per day.
Strength / Resistance exercise: 1.2-2g/kg BW per day.

Reference

1. Aragon, A. A., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2013). Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 10(1), 5.
2. Tipton, K. D., Rasmussen, B. B., Miller, S. L., Wolf, S. E., Owens-Stovall, S. K., Petrini, B. E., & Wolfe, R. R. (2001). Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology And Metabolism, 281(2), E197-E206.

3. Jentjens, R. L., Van Loon, L. J., Mann, C. H., Wagenmakers, A. J., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2001). Addition of protein and amino acids to carbohydrates does not enhance postexercise muscle glycogen synthesis. Journal of applied Physiology, 91(2), 839-846.

4. Burke, L. M., Hawley, J. A., Wong, S. H., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2011). Carbohydrates for training and competition. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(sup1), S17-S27.

5. Phillips, S. M., & Van Loon, L. J. (2011). Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. Journal of sports sciences, 29(sup1), S29-S38.

6. British Dietetics Association Food Fact sheet on healthy eating: https://www.bda.uk.com/ foodfacts/HealthyEating

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