What to eat post-workout and when to eat it is one of the biggest dilemmas for anyone looking to reach their fitness goals. Whilst there are varying theories on what’s a healthy diet and what’s not so great, there are some solid, hard-and-fast rules that should be observed in order to maximise your potential and to reach your goals in the most efficient way possible.
Why Nutrient Timing Is Important
Your body is like a machine: if you don’t provide it with the right kind of fuel when it needs it, it won’t run properly and is more likely to break down. If you want to maximise your output in the gym, it’s crucial that you give your body the necessary nutrients at the right time.
You’ve probably read that your pre- and post-workout meals are the most important part of your nutrition plan. What you eat before you train can be the difference between a killer workout and a dud; a killer workout leads to killer gains, dud workouts lead to…well, duds. Your post workout meal is equally as important as it helps to regulate your blood sugar and refuel your muscles with much-needed nutrients to aid their recovery.
It’s essential that you can make the most of your time in the gym in order to hit your goals. When your body is properly fuelled, it can be pushed further, lift heavier and go for longer. Better workouts = better gains.
Optimise Your Pre & Post-Workout Nutrition
Regardless of whether you’re cutting or bulking, pre-workout carbs are a must. But don’t go reaching for that energy drink just yet!
Simple vs Complex?
It’s vital that you give your body the right kind of carbohydrate before training. Carbohydrates are broadly split into 2 categories: simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Ultimately, the body breaks down all carbohydrates into their simplest form, glucose. Simple carbs are then absorbed by the body rapidly and produce a sharp spike in blood sugar and energy. Examples of simple carbohydrates include sugar, white bread and fruit.
At the other end, you have complex carbs, which are digested much more slowly and therefore release their energy gradually over time. Good sources include oats, brown grains and brown rice. Neither is better outright than the other — they both have their place and function when considering what to eat post-workout and before.
The best time to consume complex carbohydrates is 1.5-2 hours before training. This way, they’re given plenty of time to be digested and provide a gradual increase in energy, rather than a sharp surge in energy followed by an equally sharp crash. By consuming complex carbs pre-workout, you also load up your muscles with glycogen (stored glucose that the muscles use for energy). The more muscle glycogen you have, the more weight you can lift and for longer periods of time.
When you lift weights or perform any kind of strenuous activity, your muscles’ glycogen stores get depleted. Because of this, post-workout is the best time to consume simple carbohydrates. After a hard workout, your muscles are craving carbohydrates — they need them in order to replenish their glycogen stores, and they’ll be unable to recover as efficiently without them. The faster they can be delivered, the better.
What to Eat Post-Workout
What you eat a few hours after you’ve finished training is also important. By consuming simple carbohydrates immediately post-workout, you cause your blood sugar to spike due to the influx of glucose. Whilst this is what you want post-workout — it means there is plenty of glucose readily available for the muscles — the downside is as your muscles take up the glucose, your blood sugar will start to drop.
If your blood sugar drops too low, you’ll begin to feel weak, irritable and hungry. To prevent this from happening, consume another meal around 2 hours after your post workout meal of protein, complex carbohydrate and veggies in order to regulate your blood sugar and prevent you from crashing. This will also suppress your appetite and help you to feel fuller for longer, as well as providing your body with even more much-needed nutrients.
What About Protein?
You’ll see many different recommendations for daily protein intake depending where you look. As a general rule of thumb, 1.2-1.4g per kilo of bodyweight per day is more than enough for a casual fitness enthusiast looking to build muscle or burn fat. Sure, you could have more, but it won’t make an awful lot of difference in the long run — other than increasing the cost of your weekly shop.
There’s also no real ‘magic number’ for how much protein to take at each meal for the ultimate gains. As a rule of thumb, ensure you get at least 20-30g of protein at every meal, including in your pre and post workout meals.
So How Much Carbohydrate Should I Consume?
This is where you need to do some maths. Ideally, around 1.5-2 hours before training, you should consume 30-35% of your daily carbohydrate allowance in one meal. Of course, your daily allowance depends entirely on your goals, activity levels, gender and current body composition, so I highly recommend using an online calorie/macronutrient calculator to work out your requirements.
Remember that complex carbohydrates (brown rice, brown bread, oats etc.) are the best source of energy pre-workout, so avoid any sugary foods in the hours before training.
When working out what to eat post-workout, you should strive to achieve a ratio of 1:3 of protein to carbohydrates. This is the time for simple, quick-digesting carbs. A great way to refuel the body fast after training is to consume a shake of 1 part protein and 3 parts dextrose (a sugar). For example, if you have a shake of 20g protein, you should add 60g dextrose into the mix. Ideally, you would consume this meal 30-45 minutes after training in order to take advantage of the muscles’ heightened receptive state towards carbohydrates.
Take Home Message
Knowing what to eat post-workout and how to fuel your workouts and recovery can be tough, but it certainly isn’t impossible and will definitely help you to see results. Follow these basic pre and post nutrition guidelines, and you’ll be well on your way to better workouts, better recovery and better gains.