Your post workout meal is critical to your weight loss and muscle building goals and is the most important meal you’ll eat all day – so what should you eat?
This is a tricky question for people looking to build muscle, but is a particular dilemma for people on a weight loss program.
If you want to lose weight and you’ve just burned off all those calories working out – then dieters may well ask why would you want to eat and put the weight you’ve lost back on again?
Why is your Post Workout Meal so Important…?
OK, first up a short science lesson. Your body’s primary energy source is blood glucose and muscle glycogen – carbs in layman’s terms.
When you exercise you first use up blood glucose and then your body takes muscle glycogen and replenishes your blood glucose with it. Depending on the type of exercise you’re doing, your body may burn some body fat as well.
When you finish exercising you need to replenish your glycogen stores with carbs ready for the next workout.
Furthermore, exercise is catabolic – it causes muscle tissue to break down during exercise.
In between workouts your body needs to repair the muscle tissue and it requires protein to do this. You need to return your body to this anabolic (muscle building) state as soon after a workout as possible.
If you don’t get your post workout meal right you’ll be compromising your weight loss and muscle building goals as:
Get the idea? Let’s move on.
When Should you Eat your Post Workout Meal…?
You have a ‘window of opportunity’ following a workout to give your body the nutrition it needs to maximise the effectiveness of your workout – and subsequent workouts – in terms of muscle repair and growth, fat loss and improved fitness levels.
You should really aim to eat something as soon after your workout as you can and certainly no later than 90 minutes max.
To be more precise, you should eat some carbs within 30 minutes tops and some protein within 90 minutes max, much sooner if possible.
Your body needs the carbs to replenish its glycogen stores and that’s its priority. Any protein eaten on its own immediately after a workout will be wasted as your body will simply digest and demaminate the protein, converting it to glycogen and blood glucose.
Give your body some carbs first. You may even want to delay eating protein for a little longer to give your muscles a chance to start refuelling.
What Should my Post Workout Meal Consist of…?
In short, you need to eat carbs and protein following a workout but avoid eating more than the bare minimum of fat.
Fat can delay the digestion and absorption of your meal, which will hinder the replenishment of your energy stores and delay post workout recovery.
Your meal should consist of quickly digestible carbs and protein. Generally you need to limit fast release carbs if you’re on a weight loss program, but following a workout the opposite is true – avoid complex carbs as they take longer to digest.
What I do is to eat a banana and some dried fruit – raisins are a good choice – immediately following my workout so my body gets some carbs quickly.
If I’ve worked out first thing in the morning, I generally follow that up shortly afterwards with a shake or smoothie containing both carbs and protein – ingredients like fat free milk or soya milk, fat free yoghurt, fruit, honey, protein powder. Check out our smoothie and shake recipes for inspiration.
If I’m pushed for time after a lunchtime workout I do likewise and down a pre-prepared shake.
A good choice for an evening meal would be a jacket or mashed potato, which is quickly digested accompanied by some lean protein like chicken breast or white fish. But don’t leave it more than 30-90 minutes max!
For most people, aim for between 300-600 calories for your post workout meal.
Clearly, a 110lb woman will need fewer calories post workout than a 220lb man.
As for the balance of carbs to protein, a ratio of around 3:1 is about right. Aim for 50-100 grams of carbs and 20-40 grams of protein as a rule. However, that would depend on your workout goals as for instance, a large bodybuilder may well need more than this.
Now if this all sounds a little counter-intuitive – eating sugary high GI carbs rather than low GI whole grains (or eating carbs at all for low-carbers!), minimising your healthy fats and so on, then think of your post workout meal as an exception to the rule – where you can break the rules!
If you workout three times a week, then your three post workout meals need to follow the above guidelines. The rest of your week’s meals should comprise slow release carbs and proteins, healthy fats and plenty of fiber.
As for expensive post workout supplements – sure, the advertisers will tell you they’re essential to your post workout recovery but you don’t need them.
Stick with a natural, easily digestible post workout meal of carbs and protein and your body will be a fat burning, muscle building furnaceready and raring to go for the next workout!