Here’s What I know
I’m finding that as I explain this concept almost daily, people don’t know this one little tidbit of information that’s absolutely critical to post-workout nutrition:
The body needs two grams of carbohydrates per every one gram of protein in order for the body to recover properly post training.
Everyone knows you need protein after working out. That’s why you see everyone with a shaker cup in hand post-training. And it shocks me that I often see nothing more than JUST the protein in hand. Protein is GREAT and without it, we can’t repair our muscles, and the muscles can’t grow, and we can’t get stronger.
BUT HOW DOES THE PROTEIN GET TO THE MUSCLES? With carbohydrates. Simple carbs, at that. Society is so scared of simple carbs–AKA white bread, white rice, dessert foods–anything not a whole grain and everything sugar filled. These are the foods associated with weight gain. Why the heck would anyone eat them? Simple sugars are frowned upon because of their fast-acting insulin-producing response in the body. Normally, this can lead to unhealthy appetites and weight gain. BUT post workout, you NEED to get the protein to your muscles QUICKLY. And what gets the protein there? Carbs. Two grams of carbs per every one gram of protein. You’ll often see this labeled as 2:1. There’s actually a protein powder by Optimum Nutrition called 2:1:1. Erik loves it. Halo is another great pre-made recovery protein option.
But if you’re not using a pre-made protein+carb shake (I don’t think most people are), then you’ll have to do the math and come up with the carbs yourself. If your favorite protein powder gives you a whopping 23 grams of protein per serving, you’ll need 46 grams of simple carbs to transport the protein back to where it belongs: your muscles. And if eating a bag of gummy bears scares you then a cleaner option is dextrose and/or low-fiber fruit.
Dextrose is a clean and natural carb that is the perfect compliment to help maximize protein absorption. By using a product like 2:1:1 or dextrose, you will maximize the muscle rebuilding effects of the protein post workout.
The most referenced study pointing to the effectiveness of carbs and protein post workout is this 2006 study. Since then, there have been numerous studies that have looked closer at the specific “window” of time a person should be absorbing protein, how much, and how effective carbohydrates are at delivering the protein to the muscle cells that need rebuilding. And the research shows that one of the most important factors post workout is the effect of insulin. In steady-state cardio only workouts where there is little muscle damage, the insulin response might be to promote body fat instead of glycogen in the muscles. Whereas, in resistance training, the response of insulin aids muscle rebuilding by putting glycogen back in the muscles. Moreover, your training should involve lifting heavy stuff or high intense interval style cardio to assure the insulin spike post workout is producing muscle and not body fat. And for athletes who do practice resistance training and high intensity cardio, the simple carbohydrates will not only aid in the absorption of protein but they will aid in the insulin spike itself.
But Here’s What I’m Seeing
People all over the internet are telling others to eat the wrong foods post-training. By wrong, I mean whole grains and fats. These do nothing for muscle repair post workout because it slows down the time it takes to get the protein to your muscles. Fats slow down the insulin response.
Most of our readers do workouts that involve resistance training or HIIT. In some cases, eating fats post training may actually stop the protein from getting to your muscles after these resistance workouts. Nuts and avocados are FANTASTIC super foods, but they have their place. After your heavy resistance workout is not the place.
When you eat FAT or WHOLE GRAINS after resistance training, these foods slow down the absorption process of the protein. So all that hard training you just did? If you’re having an apple and peanut butter, you’ve wasted a bit of effort. Opt for a protein shake with your favorite fruit, or my personal favorite, a bowl of rice krispies with marshmallows and vanilla protein powder mixed into the milk. Sounds crazy, but for recovery purposes, it does the trick.
(For the record, peanut butter is not protein, it’s a FAT. Read the labels. If it has more fat grams per serving than it does protein, it’s a fat. Your body will recognize and use it as a fat.)
Let me be as clear as I can with this:
Here’s What You Should REALLY Be Eating After A Resistance and Interval Cardio Workout
Simple carbs and protein, that’s it. Wait at least an hour, up to three if you can, before eating fat–nut butters, avocados, oils, cheeses, etc. Post training, you can get away with the foods you didn’t think you could get away with before (I would still recommend sticking to your daily macronutrient needs and not over do it):
- Protein + white (unrefined) bread/rice/pasta/potatoes
- Protien + cereal (your favorite kind, not a healthy/whole grain kind)
- Protein + candy (ones made with dextrose are best: gummy bears, sweet tarts, jelly beans)
- Protien + dessert (ones that are low in fat)
- Protein + waffles and pancakes
This scare you a bit? It’s ok–you can still have your protein with healthier carb options:
- Protein + fruit
- Protein + sweet potatoes
- Protein + dextrose (powdered form)
- MAKE A FUN SMOOTHIE! Protein powder plus bananas and berries are awesome post training.
When I say “Protein” above, I don’t necessarily mean protein powder. You could sub lean cuts of protein like chicken or turkey. However, the powder will work faster and is typically loaded with amino acids, among a host of other necessary nutrients and antioxidants meant for muscle repair and overall great health. I would caution against fatty cuts of meat and even eggs and dairy post training as they all contain fat, and dairy and eggs contain a casein protein which digests slower.
THE TAKE HOME
- Don’t eat whole grains or fats within 1-3 hours post training.
- DO eat protein and simple carbs as soon as possible after training.
- Try to get two grams of carbs per every one gram of protein post training.
- Protein powder plus berries, sweet potatoes, bananas, or rice make for great yet healthy post training recovery.
- You can eat your favorite dessert or cereal after training, with a scoop of protein, and you’ll get better results than trying to eat peanut butter on whole wheat toast.
All this post-training food talk has me hungry. What better way to work up an appetite? Choose a workout!
Workout 1: For time:
- 200 meter run or row
- 30 kettlebell swings (or lunges if you have no weight)
- 15 push-ups
- 200 meter run or row
- 15 push-ups
- 30 kettlebell swings
- 200 meter run or row
Workout 2: For time:
- 50 squats
- 50 hollow rocks
- 40 squats
- 40 kettlebell swings (or lunges)
- 30 squats
- 30 push-ups
- 20 squats
- 20 shoulder taps (each arm)
- 10 squats
- 10 burpees
Workout 3: 3 Rounds:
- 30 step-ups
- 20 shoulder-press push-ups
- 10 right arm/left leg 10 second plank holds
The step-ups can be weighted or non-weighted. Just find something at a decent height (aim for a minimum of 18 inches) and step up 30 times alternating legs each time.
The shoulders press push-ups are similar to a down-dog push-up. From the down dog yoga pose, walk your feet in slightly with a slight bend in the knees and perform a push-up by lowering the top of your head as close to the floor as possible.
The planks are held by opposite arm and leg. Perform one on your right hand/left leg and hold for 10 seconds and then switch. That’s two reps.