What You Should REALLY Be Eating After Your Workout

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.

Eat better. 

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.

Comments

  1. eatsandexercisebyamber says

    Pinned and Tweeted, BUT more importantly, I couldn’t agree more with you about the plethora of FALSE information out there. It kills me when people are like NUT BUTTERS FOR PROTEIN, yes there is protein IN them, but they are more fat than anything else… my one friend who body builds has a protein shake and STRAIGHT UP HONEY for his carbs. Typically, I work out, have a shake, then eat dinner shortly after, consisting of protein, LOTS of veggies, a sweet potato/quinoa and spaghetti squash :)

    • Stephanie Walker says

      Amber, if I workout in the evening, I pretty much do the same as you…protein shake with some berries or another simple carb, and then a dinner with some carbs about an hour after. I love the protein and “straight up honey” bit….does he put the honey in his protein shake? Local honey is really good to help combat allergies. I wonder if that would help people’s allergies AND workout recovery all in one?! Lol. Might have to try that sometime. I used to LOVE those little honey straws as a kid….I bet a scoop of protein with a honey straw and a serving of my fave cereal post training would be the most Awesome.Thing.Ever. ;)

    • strongfigure says

      Amber, honey is a great natural carb and the math is easy. A table spoon of honey is just over 20g of carbs so 2 tbs for a 20g scoop of whey would be a great recovery. And Steph is right it helps with allergies (assuming its local).

  2. Deanna says

    Hey steph, loved this post! What is a good protein powder to have post workout that is tasty on it’s own without adding Ice or anythjng else, but also isn’t filled with a lot of junk and fillers? I only like to eat real food but I need something easy because I am deploying and this is my only option! I have used egg white protein powder before and if I can remember right, it was ok on it’s own.

    • strongfigure says

      Hey Deanna, (this is Erik) I would try the 2:1:1 referenced in the article. I used to work out far from home and I would go straight back to work after my lifting so I didn’t want to mess with a blender etc…And I don’t know what I would have done with out Optimum’s 2:1:1. I love the taste! I get chocolate, which might be the only flavor? But it is really good. It is actually a mix of three protein types: hydrolyzed whey, casein, and egg-white protein. It already has the perfect clean carb ratio included and it has BCAA’s. It really is the perfect post-workout protein — especially for a person on the go who doesn’t have the time to add berries, greens, bananas etc…

      I just started Halo so I am not ready to 100% recommend it yet. So far so good and the reviews are awesome but I cannot speak to the results yet. It is also a little more pricey (but it does include a lot). I will have to do a more thorough review on Halo after I have been taking for a few months.

      For now my best recommendation is 2:1:1 — it is hyperlinked in the article above to Muscle and Strength and right now it is selling at just over $1 a serving. Hard to beat that price for all you get.

      If you already use a separate carb source and just want a protein (such as a simple whey) then I suppose I would want to know more about your needs — what time will you take it (morning, afternoon, evening, at night…and are you only taking post workout or are you looking for a more all purpose whey? This is actually a super complicated topic. And one reason why we are looking at putting together a protein buying guide.