I’m only several years behind the phenomenon of Pinterest, but as much as I refused to get sucked in and addicted….well, it finally happened. You should probably follow my boards–when it comes to all things healthy, I’ve got about 14 different boards ranging from Salads that Don’t Suck, to Strength Training articles, to Yoga, Mobility, and Stretching. I actually have 184 Healthy Cooking Ideas pinned. That’s a lot of ideas for food prep! I recently switched my Strong Figure Pinterest over to my personal account because it was just easier managing one instead of two. Not sure if that’s a great business strategy but it saves me TIME and that’s more important to me than organizing two different accounts. So make sure you follow me!
One of my favorite boards that I just recently created is my Better Snack Choices board. Of all the questions I receive, this is definitely a top reoccurring one. And I get it: when you’re trying to eat well, snacking suddenly becomes tough. A handful of almonds or a greek yogurt just doesn’t always cut it. Lord knows I’ve gotten sick of tuna cups. So check out this board and I promise I’ll keep pinning whatever good snack ideas I can find for you!
Post Workout Snacking
So this blog post idea isn’t really about getting you to follow me on Pinterest, though I will admit, I love a good fan base. What this post is really about is a recent pet peeve of mine. I spend a LOT of time reading. I read fitness and health-related articles daily. I religiously follow the doctors of good health: the ones who know exactly how the body works, what it needs, and who understand how food plays a role in body composition. Over the past ten years, in all I’ve read, one of the most important discoveries about food and body composition might not be “what” you eat, but “when” you eat certain foods. And recently, between Pinterest and even some really well-established fitness sites, I’ve seen some terrible posts and pins advising people on all the WRONG things to eat after a workout.
Here’s What I know
What I know is rather simple and I’m finding that as I explain this almost daily, people don’t know this imperative bit of info 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 and her sister with a shaker in hand post-training. And it shocks me that I 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 see it labeled 2:1. There’s actually a protein powder by Optimum Nutrition called 2:1:1. Erik loves it. Halo is another great pre-made protein option. I got Erik this one for Christmas.) So 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. If simple carbs scare you then a great option is dextrose.
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. This is one reason why fats in the morning are a great idea. Insulin tells our cells to store energy in one of two ways, either as glycogen or fat. And if there is no muscle repairing necessary it will be fat. So when you wake up in the morning after a long fast you do not want a spike in insulin (caused by eating carbohydrates) because at this time insulin will turn this sugar into body fat. However, after a heavy lifting session this is the opportune time to cash in on the good side of the insulin hormone.
Most of our readers do workouts that involve resistance training or HIIT. In some cases, fats 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.
I keep seeing stuff like this on Pinterest that’s really getting under my skin: “Top 5 Foods To Eat Post-Workout.” Four out of these five meals are horrible for post training. And when I saw this pin, 20 Post Workout Foods, I think my blood boiled. Over half of what’s listed here are terrible ideas for post-training nutrition but people are now out there munching on peanut butter and whole wheat bagels thinking they’re “recovering.”
Editors note: if you only do steady-state cardio, which I strongly do not recommend, then there may be some legitimacy to consuming dietary fats post workout. Steady-state cardio would cause a prolonged catabolic state and dietary fats could potentially slow the catabolism. But why on earth would you only do steady-state cardio?
I can’t stand it anymore.
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.
(For the record, please know the difference between protein and fat. 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. Know the difference.)
This is shocking news, right? I actually saw an article on one of my favorite fitness sites in which the author encouraged all sorts of fats and whole grains post training. I was so angry! Fortunately, the website publishes so many other fantastic posts that I shrugged this one off to society’s trained brain in thinking all health foods are okay for post-training and this is the way everyone thinks. Honestly, those are the meals you probably want to eat BEFORE training. A whole wheat bagel with some peanut butter is the perfect combination for slowed digestion and sustained energy.
Here’s What You Should REALLY Be Eating After A Resistance 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 believe everything you read without proper research (even this post may be out-dated science one day).
- 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? Your weekly Strong Figure Conditioning Workouts!
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.