I am often asked: Do I need to eat after my workouts? What foods should be eaten? Post workout nutrition is vital for the effectiveness of the workout. It is the best time to load up the body with nutrients for recovery. Are you sure you are getting everything you need?
There is no 'one size fits all' diet that is universal for everyone. But everyone is going to need to following 5 nutrients: Protein, carbs, fat, water and electrolytes. That being said, the exact foods someone should eat after a workout depends on any factors such as training goals, allergies, intensity of the workout, and of course, taste preferences.
PROTEIN - Muscles building blocks
muscle is made up of the same thing as protein - amino acids. Most people who lift weights (and even those that don't) know that they need protein after a hard workout. But what is the best source? Most people just guzzle down over-priced whey powder they bought at the local supplement store. But there are a many problems with whey protein (This will be covered in detail in a later article). Instead of whey, plant-based protein is a much better option. Hemp appears to be one of the best sources available because it has omega 3's, fibre and enzymes that help with the digestion and absorption. Per scoop, hemp has less protein than whey, but more of the hemp protein is likely going to be absorbed via the digestive system.
It is ideal to take in 20-40g of protein, depending on the intensity of the workout and other individual factors. It is recommended that you drink a hemp shake immediately after working out. Better yet, drink it during the cool-down to get amino acids into the muscle even faster. Protein powders are broken down and absorbed very rapidly by the digestive system. So, if nutrient filled blood is forced into the muscle through stretching and soft tissue work, it is likely these nutrients are getting to the right muscles very efficiently. As long as you get protein in you with 2 hours of finishing your workout, you should be covered. Eggs, chicken, beef or most other lean meats will also provide sufficient protein to build lean muscle. Obviously, protein or amino acids aid recovery, but there are many other factors to consider.
CARBS - Training fuel
For a solid post workout meal, carbs are just as important as protein. This is one of the few times it is ideal to take in fast digesting carbs. A moderate dose of carbs after a workout is important for 2 reasons. First, you need to replenish muscle glycogen that was lost during the workout. Simply put, this is going to provide the energy for the next workout. Secondly, fast digesting carbs cause an insulin spike which is a potent anabolic agent. Flipping from a catabolic state (energy using) to an anabolic state (energy storing) is critical for muscle gains. Honey is one of the best carb sources for post workout since it is a natural and is available practically anywhere, but any quick carb source will work.
FAT- The forgotten nutrient
Let's not forget about the third macro-nutrient: fat. Eating quality fats after working out has many benefits, the two most important benefits are a reduction inflammation and the formation of cell membranes. Every cell membrane in the body uses lipids or fats in the production of cell membranes. So, if you are trying to grow new cells, quality fats are essential. The type of fat you will want to focus on in Omega 3 (polyunsaturated) and Mono-unsaturated fat. Sources include fish, nuts and seeds. Flax oil is one of the best bang for you buck source and can easily be added to your protein shake. so that covers all of the macro-nutrients, what else do you need?
WATER - This is a nutrient?
Yes, water is a nutrient! water makes up over 60% body's mass and is utilized in countless metabolic reactions within the body. Water is not only lost through sweat, it is also lost during exercise in the process of the body creating new energy. When exercising, H20 is broken down in the formation of ATP (the muscles primary energy currency). This is why dehydration impairs strength significantly, not to mention blood volume and muscle mass. During exercise, you can lose close to 2L of water per hour! This fluid must be replaced to recover effectively. Sedentary people should drink at least 3L of water per day. Assuming you are training intensely, you will want to double your intake (about 6L) to match your actively level. But there is more to hydration than just water.
ELECTROLYTES - The other part of hydration
Electrolytes are also depleted during intense training. So it is important to get sodium, potassium, and calcium and magnesium post workout along with your meal. These minerals are readily available in most "healthy foods" (fish, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and most fruits/vegetables. You can also use a fluid replacement such as Gatorade or Powerade. Magnesium in particular is a mineral that people are notoriously deficient in, yet it is involved in over 300 metabolic reactions! Consider adding a magnesium supplement to your regimen.
So there is a lot to think about in regard to post workout nutrition. A plate of meat, rice and vegetables with a few glasses of water will have you covered. If you decide to go the supplemental route, opt for hemp protein, flax oil, honey, an electrolyte replacement (especially focus on magnesium) and a few glasses of water. Be consistent with your post workout nutrition and get the most out of your hard work!