Before you reach for just anything to quickly satisfy your hunger post-workout, do you know what you should be eating to make the most of your hard work in the gym? Some consider the post-workout meal to be one of the most important meals you consume during the day. If you don’t give your body exactly what it needs, you will certainly not make the most of this important replenishment period. If you are confused about what is important when it comes to your post-workout needs, keep reading. Here are five post-workout nutrition myths and truths.
#1: You Must Eat Carbs and Protein Immediately After Your Workout
Most of us have heard that there is a post-workout “anabolic window” during which it is “critical” to recovery to replace lost glycogen. While it is true that during a workout the muscles do use and access amino acids and stored muscle glycogen, we don’t actually use up as much as you think. Most research that showed the positive effects of post-workout nutrition, including post-workout carbohydrate loading, were completed on endurance athletes who had no doubt depleted muscle glycogen. Depending on what you are doing to train, it may not be as important to reload your carbohydrates.
So unless you are blasting through serious calories like an endurance athlete or training on a calorie deficit where you are depleting your stores completely, you should not be as concerned about carbing up post workout. Rather, be more concerned with loading up on your aminos! Shift your post-workout nutrition focus on getting your protein needs met.
During a workout, the nitrogen balance can be disrupted, and when that happens, the muscle-building processes shut off. As you lift, muscle protein turnover occurs, which is the rate at which protein degradation or muscle breakdown increases, and the rate at which skeletal muscle protein synthesis or muscle building decreases. If the aminos are not replenished, specifically the branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs, muscle catabolism or breakdown can result. After a workout, this breakdown will continue until the right nutrition is received. Opt for a simple BCAA powder post-workout to help replenish lost aminos and kickstart your muscle building and recovery into high gear.
#2: Any Protein Will Do Post Workout
Unfortunately not all proteins are created equal, and some are definitely better when it comes to your post-workout nutrition. Post-workout, you want a quick and high quality protein that delivers all the essential aminos required for muscle growth and recovery. Avoid dairy protein like cottage cheese, casein protein or yogurt. Sure, they are high in protein and do deliver on aminos, but they are super slow digesting. In fact, casein protein powder can take up to 7 hours to fully digest. It forms a gel like substance in the intestinal tract, which slowly releases aminos to body, making this the perfect nighttime protein, and probably the worst post-workout protein available. Instead choose a whey isolate or whey hydrolysate that are higher in BCAAs and are digested the quickest of the protein powders. Not a fan of supplements? Eat a lean piece of meat like chicken or turkey, and avoid fattier meats like red meat, as the fat will slow down digestion of the protein.
#3: Eating Fat Post-Workout is a No-Go
This myth is true! Simply put, fat and even fiber slow down the digestion of anything you eat with it. So if you think there is nothing wrong with throwing in a tablespoon of your favorite and delicious nut butter into your post-workout shake, you are sadly mistaken. If you combine fats or fiber, the two main components of nuts, with your protein post-workout, you will only slow down its digestion, which, of course, is the exact opposite of what you want to happen. Reserve your fat macronutrients for other meals throughout the day!
#4: Supplementing With Glutamine is Essential
Although glutamine itself is not essential, research has shown that glutamine levels do drop post-workout and supplementation can be helpful. After training, injury to the muscle cells occurs causing our immune systems to induce the recovery process to help repair tissue damage and inflammation. The body relies heavily on glutamine to help with these processes and their main source of glutamine is from the muscles. Supplementing with glutamine can help decrease the amount of glutamine that is robbed from muscles and therefore reduce the amount of muscle breakdown that happens during a workout. The glutamine found in your muscle cells will then be available to help maintain muscle protein balance, stimulate protein synthesis and fuel the recovery process. Reserve your glutamine supplementation for approximately two hours post-workout, or supplement with 5g with your nighttime meal before bed.
#5: Antioxidant-Rich Foods Can Speed Recovery
After a workout, many people experience muscle soreness, pain and fatigue—if not within the first 24 hours, within the first 48 hours. This can keep you from getting back to the gym at full force. Muscle soreness and fatigue are usually the result of microscopic muscle tearing usually brought on by a new workout routine or by excessive training without proper time for recovery.
Antioxidants found in superfoods like berries, dark leafy greens and tomatoes can help reduce oxidative damage in the muscles and aid in recovery. But, you probably will not get enough of these powerful compounds from just food to make a huge difference in your recovery time. Instead, add an antioxidant-rich supplement such as a natural greens powder with a high antioxidant or ORAC value. Add a scoop to a protein smoothie or mix on it’s own with water. In addition, consider supplementing with the super antioxidant Vitamin C, which plays a critical role in the formation of collagen, steroid hormones and other antioxidants. It also helps facilitate the absorption of iron, which is necessary to help with oxygen binding to hemoglobin in the blood. Without oxygen transportation in the blood, muscles are robbed of precious oxygen and performance is greatly reduced. Multiple studies have found blood and plasma levels of vitamin C to be diminished in those who exercise regularly. Daily dose for vitamin C is 75 milligrams, but doses as high as 500 to 1000 mg is often recommended for athletes.