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Post Workout Meal Nutrition - what to eat after a workout

Apr 2, 2012

The post workout meal (the meal you eat after a workout) is probably the most important meal of the day for anyone who is into nutrition and fitness. However, in a lot of cases this importance also leads to confusion. Maybe it's because of the many ready-made shakes available. Maybe it's the trouble with fitting it in with the rest of your diet. Maybe it's just generally not knowing whether you should even eat anything after you've worked out. Whatever it is, something about it confuses people.

The truth is, once you understand the basics of what nutrients your body needs and doesn't need after your workout, and what the best sources are to get this nutrition from, the post workout meal will probably become the most simple and quick meal of your day.

What you should and should NOT eat after a workout

Simply put, aside from water (which you should already know you need) your post workout meal needs to contain 2 things, and it needs to not contain 1. You should be eating protein and carbs. You should NOT be eating fat. First, let's start with a quick explanation of why you shouldn't eat fat after a workout.

Fat is NOT a bad thing (when it's the "good" fat) and it is an important part of everyone's diet. However, there just happens to be a certain time when fat (good or bad) wouldn't be good to eat. This of course is in the post workout meal. Simply put, fat slows down digestion. In this case, it would be slowing down the digestion of protein and carbs. This is the exact opposite of what you want to happen.

How long after my workout should I eat my post workout meal?

As soon as you can. there is this "window of time" that exists after your workout during which it would be the most beneficial for your body to receive it's post workout nutrition. Typically you'd want to try to get this meal into your body within 1 hour. If possible, within 30 minutes would be even better.

Post Workout Protein

Now that you know that time is of the essence when it comes to your post workout meal, this part is going to make a whole lot of sense. See, eating this meal soon after a workout is important, but just because you are putting the food into your body quickly doesn't actually mean the food is being digested and used by your body equally as quick. While egg whites, chicken and tuna fish are good sources of protein, these foods are whole foods, and the protein in whole foods digest pretty slowly. (Take into account that your body expends more calories while breaking down these proteins.)

For quicker absorption protein shakes can be used, in place of a post-workout meal. A whey or soy protein shake will be digested by your body much quicker than a whole food because it will be a liquid. And, not to mention, whey protein is the fastest digesting protein there is. This is what makes whey protein pretty much the official choice of most people as their post workout meal protein source. Be careful of consuming too much protein, especially for dieters. There are considerable risks for high protein consumption.

Post Workout Carbs

They aren't so bad. After your workout they are actually an extremely important part of your post workout nutrition. Carbs will be used by your body to restore muscle glycogen. If your post workout meal doesn't contain carbs, your body may actually instead break down muscle tissue for this same purpose. That would be a bad thing. Carbs also create an insulin spike which helps to move nutrients into your muscle tissue quicker.

So, now that you know you need them after a workout, what kind do you need? Well, you know all about good carbs and bad carbs by now, right? Funny enough, this is actually the only time when "good carbs" and "bad carbs" switch roles. This doesn't mean start eating cookies, this just means that typical good carbs (whole wheat bread, brown rice, etc) contain fiber, and fiber slows down their digestion. This is actually what makes them "good" any other time of the day. But by now you know the post workout meal is all about speed. And when it comes to speed, simple carbs beat complex carbs.

A food like a baked sweet potato is an okay choice for a carb source after a workout. Fruits and Vegetables are suitable carbohydrate choices for after a workout, quick and easy to break down.


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