Are you training hard, eating right (most of the time), and getting enough sleep, but still wondering what you can do to take your performance, recovery, and results to the next level?
Then, it’s time to focus on your post-workout nutrition.
What you eat immediately after your workout can have a significant impact on your ability to limit muscle soreness, accelerate recovery, and train more intensely sooner, all of which add up to better results faster.
Today, we’ll discuss the major benefits of post-workout nutrition and what some of our favorite options are. But, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, there’s something we need to clear up.
Make Sure Your Foundation Is Solid
As beneficial as post-workout nutrition can be, its impact will be greatly reduced if you don’t have a solid foundation. By that we mean, that you can have the most perfectly tailored post-workout shake for your height, weight, body composition, genetic makeup, etc., but if the rest of your daily nutrition, sleep, training intensity, and stress management is a mess, then it won’t really do a whole lot of good. So, before you go obsessing about the “best” post-workout shake, make sure the rest of your ducks are in a row.
If you’d like assistance with figuring out what training and nutrition plans can support your goals and aspirations, then download the 1UP Fitness App and gain access to customized diet and exercise plans plus access to our exclusive support group where you can interact with coaches and other like-minded individuals.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s get back to the topic at hand -- the importance of post-workout nutrition.
Why is Post-Workout Nutrition Important?
Intense exercise -- be it resistance training, bodybuilding, CrossFit, endurance training, HIIT, etc. -- depletes muscles of glycogen (carbohydrate) and damages muscle fibers. To replenish energy stores, help further muscle breakdown, and kickstart the recovery and growth processes, it’s important to get the most essential nutrients into the body as quickly as possible.
This means that the focus of your post-workout meal should be carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates serve two important benefits. First and foremost, they cause a rise in insulin levels, which is a very powerful hormone that halts muscle breakdown and shifts the body into energy storage and repair mode. Secondly, carbohydrates replenish the depleted glycogen stores in the muscles that were just exercised during your workout.
Protein supplies the body with the essential amino acids (EAAs), including the BCAAs, that are needed to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, sustain muscle recovery efforts, and fuel muscle growth.
The specific amount of protein and carbohydrates will vary based on the size of the individual, the intensity & duration of the workout, and what foods they have consumed prior to their workout.
Individual preferences for types of foods and specific amounts of those foods will also play a role -- some individuals prefer bigger meals, and some prefer smaller meals. Others prefer whole foods (e.g. steak & rice, sushi, burger, and fries, etc.) while others prefer shakes.
We’re partial to post-workout shakes for the immediate hour or two following an intense workout. Here’s why…
Top 3 Benefits of Post-Workout Shakes
#1 Tasty & Easy to Digest
After an intense workout, many individuals aren’t that hungry and/or struggle to consume a big meal. One of the reasons for this is that rigorous exercise is an intense stressor to the body, which elevates cortisol and quashes hunger for many.
However, going for too long without food after a workout can delay recovery and prolong muscle soreness. Post-workout shakes offer a great option for individuals prone to low appetite following training. They are quick to fix, easy to digest, and palate-pleasing (in fact, most of them taste like dessert!).
#2 Quick Absorption
Post-workout shakes are easier and faster to digest than whole foods, especially if you’re using supplements optimized for quick digestion, such as whey protein and cluster dextrin (which is included in every serving of 1UP Tri-Carb).
More specifically, research indicates that shakes can be digested and absorbed as quickly as 30-60 minutes following training, getting essential nutrients to exhausted muscles much quicker than solid meals, which can take 2-4 hours to completely digest and deliver the necessary building blocks.
#3 Optimized for Nutrient Targeting
Above we discussed that intense exercises specifically increase the body’s demand for carbohydrates and protein. While there’s nothing wrong with dietary fat (quite the opposite as fats are essential for hormone production, cellular health, vitamin absorption, etc), they’re not critical during the post-workout period. Furthermore, consuming a lot of fat post-workout can slow digestion and delay how quickly the muscle-repairing protein and carbs reach your muscles.
Combining fast-digesting carbohydrates and protein powder, both of which contain little-to-no fats, provide the quickest and simplest option to deliver what your muscles crave following a tough workout.
Taking advantage of the post-workout window can greatly enhance recovery, reduce soreness, and boost your results. At the same time, it’s also imperative that you’re training hard, eating right the rest of the day, and getting enough sleep each night. Otherwise, post-workout nutrition won’t offer as much benefit as it potentially could.
When it comes to whole food vs post-workout shakes, both can work, but many find post-workout shakes to be more convenient for a variety of reasons. Our preferred post-workout combo is a scoop or two of 1UP Whey protein plus a serving (or two, on really intense training days) of Tri-Carb. This supplies the body with fast-digesting, high-quality carbs and protein to stop muscle breakdown, replenish muscle glycogen, and fuel muscle recovery!