The importance of post-workout nutrition should never be underestimated. Eating the wrong foods or combinations of foods can severely impair muscle gains, but the correct foods, eaten at the correct time can ensure accelerated muscle repair and maximum growth.
Slogging through an intense training regimen puts a strain on the body and it cannot replenish damaged tissues unless it has correct materials at hand. Protein is one of these important body-building materials. The other is high glycemic (GI) carbohydrate. The body uses the one to repair damaged muscle tissue and the other to replenish its glycogen stores—so it’s not all about protein; it’s about getting the correct balance.
One study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, shows eating a combination of carbs and protein after a workout can provide increased strength and improved body composition, and other studies provide similar indications.
What Not to Eat
Although a small amount of dietary fat is required to maintain normal health, fatty foods should be excluded from the post-workout meal or snack because the presence of fat in the stomach can slow the absorption of important nutrients at a time when they are needed the most. Low GI carbohydrates are also best avoided because, although they are just the ticket for a pre-workout energy provider, their slow absorption rate means they will not provide energy quickly enough to satisfy the body post-workout requirements.
What to Eat
There are any number of wholesome choices, but examples of pec-pumping, bicep-building post-workout foods include:
- Greek Yoghurt: It’s official—the Greeks do it better. Greek yoghurt contains twice as much protein than normal yoghurt, and it is also loaded with carbohydrate. Toss in some watermelon or slices of very-ripe banana to provide additional nutrients and put the muscle-building process into overdrive.
- Whey Powder (Shake): Always one of the most popular protein providers, whey’s quick absorption rate makes it very effective for post-workout use. Blend it with some fresh orange squash, or throw in a very ripe banana and a teaspoon of sugar or honey, to quickly top-up energy stores.
- Tuna Fish Sandwich (White Bread): Tuna is great for providing high quality protein and it is low fat too! White bread releases its energy more quickly than brown or wholemeal bread so a quick tuna sandwich offers fast muscle-building benefits.
- Cornflakes (With Sugar and Low-Fat Milk): Unlike oats, cornflakes are a high GI cereal option and they tend to be much easier to prepare (Yay! No burned pans).
- Cookies and (Low Fat) Milk: Cookies and milk are not only for bed time, they are also great for muscle-building time, but don’t be overly generous with the cookies or the muscle gains could be accompanied by some fat gains.
- Baked Potato with Tuna and Sweetcorn: It’s a very nutritious meal that should flood the muscles with vital nutrients, but stick to ultra-low mayonnaise or substitute for low-fat salad cream.
- Cottage Cheese on Rice Cakes: Cottage cheese is an acquired taste, and some people compare rice cakes to polystyrene, but it’s a light-weight snack that can deliver heavy-hitting results and turbocharge muscle growth.
- A Nice Jammy Bagel (Or Two): Bagels are generally around 10% protein and are also a high GI carb provider. Jam is also high GI, but it can be replaced with a combination of cottage cheese (more protein) and a pineapple slice—don’t forget to have fun lining up the hole in the bagel with the hole in the pineapple slice.
- Chicken Baguette: White meat in a white baguette, with or without (preferably without) some low-fat spread. It’s easy to prepare, provides fast-acting nourishment, and tastes pretty good too.
- Creatine: Although it will not provide the vital nutrients the body needs to get those muscles in tip-top condition, it does have the ability to increased protein synthesis. Some studies also indicate creatine may have the power to trigger the release of anabolic hormones.
When to Eat and How Much to Eat
To maximize muscle growth at least 30g of protein and 30g to 35g of high GI carbs should be consumed within 15 minutes of finishing the workout.
Those who are training to shed a few excess pounds or to stay in shape are not under quite the same pressure to eat, but delaying the post-workout meal for longer than 60 minutes is not recommended.