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What to Eat After You Workout

Don't forget your post workout meal.
Don't forget your post workout meal.

When your workout's over, your training should continue. Proper steps to help your body recover are critical to see the full benefits of an exercise program. The first thing you should do is get some food. That meal may be the most important one of your day.

When you finish working out, your body is in a "catabolic state." That means muscle glycogen is depleted and increased cortisol levels begin to break down muscle tissue. Eating properly can slow the muscle breakdown.

WHAT FOODS should you eat?

In the past it was thought that only carbohydrates were needed. After all, carbs are the main source of energy during physical activity, so it would make sense that replacing them was the most important thing to do. That was partially right.

Protein is important as well.

Let me take a moment to briefly explain another chemical in the human body, insulin. Insulin has been shown to be an anabolic agent, meaning it promotes muscle growth, but only before a workout. After a workout insulin is anti-catabolic.

Remember I mentioned that when you finish your workout your body is in a catabolic or muscle breakdown state? Insulin is an anti-catabolic, meaning it helps stop muscle breakdown.

What the studies found was that by adding protein to carbs increases insulin levels higher than just carbs alone. Higher levels of insulin mean less muscle breakdown. There's another benefit. Insulin is a "vasodilator." It "opens up" the blood vessels and transports more blood and nutrients to the cells. More nutrients means faster recovery and less potential muscle soreness.

Immediately after your workout, to increase your body's natural levels of insulin, you should look for carbs that are high on the Glycemic Index (GI) scale. Fruit, fruit juice, sports bars and shakes and baked potatoes are all good. Avoid the low GI foods like bran cereals, oatmeal, multigrain breads and legumes.


SPECIAL NOTE: There are some people who should monitor the glycemic index of foods. Diabetics are taught to monitor the glycemic index to prevent dangerous spikes in blood sugar levels. There is also evidence that foods with a low glycemic index provide beneficial effects for people with ischemic heart disease.

For a database with the Glycemic Index of foods visit www.glycemicindex.com or Click Here.


Be equally picky about the type of protein. Some shakes and bars can take hours to be fully absorbed. For a rapidly absorbing protein, the best option is a whey protein hydrolysate. It's the fastest absorbing of the whey proteins and is readily available for mixes, added to bars and shakes.

Avoid fat because it will slow the absorption of nutrients and delay the muscle repair.

HOW MUCH should you eat?

Generally, studies show that you should take in approximately 1 to 2 grams of carbohydrates for every gram of protein.

To calculate how many total grams you should eat, researchers suggest between .18 and .36 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight and .18 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

If you're trying to lose weight or cut up, choose the lower carbohydrate number.

Using that scale a 150 pound person should eat between 27 and 54 grams of carbs and 27 grams of protein.

If you're overweight, the amount of carbs and protein you take in should be based on your IDEAL weight rather than your ACTUAL weight.

[That comes to between .4 and .8 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight and .4 grams of protein per kg of body weight.]

WHEN should you eat?

It's important that you consume something as soon as your workout is over. Glycogen synthesis (your muscles ability to repair itself) is three times higher immediately after a workout than if you wait as long as 2 hours later. The sooner you eat or drink, the better your recovery rate.

Strength training athletes don't deplete glycogen stores as badly as endurance athletes so they need fewer calories. If you're training for strength, it is suggested that you eat or drink your carb/protein food immediately after training or competition. Then resume normal eating two to three hours later.

If you're trying to bulk up you should take in one regular serving of the carb/protein food, then another one 30 to 60 minutes later. Two to three hours afterward you can resume normal eating.

After Cardio you should continue refueling your body with a carb/protein food every 2 hours, until 6 hours have passed. That's one serving immediately after a workout, then again at 2, 4 and 6 hour intervals afterwards. (Only take in the high GI carbs immediately after a workout.) Since this can be difficult to do at night, it's generally more effective to get your cardio workout done first thing in the morning.

Make note of the limits and don't overeat! If you take in too much protein it can trigger the release of glucagon, a hormone that antagonizes insulin release. You want your body to release the insulin, so triggering a chemical reaction that in any way inhibits that release is counter productive.

To learn what to eat BEFORE you workout, CLICK HERE.


UPDATE: Older Men Need More Protein Than Younger Men

To build muscle more effectively, it's a good idea to take in some protein after a workout. But two studies show surprising differences in the amounts needed for younger versus older people. Researchers concluded that younger men may need less.

The first study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in January of 2009. Six healthy young men went to a lab on five separate occasions. They performed an "intense bout of leg-based resistance exercise. After exercise, participants consumed, in a randomized order, drinks containing 0, 5, 10, 20, or 40 g whole egg protein."

One of the things researchers were measuring was protein synthesis. At the end of the study, 20 grams of protein after the workout was enough to "maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis."

In 2012, the British Journal of Nutrition published a study that looked at many of the same things, but they did it with 37 men who were all around the age of 71. Using the same type of test, the men "completed a bout of unilateral leg-based resistance exercise before ingesting 0, 10, 20 or 40 g of whey protein isolate." Afterward muscle biopsies were performed.

Researchers found if you're at rest, 20 grams of protein is sufficient to "increase myofibrillar muscle protein synthesis above fasting rates." But taking in 40 grams of protein increased muscle protein synthesis "to a greater extent." The conclusion was that "in contrast to younger adults, in whom post-exercise rates of MPS are saturated with 20 g of protein, exercised muscles of older adults respond to higher protein doses."

So if you're a younger fit male, taking in 20 grams of protein after a workout may be enough, but if you're an older fit male, you may need up to 40 grams of protein after a workout for optimum muscle protein synthesis.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
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9/17/2006
Updated 5/26/2011
Updated 8/16/2015