I have been receiving this question a lot lately so I thought I would take today and explain my thoughts on the ideal post-workout food(s).
First, I just want to say that peri-workout nutrition is mostly overhyped.
Does it have some benefits? Yes.
Is it going to make or break your results? No. Well, not unless you are a very advanced athlete that is looking for every last bit of performance enhancement, or are looking at achieving a sub-10% body fat.
Instead of asking yourself what foods you need to consume as soon as you are done working out, consider what you are eating the rest of the day. As long as you are eating a balance of protein, fats, and carbohydrates throughout the day that satisfies your caloric needs you will be fine. This is the best strategy to enhance recovery and improve your results.
Yes, some research has shown that consuming a protein+carbohydrate beverage after your workout will speed up recovery and possibly aid in lean mass gains, but this is only true if you are eating a nutritious diet on top of the shake. So, I always make sure my clients are eating well throughout the day before we focus on peri-workout nutrition.
So if you feel confident your eating is pretty solid during the day, then let’s look at some rough guidelines for fueling and recovering from your workouts.
As long as you eat 1-2 hours before your workout, then you do not need to rush getting in a meal afterwards. Unless you are trying to gain weight, I would just eat whenever you get a chance, or get hungry. I would focus this meal around a serving or two of carbohydrates and protein, and a small amount of fat. An example of a good meal would be 1-2 sweet potatoes and 3-6 oz. of meat (chicken, beef, turkey, fish, etc.).
Now, if you workout early in the morning and do not have time to eat before hand, I would try and consume something fairly close to the end of the workout. This will help prevent muscle breakdown and help speed up recovery. In this case, you have two options: a whole foods meal or a small shake with some fruit. If you have time to eat a whole foods meal, then I would stick to the rules I listed above.
However, if you do not have time for a whole foods meals two other good options include greek yogurt (preferably full fat), or a piece of fruit (bananas are a good choice after a hard workout) and a serving of protein powder or a few hardboiled eggs.
If your goal is to lose fat, you will just stick to the lower end of the recommended ranges. If your goal is muscle gain, stick to the higher end (actually, if your goal is muscle gain just eat a lot of good food whenever you can). 🙂
Lastly, I want to say that these recommendations are not set in stone. Everyone differs, and it is important to experiment to determine what works best for YOU.
If you are struggling with determining what works best for you – nutrition or exercise – consider coming into IFAST. Our staff can help individualize an exercise and/or nutrition program that works for you.