If you’ve spent any amount of time in the gym, you’ve probably seen someone chugging a post-workout protein shake. Are these guys onto something, or have they fallen victim to bro science?
If you’re not sure what you should be doing post-workout, keep reading.
We’ll explain the importance of post-workout recovery fuel and five essential nutrients you should consume when you’ve finished exercising below.
Importance of Post-Workout Recovery Fuel
First, it’s important to understand why post-workout nutrition matters.
When you exercise, your muscles use up your stored glycogen (carbohydrates). You may also damage some of the proteins in your muscles during your workout.
To repair your muscles, your body needs to replenish its glycogen stores. Eating a balanced meal after your workout can help your body accomplish this.
When glycogen stores replenish, your body has an easier time building muscle and recovering from your workout.
Eating a meal after your workout also helps you maintain an optimal balance of other important hormones like insulin and testosterone.
Five Essential Post-Workout Recovery Nutrients
As you can see, eating a meal or snack post-workout can be beneficial for some people. If you do choose to eat something after your workout, you’ll see the best results if you make sure that it contains the following nutrients:
Protein is one of the most important nutrients to consume after exercise. This is because exercising triggers a breakdown in muscle protein.
Post-workout protein is especially important for people who do intense forms of exercise.
If you’re only going for a quick walk on your lunch break, you don’t need to worry about your post-workout protein consumption. But, if you’re doing intense weight lifting or aerobic exercise, protein matters a lot more.
Most people seem to see the greatest benefits when they consume somewhere between 20 and 40 grams of protein post-workout. This is the amount found in most homemade protein shakes or protein bars.
Generally speaking, it’s best to get your protein from a whole food source (a piece of chicken or fish, for example). If you don’t have time to prepare a meal, a protein shake will do.
If you’re focused on recovery, a whey protein shake seems to be best since it’s absorbed quickly by the body. If you want a more filling post-workout shake that will tide you over for a few hours, a whey-casein blend is more effective since it digests slowly.
Your body also needs carbohydrates after a workout. This is important for replenishing the glycogen stores, especially after doing endurance training like running or swimming.
A good rule of thumb when planning your post-workout meal is to make sure it contains a 3-4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. For example, you might have 20 grams of protein and 60-80 grams of carbs.
This will help replenish your glycogen stores, promote muscle repair, and stimulate insulin secretion. Insulin secretion promotes glycogen synthesis.
The more frequently you exercise, the more important your post-workout carb-to-protein balance is.
People who workout multiple times per day or week need to be careful about consuming adequate carbohydrates.
This is because their muscles undergo more strain. They’re also more likely to deplete their glycogen stores than someone with a casual workout routine.
Beta-alanine is an amino acid that is essential for people who want to maintain their muscle strength and muscle endurance. It promotes muscle growth by helping replenish muscle proteins damaged during a workout.
Beta-alanine can also improve your workout performance.
This is because it helps the body produce carnosine. Carnosine reduces lactic acid buildup in the muscles. This, in turn, helps reduce muscle fatigue and allows you to push yourself harder as you train.
The easiest way to take beta-alanine is to add it to your post-workout meal. You can mix a powdered supplement with water and drink it with your meal, or mix the powder in with your protein shake.
Creatine is a molecule that is naturally present in the body. It helps provide the cells with energy and promotes faster recovery and better workout performance.
Supplementing with creatine can help you push yourself farther during your workouts. You’ll see greater benefits and faster results.
Creatine supplementation also promotes better cognitive function, especially in people who don’t eat animal products (which contain creatine).
Like beta-alanine, you can add creatine to your post-workout shake or meal.
Creatine hydrochloride seems to be the best type of creatine because it’s more absorbable. When it’s combined with a hydrochloride group, creatine is more stable and less likely to cause digestive issues.
5. Digestive Enzymes
Finally, you may also benefit from consuming digestive enzymes along with your post-workout meal or shake. Digestive enzymes promote better nutrient absorption and assimilation.
The better your body absorbs the nutrients from your food, the better your recovery will be and the better results you’ll see. You’re also less likely to experience stomach upset after your meal.
The type of digestive enzyme you consume will vary depending on the food you’re eating. Common digestive enzymes include:
- Lactase: Helps the body digest lactose, which is in dairy products
- Protease: Helps the body break down protein
- Peptidase: Helps the body break down casein and gluten
- Amylase: Helps break down sugar and starch
Most digestive enzyme supplements come with a combination of these different enzymes.
Looking for More Nutrition Advice?
You’ve now got plenty of information on post-workout recovery nutrition. Do you want to learn more about how to fuel your body to see the best results from your workouts?
Whether you want to learn more about pre and post-workout nutrition or anything else in between, we’ve got the information you need.
Don’t forget to check out our supplement reviews, too. We’ll help you sort through all the different products on the market to find the ones that will work best for you.