Possibly the most critical and important meals of the day for making gains would be the post workout meal. Post workout nutrition can be the most influential meals when it comes to gain muscle or fat loss! During your workout your body relies on the nutrients available in the blood stream (from previous meal) and from stored sugars (in the form of glycogen) as the energy source to get you through the workout. After the workout is done our body is drained of its stored energy and needs to replace that energy before it can start to repair itself. Using what we know about nutrition science it is important to get nutrients back into the body as fast as possible. Introducing a liquid meal right after your workout can jumpstart your recovery process and get your body on its way to building new muscle. Introducing macro nutrients (carbohydrates and proteins) after your workout is the best way to start the refueling process and optimize your recovery. We will be talking about what to look for in these supplements, how much to take and when to take them. By the end of this article you should have an understanding of post workout nutrition and how you can use it to increase your muscle growth and improve recovery after your workout.
When we finish a workout our first priority should be to get the body to start recovering as fast as possible. Right after the workout our body is depraved of its stored fuels and needs to feed, this is an great time to be taking in nutrient rich foods because your body will quickly shuttle it all into the muscle. This is because the body is in what is called an “insulin sensitive state”. Also known as the “Anabolic Window”, this is when your body is in need of nutrients to help repair itself so it makes it easier for the nutrients coming into the body to be absorbed. Usually, this window last for about 45 minutes after the workout, so make sure to take advantage of it! During this time, we want to increase our intake of carbohydrates and proteins so that we are giving the body everything it needs to start the repairing process.
The easiest way to capitalize on the insulin sensitive state of the body is with a shake packed full of easily digested carbohydrates and protein. The reason shakes are recommended is because shakes are a great way to deliver nutrients into the body fast. They are also easily stored in a gym bag when you are on the go, just add water when you want to drink it, shake it up and you are done. In your shake you want to have a protein and carbohydrate mix so that you are refueling the body with the nutrients it needs and this is also a great time to add any additional supplements that you may be taking like creatine or glutamine because it will help them get delivered to the muscles more efficiently. Below is a break down of what should be going into your shake and why.
Protein powders are very helpful in this time because in liquid for it is easily digested by the body so that the protein can get to the muscles faster. Protein is the building blocks for new muscle tissue and is very important after a workout. Make sure that you are getting a complete protein source so that the body has everything it needs to repair and build new tissue. Complete proteins are proteins that contain all 20 amino acids. They are easily found in milk based protein powders (whey), meats, and a combination of vegetables. It is important to note that there is no one vegetable that has all 20 amino acids so it is important to have a variety of vegetables in your protein powder if you are using a vegetarian or vegan protein. This will make sure you are getting all the nutrients and aminos needed for your body to repair.
Carbohydrate powders are used optimize your post workout nutrition so that you can start the recovery process right away. When you take in fast acting carbohydrates post workout it causes an insulin spike in the body which helps shuttle the nutrients from the blood into the muscles where they can start the recovery. Once in the muscles, the carbohydrates are used to refill the glycogen stores that were depleted during the workout. These glycogen stores are very important in the body as they are the main source of energy your body uses during exercise. Because these stores are so important, the body may take away from your dietary protein to fill the store if there is not enough carbohydrates available. This will decrease the amount of protein available for muscle repair and can lead to slower recovery after a workout session.
With creatine generally being a flavourless powder, it is an easy addition to any post workout shake. Taking creatine in your post workout shake also brings great value to the effectiveness of creatine. This is because creatine is not easily absorbed by the body and may have trouble reaching the muscles. By adding a scoop of creatine to your post workout shake we can use the insulin spike from the carbohydrates to help shuttle the creatine to where it needs to go.
Once in the muscle, creatine works by acting as a binding agent for phosphates and can increase the amount of instantaneous energy available within the muscle, helping to get a few more pounds on the bar or maybe a few more reps in your workout. Creatine also helps hydrate your muscles by helping to hold water once it is absorbed by the muscle. The additional water retention within the muscle can cause the muscles to swell and for some minor weight gain, but don’t worry, once you stop taking creatine the water weight will go away.
Now that you have an idea of what needs to be in your post workout shake it is important to look at dosages. The following are general guideline and may be altered to fit your specific needs. Protein is recommended at 20-25g right after a workout. The protein should be coming from a complete source like whey, egg, or mixed vegetables to ensure that your body has all the nutrients it needs. Carbohydrate powders should be dosed according to how intense your workout was. The more intense your workout = the more stored energy you used = the more carbohydrates you need to take after a workout, so the recommendation for carbohydrate powders would be 0.25-0.40g per pound of body weight depending on your workout intensity. This usually works out to 40-70g of carbohydrates post workout and will ensure that your body is being flushed with everything it needs to refill its stores and will also make sure that your protein is not being used to refill the stores. Finally, 5 grams of creatine monohydrate should be added to your post workout shake to help with the instantaneous energy storage within the muscles.
Also remember to continue your post workout nutrition once you have left the gym. Having a meal roughly one hour after your post workout shake is optimal to continue the recovery process. The meal should consist of proteins and complex carbohydrates with minimal amounts of fat. With the body still early in the recovery phase you want to make sure that you are providing the body with everything it needs to continue to refill the empty stores and start to repair the damaged muscle from the workout. Continue to eat every 2-3 hours following the meal to give your body a constant supply of nutrients so that is can continue to grow.
By Patrick Sherwood
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