Most people understand the importance of pre-workout nutrition, making sure they get enough carbs and protein to fuel strenuous training sessions and maybe supplement with caffeine, but post-workout nutrition is not spoken about as much. In this article, I will be discussing the importance of post-workout nutrition, along with my personal favorite snacks to eat after I train.
The Anabolic Window
If you’ve been in the lifting game for any period of time, you’ve most likely heard of the term ‘anabolic window”. The anabolic window refers to a short period of time after training (about 30 minutes), during which it is believed that consuming protein and carbohydrates is even more beneficial than usual since your body has heightened anabolism. In recent times, scientific research has shown that the anabolic window doesn’t really exist and that the margin to replenish nutrients and stimulate muscle protein synthesis is actually quite wide.
Generally, total daily food intake and macronutrient consumption is what matters for strength and hypertrophy outcomes, but there is still some benefit to being thoughtful about post-workout nutrition.
Your muscles use glucose as an energy source. When you consume carbohydrates, your body converts them to glucose, which is then stored as glycogen in the muscles, ready to use when you engage in any physical activity. Working out, or any similarly strenuous activity, depletes your glycogen stores as the muscles require a steady amount of fuel to function. Smart food choices after training can result in glycogen stores being replenished faster, and better recovery.
Both of these things will allow you to train harder overall, as we all know that better recovery = higher quality training, which will lead to more gains.
You lose water through perspiration during exercise, so it is important to rehydrate after you train, especially if you’re the kind of person that forgets to drink water during training, or just generally.
Macronutrient Breakdown of a Good Post-Workout Snack
We all love protein, and for good reason. Protein helps us build and repair our muscles after we incur muscle damage by training. Consuming protein throughout the day is optimal for muscle growth, and it should definitely be a part of your post-workout nutrition.
As mentioned earlier, your body converts carbohydrates to glucose and stores it as glycogen in the muscles. Glucose is the primary source of energy for our muscles, so as athletes, we need a healthy amount of carbohydrates in our diet. As your glycogen stores get depleted post-training, it is good to replenish them by including carbohydrates in your post-workout meal, which will help you recover faster.
While a certain amount of fat is essential for humans as it has a number of important uses in the human body, such as hormone regulation, fat’s role when training and muscle-building is concerned is a bit more nebulous. Overall, there is not much scientific data to suggest any specific amount of fat is good for athletes and gym-goers, but it doesn’t really hurt either. A case can also be made that fat is slightly beneficial for recovery as it is generally beneficial for human function and well-being when consumed in moderation.
Great Sources of Each Macronutrient
- Protein powder
- Protein snacks
- Greek yogurt
- Cheese (Cottage, Halloumi)
- Lean animal protein (turkey, chicken, seafood)
- Beef jerky
- Peanut butter
- Olive oil
Special mention for milk, as it contains a balance of all three macronutrients and can also work to replenish fluids.
My Favourite Post Workout Snacks and Meals
Below are some things I like to whip up for myself after I’m done training, depending on where I am, how much time I have, and the ingredients available to me.
- Protein shake (can also optionally add a banana and/or peanut butter)
This is a staple post-workout snack that’s easy to make and, if made with milk, ticks all the boxes. You can adjust the amount of all the components to help you hit your macros for the day. This protein shake is especially great if you won’t be able to have a meal for a few hours after training. A shake with two scoops of flavored or unflavored protein powder, 16oz skim milk, and a banana blended in can net you ~65 grams of protein (will vary between protein brands), ~48 grams of carbs, and ~1g of fat.
- Protein snacks
Protein snacks are widely available these days in the form of protein bars, cookies, and other similar products. Protein bars especially can be found sold at most gyms and supermarkets and are easy to scarf down right after training to get a decent amount of protein. I personally look for bars offering more than 15-20g of protein.
- Beef jerky
Beef jerky is delicious and has wide commercial availability. It is delicious, easy to eat, and provides a decent amount of protein.
- Greek yogurt
Greek yogurt with some berries or fruit mixed in is a decent source of carbohydrates and protein that is easy to eat right after a workout, and it can help you cool down and unwind.
You can also up the amount of protein by adding in protein powder
- Turkey sandwich with cheese
This sandwich provides a balance of all the macronutrients and is super quick and easy to put together, and can be a proper post-workout meal if you want it to be. Since it’s a sandwich, you can experiment and add additional ingredients to suit your preferences.
- Avocado toast with eggs and protein of your choice
This one is a bit more elaborate but provides a good mix of macronutrients while not being in the realm of traditional “diet/bodybuilding” food. For protein, you can experiment with deli-cut turkey, salmon, or even bacon.
Overall, I think post-workout has some useful benefits, and having an easy-to-consume snack can help people recover better, hit their macros, and maybe even increase adherence to diets for both bulking and cutting.