The Importance of Post-Workout Nutrition

The Importance of Post-Workout Nutrition

Building muscle and improving your athletic performance starts with your post-workout nutrition.

If getting the most out of your workout is important to you, then putting the most into the workout should be equally as important. In my last article, “Run before you lift, or lift before you run”, I covered the topic of exercise order and more importantly its role in burning fat. Since the order in which you place exercises is important, so too are the meals that surround your training, espeically if you're an athlete.

The post-activity (workout, practice, or competition) meal sets up the success or failure of the next workout. Have you ever had a practice or workout at night, then had to turn around the next morning and practice or workout again? If you didn’t take care of your post-workout nutrition properly I guarantee you the following morning’s workout wasn’t very good. If you’re interested in boosting your performance and recovering properly, then I suggest you read on.

Probably the most important meal of the day, besides breakfast, is the post-activity meal. Both of those feeding times are crucial times for the body to take in nutrients for growth, repair, and energy. Following intense exercise, the body is in a catabolic state, meaning it’s breaking down muscle to fuel itself, trying to preserve its pre-exercise state. It’s during this window of opportunity, which is only open for 30-60 minutes, that the body optimizes its ability to replenish lost energy stores, namely muscle and liver glycogen. During this “open window” of 30-60 minutes the body begins muscle protein synthesis (building) for muscle tissue recovery and repair, replaces fluids lost through sweat, and adapts to the stress of the workout.

The amount and quality of the post-activity meal will play a direct role in the how well your recovery takes place. The harder and longer you’re active, the more important it is to refuel the body for the next workout. In order to get the most out of your post-activity meal it should be made up of carbohydrates, proteins, and fluids/electrolytes.

Getting enough carbohydrates post-activity is crucial to restoring the glycogen levels within the muscles. Glycogen within the muscle and liver is one of the fuel sources used during exercise and sport. Ingesting good quality carbohydrates such as bread, fresh fruit, cereal, and chocolate milk provide enough quality carbohydrates to begin refueling the muscles with lost glycogen.

The next macro-nutrient, protein, is an important part of the post-activity meal. Protein consumed within the “open window” of recovery should be about 10-20 grams. Protein is important because it provides amino acids, which are the building block for muscle, and ensures a positive protein balance, which means the protein synthesis exceeds protein breakdown. Because protein is broken down during activity, failure to consume protein can lead to muscle loss. Good protein sources are eggs, meat, yogurt, nuts and post workout recovery shakes.

The last player in the post-activity meal is fluids/electrolytes. Fluid loss during activity will vary from individual to individual, making it difficult to set broad guidelines. Pre-and post-activity weighing is important because the weight loss during the course of activity will let you know how much fluid you have lost. The general guidelines for replenishment are 16-24 fluid ounces for every pound lost. Your choice of fluid for refueling should consist of water, sports drinks, fruit juice, and chocolate milk. Important note: if weight loss is your goal, it is important to re-hydrate and include the calories from the sports drink in your daily caloric total. These do not count as “free calories.”

Now that you know the importance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fluids; how should they be consumed? That is based on individual preferences. Many athletes have a hard time eating solid food immediately following activity. For those individuals I suggest a post-workout shake for the immediate refueling of glycogen, protein synthesis, and fluid loss. This shake should then be followed by some type of whole food meal within the next hour. Others might be able to eat a snack, such as a bagel with peanut butter. It does not matter how you take it in, solid, fluid, or a whey protei supplement, as long as it meets the criteria above and is within the 30-60 minute window post activity.

Follow these simple suggestions so that your body is fueled properly in order that you can give your best to each workout, practice, or game.

To maximize your athletic performance,1R would recommend the following post-workout supplements:

  1. Optimum Nutrition 2:1:1 Recovery - The carbs and protein will help you recover and build lean muscle faster after tough workouts
  2. Cytosport L-Glutamine - Needed for immune system support, energy production, and the building and protection of the lean muscle mass when stress is increased on the body
  3. Cytosport Creatine - By increasing your body's ATP production creatine will help you become more explosive, more powerful, and more athletic when taken before or after workouts
ShareThis
Eric Klein's picture

About the Author

In his third season as Northern Illinois’ Director of Sports Performance, Eric Klein is in his 16th year working with student-athletes in the area of strength and conditioning. In addition, Klein has spent several years as a football and track and field coach. At NIU, Klein oversees the Sports Performance for all 17 sports programs, directing a staff of four. He works specifically with the football and track and field programs. During his time at NIU he has helped the football program to post-season bowl appearances and major improvement in the performances of the track and field team. Prior to working at NIU, Klein spent seven years at Southern Illinois. In Carbondale, Klein designed the strength programs for the six-time Missouri Valley Conference Champion Saluki men’s basketball team and the three-time Gateway Conference Champion football program. Both programs saw numerous post-season appearances including a trip to the 2007 NCAA Basketball Sweet Sixteen and a 2007 semi-final appearance in the NCAA Bowl Championship Subdivision. A member of the NSCA, USA Weightlifting and the NASE, Klein is certified by each organization. Klein earned his master’s degree in physical education from Emporia State in 2000. He played football and threw at Carleton College (Minn.), where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1993.