It happens to us all: You finish a great workout and immediately start thinking about what you are going to have as a reward meal. While deep down we know we shouldn’t think about a post-workout meal as a reward, we do it anyway, likely because most of us do not know the logical importance of a healthy post workout meal.
What Does Your Body Break Down While Exercising?
When you exercise your body depletes muscle glycogen, which is the storage form of carbohydrates (this is the preferred energy source of your muscle mass too). The type of exercise being done will determine how quickly the muscle glycogen levels in your body decrease. Once the stores of glycogen are running low, your body will begin to break down fat (fatty acids) and protein (amino acids, usually from muscle) into glucose and shuttle that into your muscle for energy.
When you exercise, you do not want to lose muscle mass as that is what keeps your body strong and mobile. Whether your goal is to lose weight or gain weight you should want to retain as much muscle mass as possible. Due to the importance of retaining muscle mass, you need to focus on giving the body what it needs after a workout in order to help it recover and prevent as much muscle mass breakdown as possible.
Therefore, each post-workout meal should primarily consist of protein and carbohydrates. Protein will help prevent further amino acid breakdown and give your body what its needs to start recovering, while carbohydrates will replenish your muscle glycogen stores. The muscle glycogen stores assist with overall recovery and tell the body to stop breaking down amino acids for glucose.
The Ideal Post Workout Meal
A post workout meal needs to consist of at least 25 to 30 grams of whey protein or protein from a lean meat source. The reason it needs to be one of the two types of protein is to encourage muscle protein synthesis, which when coupled with carbs will prevent any further muscle breakdown.
In addition to the protein source, you will also want some fairly fast digesting or absorbing carbohydrates, and the amount of which will vary depending on the trainee. The more muscle mass you have, the more carbs (50 to 100 grams). The less muscle mass, the fewer carbs you need to consume (30 to 40 grams).
Here are a few specific examples of good post-workout meals:
- 30g whey protein, mixed with ½ cup oats and/or 1 to 2 tablespoons of honey.
- 6oz lean meat, 1 sweet or regular potato.
- 30g whey protein, 1 banana.
- 6oz pre-packaged tuna and crackers.
Post workout meals should be consumed within one hour after you have completed your workout for optimal results. If you are wanting to maximizing your ability to recover and keeping or adding as much muscle mass as possible, then post workout meals are something that you should be concentrating and preparing for on your workout days.
Remember, no one will gain too much muscle mass or look “big and bulky” by accomplishing the above on a regular basis. The end goal for anyone should be to improve your body composition for the better! More muscle will help you lose weight faster. More muscle will improve your metabolism. More muscle will improve your overall body composition, and more muscle will keep you healthier for longer. If you plan ahead and bring a convenient meal with you to the gym, you will be setting yourself for success and should easily start to see the results. You only get one body, fuel it properly as often as possible.