Part two (below) will provide some practical examples of how to put together an appropriate post-workout meal or snack to maximise the recovery process.
What Should I Eat After a Workout?
A balanced post-workout meal should include the following:
- adequate protein (20-30g) (Moore et al 2008)
High biological value proteins include meat, chicken, seafood, eggs and dairy products.
Carbohydrates in conjunction with protein stimulates insulin release, targeting amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to the muscle cells where it is needed for repair (Kerksick et al 2008) as well as maximising glycogen resynthesis to help fight fatigue and ensure you can train even harder next time (Ivy 1998).
The amount needed will depend upon your training intensity and duration (more if high intensity or long duration) as well as you goals (Burke et al 2004).
- fluids for hydration
- 2 eggs (scrambled, poached or boiled) on 2 slices wholegrain toast + a small tub of yoghurt
- small (130g) can baked beans and 2 slices (40g) cheese on 2 slices wholegrain toast
- ¾ cup cottage cheese and sliced banana on 2 slices wholegrain toast
- porridge made with 1 cup milk and topped with 25g chopped almonds and 100g Greek yoghurt
If you train after work/uni and will be heading home for dinner within about an hour, try one of the following:
- 150g lean meat/chicken/fish with 1 cup starchy veg (e.g. potato/sweet potato) or rice/pasta
- ham, cheese and vegetable omelette (made using 2 whole eggs) served with 2 slices wholegrain toast
- beef/pork/chicken (150g) stir-fry served with 2/3 cup cooked rice or noodles
- 1 medium baked sweet potato stuffed with ½ cup mince bolognaise filling
If you won’t be consuming a breakfast/lunch/dinner main meal within an hour or so, try one of the following snack options to get you through until the time of your next meal:
- small tin (95g) tuna on 4 wholegrain crackers + a small tub of yoghurt
- peanut butter and banana smoothie (blend 1 cup milk with 1 banana and 1 tablespoon peanut butter)
- 2 hardboiled eggs + a small tub of yoghurt with 1 tablespoon sultanas stirred through
- ham, cheese and tomato sandwich on wholegrain bread
Are Protein Shakes and Other Supplements Necessary?
As you can see from the examples above, in most cases a protein shake is not necessary to achieve adequate protein or carbohydrate intake for recovery.
However, whey protein isolate (WPI) shakes are a rapidly digested source of high biological value protein (Campbell et al 2007) and can offer a convenient solution for those who would otherwise struggle to fit a post-workout snack/meal into their hectic schedule.
A few warnings though...
Firstly, pure WPI powders do not provide any carbohydrates so be sure to pair your shake with a piece of fruit or other source of quality carbohydrates.
Secondly, only use a protein shake if you can’t easily access a real food source of protein and carbohydrates within an hour or so of training.
If you will be eating a snack/main meal within the first hour following exercise, consuming a shake in addition to this will be ‘doubling up’ as protein shakes will still contribute towards your overall energy intake for the day.
Lastly, remember that real food also contains an abundance of other nutrients not found in a protein shake made on water so it’s always best to employ a food first policy and supplement only if absolutely necessary!
Burke et al (2004), ‘Carbohydrates and fat for training and recovery’, Journal of Sports Sciences, 22(1): 15-30.
Campbell et al (2007), ‘International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise’, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 4(8).
Ivy (1998), ‘Glycogen resynthesis after exercise: effect of carbohydrate intake’, International Journal of Sports Medicine, 19(S2): S142-S145.
Kerksick et al (2008), ‘International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: nutrient timing’, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 5(17).
Moore et al (2008), ‘Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men’, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(1): 161-168