What you choose to put in your body after a workout can have serious implications for your next workout. Consuming the right foods can help your muscles grow stronger, repair and refuel so you can exercise again sooner. A combination of protein and carbohydrates offers amino acids for muscle synthesis and glucose for glycogen restoration. A lean protein drink and complex carbohydrates is a combination appropriate for both post-endurance and strength training.
A study published in the December 2010 issue of “International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism” reported that consuming carbohydrates after a workout is the most important factor influencing the ability of your muscles to restore glycogen, or fuel, levels. Consuming protein with the carbohydrates encourages muscle protein synthesis and inhibits protein breakdown. When protein synthesis is greater than protein breakdown, muscle growth and repair can occur. If you do not eat properly after a workout, you may feel weaker during your next exercise session because your muscles have not adequately replaced their energy stores, or you may not experience positive muscle gains because your body is in a negative protein balance.
After a workout, you should aim for about 20 g of protein – whether you just ran 10 miles or performed a heavy lifting session. Consuming this protein in liquid form may be more tolerable, as you may not be very hungry right after a hard workout. Your body also digests liquids easily, allowing the nutrients to process more quickly. The liquid also helps with hydration. Along with your protein drink, have a carbohydrate snack containing .36 to .54 g of carbohydrate per pound of your body weight. Aim for the lower end after a strength-training session and the higher end after a hard endurance workout. For example, a 135-lb. athlete who ran 15 miles should aim for 72 g of carbohydrates post-workout.
You should eat your post-workout meal 15 to 30 minutes after you finish your session for the best results. Your body is most receptive to the extra carbohydrate and protein nutrition within the first 30 minutes after a workout. At the very least, try to consume carbohydrates within an hour of your workout if circumstances prevent immediate refueling. Continue to eat carbohydrate-rich foods at later meals throughout the day if you performed an exhaustive workout.
A drink made with whey protein digests easily and provides amino acids to your muscles. If you cannot consume whey, you may have soy or egg white protein, both of which offer a complete amino acid profile. Mix the protein powder with water or with juice to add some carbohydrates. If your body can tolerate them after a tough workout, complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain breads and cereal, starchy vegetables and beans and legumes, provide extra nutrients and fiber to benefit your overall health. Ideas for post-workout complex carbohydrates include a baked potato with plain yogurt, whole grain cereal with low-fat milk or whole grain pancakes.