After working out heavy on those muscles or doing cardio to remove that extra layer of fat, one is always cravings for having a meal. This is also a body signal to tell that it has gone through much. Now it’s time to replenish all essential lost macro and micronutrients. With the best post-workout meals you will grow and speed up the process of attaining your ultimate goal of getting that ripped muscular physique.
You need the right set of nutrients at the right time to get your goal; i.e. by the synergy of what you put your body through with the best nutrition. This is where many athletes and fitness phobias make a difference to that of an ordinary being that is unable to attain that physique.
In this article, we would discuss the best post-workout nutrition that should be going inside your stomach so that your hard work does not go into vain. Mainly we would be discussing the macronutrients and their optimal quantity to eat for your goal (muscle gain or fat loss). We will also discuss some extra nutrition tips and nutrients to eat after your workout to make things really good.
Also read: Meal plan for vegan athletes – No meat athlete nutrition
Why is it important?
The question arises why this post-workout meal is essential and isn’t it. The nutrition for the whole day matters rather than just focussing on the post-workout meal. The answer here is skeptical as one cannot openly say a straightforward answer to this question, and actually, what we believe is that it is valid up to some point that the full-day nutrition matters but… The human body is so complex and works differently in each individual that it is hard to say what is best here.
Some studies have shown that muscle protein blood serum concentrations drop after resistance training at about 3 hours post-workout. Specifically, leucine is an essential amino acid for muscle growth.
Which shows that there is a need for protein and/or essential amino acids in the body post-workout for protein muscle synthesis.
The other Study at the international society of sports nutrition shows that feeding subjects with some high glycemic index carbohydrates, proteins, fats in various dosages, during, before, and after resistance exercises, showed that post-exercise nutrition gets the best result in terms of muscle glycogen replenishment if taken within a period of 0-3hr. It even shows adding creatine in post-workout is very effective in adaptations to your next workout session.
Benefits of a post workout meal
- Decrease muscle protein breakdown
- Increase muscle protein synthesis (growth)
- Restore glycogen stores
- Enhance recovery
- Lowers cortisol levels
- Reduce muscle soreness
- Help repair tendons and ligament micro-tears after post-training
What science says
There is a lack of a concrete answer, but a paper was published which reviews most of the studies on nutrition dosages and timings on subjects with an exercise regime and concludes that considering a pre-workout meal (and its anabolic effects during and after exercise). A windows gap of 5-6 hrs is optimal for the best results in terms of post-workout nutrition. Confused? Now, what it means is in a 5-6 hr window. All three events must take place in serial order i.e. (pre-workout meal)-workout (60-90min)-(post-workout meal). Now, taking the mean calculations of the first two events and a gap of 1 hr between them.
Timing of 0-3.5 hrs is perfect to put in your post-workout meal with proper dosages of each essential macronutrient (Coming on that Later), which herein also is described as the GOLDEN Window Of Opportunity or in more familiar words the anabolic window.
Carbohydrates effect on post-workout
Carbohydrates play a vital role in life by supplying energy to do any activity and start the body’s metabolic processes. It is a vital factor for muscle glycogen replenishment in your post-workout and to create an anabolic environment for your muscle growth. This study clearly depicts the benefits of post-exercise carbohydrate intake along with protein; in alleviating skeletal muscle damage and inducing pro-regenerative effects.
This study shows that taking fast-digesting carbohydrates (maltodextrin) along with protein is better. This is because the amino acids in protein cannot work alone and synthesize protein without insulin in blood serum.
Ideal dosage post-workout is 30-50 gm fast-acting carbohydrates.
Protein effect on post-workout
A study performed in 2010 does show some anabolic effects on muscle protein synthesis on post-workout whey protein supplementation and net positive nitrogen retention in the muscle, enabling hypertrophy to occur. On the contrary, the latest study on resistance-trained men shows no positive benefits on muscle recovery and soreness by supplementing a dose of whey protein post-workout over a 7-day trial.
To clear ambiguity, this study clearly shows an advantage on the ingestion of a post-workout shake with carbs and protein in it. The result is better blood sugar and insulin response towards the regeneration of muscle tissue, and a drop in cortisol levels (catabolic hormone) in the long run after a protein-carbohydrate shake and via a high protein and carbohydrate meal.
Another emerging trend is the utilization of beef protein in post-workout and beef protein extracts. Research shows that Beef protein taken with carbohydrates is a better option than any other Carbohydrate source for anabolic effects of muscle gain. One study even found that beef protein isolate leads to more muscle synthesis and strength compared to whey protein isolate on resistance-trained individuals.
At last, I would say that protein does have post-workout benefits when taken in 1.6gm/kg and shows stagnant results if taken in higher quantity, which is calculated via studying various studies involving protein dosages.
Fat effect on post workout
What Fats? Aren’t they supposed to hinder my gains or make me gain fat? Well, that’s not the case. Actually, one study did show that adding some fat calories in your post-workout showed a high percentage of 20% IMTG (intramuscular triglycerides, which serves as energy reservoirs during exercise) compared to one with low fat intake in post-workout with the same amounts of protein and carbs in both the meals. So which means it should not be neglected in post-workout meals.
And opposing there are studies and relevant discussions on the effects of fat intake in hindering the protein and carbohydrate uptake to blood and slowing down the metabolism in the body; Even this study shows a high-fat diet restricts the glucose uptake by 44% and decreased bone density. Considering the above discussions and several other studies, we concluded that fat should only take 10-20% of the total nutrition in your post-workout meal.
Studies show that hydration is a crucial factor and water should be taken at adequate levels during exercise to avoid decreased post-workout solid food consumption.
Water should not be taken in higher amounts post-workout ie, more than 350 ml as it may cause bloating and restrict your post-workout meal consumption and may even cause muscle cramps if taken in higher amounts due to water-deprived state post-workout.
In the end, we would say that water is essential as it helps maintain those fluid and electrolyte losses during the workout if taken at optimal levels.
Creatine effects on post-workout
Creatine is one of the most scientifically proven supplements out there to enhance muscle recovery, strength, and endurance. The studies did found that one can grab its benefits more optimally if taken in post-exercise. One study found that consuming it immediately post-workout is superior to taking it in pre-workout
The previously discussed research  also shows that adding creatine to carbohydrate and protein nutrients helped in better adaptations to resistance training.
As far as muscle gain and fat loss are concerned, both the goals should include some amount of creatine in the natural/synthetic form; from lean meat sources or supplementation.
Recommended dosage 3-5gm as per researched through many studies.
Sample meals for post-workout (macro data included)
Following are some post-workout nutrition meals altered keeping science and expert advice in mind. One can modify the carbohydrate amounts according to his fat loss or muscle gain goals.
1. Beef protein isolate/Whey protein isolate (30-50gm) + Fast carbohydrate source (glucose/maltodextrin) (30-50gm) + Creatine monohydrate (3-5gm)
2. Grilled chicken/beef(250 gm)+rice(60-80gm)+veggies(suitable for bodybuilders in competition)
Protein-50gm carbohydrate-50gm,(fat-25-30gm) Creatine-2gm
3. Oats (50-60gm) ,whey/beef Isolate(30-50gm),+1 bannana/20gm berries ,1 tsp peanut butter.
Protein-30-50 gm carbohydrate-50gm, fat-15 gm Creatine-0 gm
4. Salmon fish (250-300gm) and fried rice (50-60gm) (fried in olive oil)
Protein-45-50 gm carbohydrate-45gm, fats-25 gm Creatine-0 gm
5. Egg whites (6-8) and 60-80gm Sweet potatoes
Protein-25-35 gm carbohydrate-45-60 gm, fats-10 gm Creatine-0 gm
6. Multigrain bread 2 slices+200-250gm cottage chese + veggies (Vegetarian Meal)
Protein-25-30 gm carbohydrate-25 gm, fats-10 gm Creatine-0 gm
7. Quinoa 200 gm + 50 gm berries + nuts (Vegan Meal)
Protein-20 gm, carbohydrate-40 gm, fats-10 gm Creatine-0 gm
8. Protein Smoothie (Whey protein+ skimmed milk+ nut butter + banana/berries)
Protein-25-30 gm carbohydrate-15 gm, fats-10 gm Creatine-0 gm
Best sources of carbohydrates post workout
In decreasing order of favourability
- Glucose/maltodextrin supplement form
- Rice cakes
- Potatoes/sweet potatoes
Best sources of protein post workout
In decreasing order of favourability
- Whey/beef protein isolates
- Lean meat-mainly beef, or chicken
- Fish salmon tuna
- Egg whites
- Plant protein
- Cottage cheese
Best fat source in post-workout
In decreasing order of favourability
- Whole egg
- Nut butter
To conclude, we would suggest you add all the nutrients discussed above, which are vital for muscle gain or fat loss and must be incorporated, apart from this taking a post-workout shake is also a meal (as mostly it is derived from food sources). Moreover, solid food is also equivalent to that nutrition, but supplementation is an easy and convenient source for an immediate post-workout, takes less time and gets absorbed quickly and easily.
Also read: Sports nutrition for young athletes