Knowing what to eat and when to eat it can be quite confusing! With everything that we read on social media and the Internet, it is easy to get lost in information. A new study comes out every week telling us to eat this instead of that!
It can be quite frustrating especially when we put so much effort into our training and really care to achieve our health and fitness goals. One topic that a lot of my clients get confused about is what to eat or drink after a workout.
Should we eat anything? Or just grab a shake? Should we wait for a full meal? What is this ‘30 minute window’ about? And what about chocolate milk; is that a good post-workout snack?
Well today my friends, I have all these answers for you to clear any confusion!
But first, let’s start with the basics.
Most foods are divided into 3 types of macronutrients which, by definition, are molecules derived from the diet and created through the digestion process.
Nutrients are essential for the proper functioning of the human body and the harmony of all its systems for growth, development, optimization of metabolism, energy intake, etc.
These macronutrients are divided into three main categories, each with different characteristics and roles to play on the body.
Protein is a chain of amino acids that are brought into the body through diet or supplementation. Some of these amino acids are called essential – which means they can’t be synthesized by the body itself, and are found only in certain specific types of foods.
Their main role is to ensure the life of the cells in the human body through various processes: regulation of blood sugar, optimization of muscular contraction, skin and hair health, role in enzymatic reactions, etc.
We can get protein from animal or from plant sources.
There are 2 types of carbohydrates.
- Simple carbohydrates – commonly known as sugars; they create fast digestion and are used quickly by the body as a temporary energy source.
- Complex carbohydrates – assembly of several simple carbohydrates; they create slower absorption and digestion, thus a source of energy over a longer period of time. Foods rich in complex carbohydrates are usually also rich in dietary fiber.
Carbohydrates bring essential energy for the body and can either be used quickly or be stored as glycogen in the muscles or in the liver for future use. If these reserves are not used in the form of energy, they will be converted into triglycerides (fat).
Commonly called ‘fat’, lipids play a vital role in the energy production of the body. They are also essential in the regulation of the body’s temperature and in the storage of energy in the body’s cell membranes.
There are several types of fats; monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and trans, all of which have different repercussions on our health.
Even though micronutrients represent only about 2% of our nutrition, they are essential to keep the human body alive. Micronutrients, unlike macronutrients, don’t bring us any energy, but play a huge role in the body’s chemical reactions.
Micronutrients are divided into 2 main categories – vitamins and minerals, but we can also count essential fatty acids and amino acids into that list. Different types of food will bring us different types of micronutrients which is why it’s important to have variety in our diets and to supplement if we have any deficiencies.
Now that we understand what our food consists of, let’s take a look at what a good post workout meal or drink should look like.
First of all, we have to understand what is the purpose of that post-workout snack; why should we eat after we train? It’s only when we answer that question that we can figure out which nutrient is relevant for us to take to make sure we achieve our goals.
The purpose of that post-workout meal is to rehydrate, rebuild, remineralize and facilitate muscle recovery. The better we are able to do this, the faster we will be back on our feet after a tough training, and the sooner we will attain our physique goals whatever they may be (hypertrophy, strength, endurance, etc.).
With that being said, it’s crucial to pick foods that can be digested quickly, and that contain nutrients that are favorable to meet that purpose.
The two main things that happen when we train is that we empty our glycogen levels and we break – to a certain degree, our muscle fibers.
It’s important to pick the right food for the right job; we want to have a snack, meal or shake that will elevate our insulin that is high in sucrose, that contains high-quality protein and that will be absorbed quickly.
In picking the right foods, we make sure that our glycogen levels will be replenished and that our muscles will repair themselves properly. A source of simple carbs (especially fruits high in sucrose) and proteins usually does the trick!
Solid Vs. Liquid?
A shake will get absorbed by the digestive system quicker than a solid meal – nutrients will start doing their respective jobs a little quicker which can facilitate recovery.
It’s also often more convenient and faster to carry and consume a shake than to take time to prepare and eat a proper meal, especially when we are on the go. The easiest way to make a basic shake would be as followed:
- 1 scoop of good quality protein powder (whey, isolate or vegan)
- 1 cup of fruits high in sucrose (kiwis, pineapples, apricots, peaches, etc.).
- Water / Ice
Remember to ask a professional about which protein powder you should buy; with so many different products on the market, you want to make sure you pick a high-quality powder that suits your needs and eating habits.
With that being said, having a solid meal after a workout also brings a lot of benefits. The absorption might be a little slower, but if we pick the right foods, we will get a high dose of great macro and micro nutrients which will also help our recovery.
Here’s what a post workout meal should look like:
- 1 source of high-quality protein (eggs, chicken, fish, meat, Greek yogurt, etc.)
- 1 source of simple carbs/carbs that have a high glycemic index (fruits, white rice, white bread, potatoes, honey, maple syrup, etc.)
Keep in mind that the size of your portions should always match your goals. Even though there is actually no science or studies to back this statement, it is recommended to eat or have a shake in the following 30 minutes after a workout for optimal recovery.
But remember that it’s always better to have a snack than to skip it entirely even if it’s past that 30 minutes window.
But What About That Chocolate Milk?
The other thing we want to make sure is that the foods that we decide to eat after a workout (and in general!) are healthy and nutritious! It’s not because a chocolate cookie is high in sucrose that we should have cookies after every workout. Which brings me back to that chocolate milk…
We see it all the time; chocolate milk is apparently THE go-to post-workout drink… I have a hard time seeing athletes or anybody rely only on chocolate milk for recovery.
This belief comes from the fact that chocolate milk contains a lot of water, is rich in sugar, has proteins and contains minerals like sodium and potassium; which are all elements that we need to optimize our recovery. So in a sense, that statement is not false.
BUT, in my opinion, if we take into consideration the ingredients generally found in cow milk, its high sugar content, the important increase of dairy intolerances and allergies mainly caused by the deterioration of the ingredients quality and by the presence of hormones in the milk, it is much more favorable to pick another kind of shake or meal for our post-workout snack.
In conclusion, variety and consistency are always best when it comes to nutrition. Drinking chocolate milk once in a while won’t affect your progress in the gym.
Eating 45 minutes or an hour after your workout won’t affect your recovery. Having a solid meal instead of a shake won’t alter your strength gains.
But choosing high-quality foods high in simple carbohydrates and proteins and drinking plenty of water is the optimal way to ensure that your body recovers faster and that you are ready to hit the gym again for another great workout!
P.S. – Want to know more about how optimizing your daily nutrition habits can help you reach your health and fitness goals? Head over to karmakin.ca/ for your free consultation.