As you've probably heard before, your post-workout meal may very well be your most important meal of the day. The reason is that when you're finished with an intense workout, you're entering a catabolic state where your muscle glycogen is depleted and increased cortisol levels are beginning to excessively break down muscle tissue. These conditions (if left to go too long) are not good and the only way to reverse this catabolic state (and promote an anabolic state) is to consume a quickly digestible post-workout meal as soon as you can after training. The goal is to choose a meal with quickly digestible carbs to replenish muscle glycogen as well as quickly digestible protein to provide the amino acids needed to jump start muscular repair. The surge of carbohydrates and amino acids from this quickly digested meal promotes an insulin spike from the pancreas, which shuttles nutrients into the muscle cells. The post-workout meal should generally contain between 300-500 calories to get the best response. For example, a 120-lb female may only need a 300-calorie meal, whereas a 200-lb male may need a 500-calorie post-workout meal. Your post-workout meal should also contain anywhere from a 2:1 ratio of carbs:protein to a 4:1 ratio of carbs:protein. While most of your other daily meals should contain a source of healthy fats, keep the fat content of your post-workout meal to a bare minimum, since fat slows the absorption of the meal, which is the opposite of what you want after a workout.
When choosing what to make for your post-workout meal, the first thing to realize is that you DON'T need any of these expensive post-workout supplement formulations that the magazines (who advertise for them) will tell you that you absolutely NEED! As with any nutritional strategies, natural is always better. A good source of quickly digestible natural carbs such as frozen bananas, pineapples, raisins, honey, or organic maple syrup are perfect to elicit an insulin response that will promote muscle glycogen replenishment and a general anabolic (muscle building) effect. The best source of quickly digestible protein is a quality non-denatured whey protein isolate, some fat-free or low-fat yogurt, or even some fat free or low fat ricotta cheese. Ricotta is mostly whey protein, so it is fast digesting. Cottage cheese, on the other hand, is mostly casein and is slow digesting and would not be good as a post-workout meal (even though it is great any other time of day). Here are a couple ideas for delicious post-workout smoothies that will kick start your recovery process:
Chocolate Banana - blend together 1 cup water, % cup skim milk, one and a half frozen bananas, 2 tbsp organic maple syrup, and 30 grams chocolate whey protein powder - 38 g prot, 72 g carb, 0.5 g fat, 440 calories.
Pineapple Vanilla - blend together 1 cup water, % cup vanilla yogurt, one cup frozen pineapples, 2 tbsp honey (preferably raw), and 30 grams vanilla whey protein powder - 35 g prot, 71 g carb, 0.5 g fat, 425 calories.
When looking to lose body fat, keep in mind that post-workout meals should have the opposite characteristics of all of your other meals throughout each day. While post-workout meals should have quick high glycemic index carbs, quickly digested proteins, and minimal fat, all of your other meals throughout the day should be comprised of low glycemic index, slowly digested carbs, slow release proteins, and ample healthy fats. These are powerful strategies towards developing a lean muscular body with a low body fat percentage. Another great thing about post-workout meals is that you can satisfy even the worst sweet tooth, since this is the one time of the day where you can get away with eating extra sugars without adding to your gut. Instead, it all goes straight to the muscles! Enjoy!
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