Thursday, February 11, 2010

Post-Workout Nutrition

Post workout nutrition is a bit more complex than pre-workout nutrition in my opinion. The food (or lack there of) that one consumes following a workout is entirely predicated upon the duration of the workout, the type of exercise (i.e., strength-based, aerobic, or anaerobic (glycolitic)), and the number of times that one is engaging in this activity on a daily basis.

For example, I have been training mostly strength-based workouts lately, once a day, with an occasional, small dash of anaerobic activity (maybe one short CF WOD a week, or a series of short sprints). Given the fact that the type of training that I do regularly does not drain my glucose stores and the fact that I only train once daily I don’t really see the need for a post-workout meal. I will usually take in a high protein, high fat meal with some low glycemic vegetables (what the vast majority of my meals consist of) somewhere between one and three hours following my workouts. This has worked very well for me through the “Quest.” The manner in which I address post workout eating is applicable to any strength or short duration activity athletes because it addresses the fact that muscle stores need to be repaired (protein does this) and my muscle glycogen (glucose stores) have not been depleted very much so there is no need for a ton of high glycemic carbohydrates. For example my style of post-workout eating would work well with100 meter sprinters, high jumpers, throwers, and baseball players.

In an effort to address the approach to post-workout nutrition for more glycolytically demanding sports I am going to describe the ideal post-workout dietary tactics for a hard charging CrossFit athlete. Let’s say that we have a CrossFit games competitor named Bill and Bill trains CF WODs twice a day on a 3 on 1 off rotating schedule. Bill should be getting the bulk of his daily carbohydrates with a dash of protein in his post-workout feeding window (when glucose stores are most deplete--within 30 minutes of a workout). Ideally Bill would be taking in some sweet potatoes (or other starchy plant-based carbs) and some protein (ideally meat protein).The starch will replenish his muscle glycogen and prepare him for his next workout, while the protein will elicit a glucagon response and enhance the restorative process within his fatigued muscles. Marathon runners, MMA fighters, and any other glycolytically demanding sport (basketball and soccer are also good examples) would attack the post workout feeding window in a very similar manner.

There are also many other interesting ways to tackle post-workout nutrition. I have heard of bodybuilders who eat one insanely large, protein only, meal (2-4 pounds of meat) a day immediately following their workouts. This is a very sneaky way to confront the post-workout feeding window because the meal is entirely ketogenic (just protein and fat), yet the meal will also fill glucose stores simply because it is so large (eliciting a somewhat large insulin response). This type of meal also delivers the body with an onslaught of essential amino acids.

Although I give some pretty concrete examples above, the only way to determine what approach is best for you or your athletes is through experimentation—trying different strategies and seeing how you look, feel, and perform.

What is your post workout meal? When do you eat it? Do you eat one at all?


  1. I try to eat a zone favorable meal within 30-minutes of a workout. That frequently doesn't happen, but I try. Meat and veggies is the way to go.
    If I know that I'm going to be doing more work later, I'll bump my carbs up by about half. So, a normal meal for me would be 4 blocks, and a carb-heavy one would have 6 blocks of carbs.
    I've always wanted to try the GOMAD diet-- which is similar to the bodybuilder method you mentioned-- but it wouldn't help me much right now, anyway.

  2. The way that you move your post workout carbs around is a good call.

    I'd be really interested to see how a month of the GOMAD (Gallon of Milk a Day) effects you. You would definitely get way more powerful, but I bet your strength to bodyweight ratio would go down a bit.