Post Workout Nutrition: What to Eat After Workout | Not Your Average Fitness Tips

Post Workout Nutrition: What to Eat After Workout

What to eat after workout is a big concern for many individuals. If you’ve ever read bodybuilding literature, you’ve heard that the requirement for post workout nutrition is to have protein and carbs as soon as possible after you finish lifting. Why? So that you can take advantage of an optimal time in which your body turns everything into muscle. As usual, bodybuilding literature doesn’t exactly tell the whole story.

Before going into more details, I’ll cut right to the chase. Having protein and carbs after lifting is somewhat important, but it’s not absolutely critical immediately after exercising or even within one hour of exercising. The studies that bodybuilding literature reference to justify this are full of holes. The bottom line advice is that you should probably have a healthy mix of carbs and protein 1-2 hours after a workout, but it doesn’t have to be some fancy protein shake or energy drink. Chocolate milk is just as good as anything on the market.

Post Workout Nutrition: The Most Important Meal of the Day?

Bodybuilding literature would have you believe that your body is in an anabolic state after exercising in which your muscles absorb nutrients at a higher rate than normal. The argument is that you eat, or preferably drink protein to help rebuild the muscles. Just as important, you need high glycemic carbs to replenish glycogen levels. According to some bodybuilding “experts,” if you don’t do this within 30-60 minutes, you’ll lose energy and muscle and your metabolism will slow down.

Start drinking your protein shake right after working out…you wouldn’t want your metabolism to slow down (note: sarcasm)

Eating Immediately After A Workout

During my days of utilizing the bodybuilder approach, I was adamant about following the above advice on post workout nutrition. Immediately after lifting, I would have Gatorade with Any Whey. It wasn’t just regular Gatorade either, it was dextrose-based. I thought using this type of sugar would cause my body to absorb nutrients even faster than a regular carb drink due to a greater insulin spike. To top it off, 1-2 hours later I would have Muscle Milk which provided a lighter load of carbs and slow digesting casein protein. I can tell you that I certainly gained muscle but just as much, if not more, fat as well.

This is a lot of sugar, and a lot of calories, to simply replenish glycogen levels

If you’re confused by high glycemic carbs, insulin levls, and whey vs. casein protein, don’t bother looking into them any more. I wasted enough time with nutrients to know that there are only marginal effects associated with these different carbs and protein types on post workout nutrition. More importantly, what to eat after a workout is built around a “mythical” study. The famous study showed there was an optimal “window” of eating after exercising that would help you build muscle.

The Telephone Game

Do you remember when you were younger and you’d play the telephone game in school? Everyone would sit in a circle and a phrase would be whispered from person to person. When the game ended, you had a completely different phrase than the one you started with. Welcome to the post workout nutrition “window” myth. The word myth is really an exaggeration since there was an actual study done on the effects of protein post workout. However, the study was done on 70 year old men! If you really think 70 year old men are representative of the rest of the population, then keep drinking your post workout shakes 5 minutes after exercising.

A full evaluation of research studies was done by Brad Pilon in his book, How Much Protein. I’d highly recommend reading it since it will change your outlook on post workout nutrition and the amount of protein you really need on a daily basis. The bottom line is that Brad analyzed a lot of studies and found that creatine was the only real difference maker when it came to post workout nutrition and muscle growth.

More importantly, when you exercise intensely, you release HGH which helps burn fat while preserving muscle. When you eat after a workout (and generate an insulin spike), the HGH release stops. Why not keep those HGH levels elevated for a longer period of time? You won’t have to worry about losing muscle since HGH helps preserve muscle. This makes the case to wait 1-2 hours before eating.

Not Eating At All After A Workout

I hope I’ve convinced you to think twice about before you immediate eat after a workout. However, do you have to eat at all after exercising? My answer is a resounding yes. Because my weight skyrocketed from bulking like a bodybuilder, I aggressively tried to cut weight. I would workout at night and not eat anything after. I would perform cardio first thing the next morning as well. I skipped breakfast and didn’t eat until lunch. I did lose fat, but a lot of muscle mass as well.

Quick, somebody get this guy some food!

This is an extreme approach, but your body does eventually need nutrients to prevent muscle loss (especially if you exercise daily or multiple times daily). There’s just no proof that getting those nutrients 2, 24, or even 48 hours later causes you to gain more or less muscle mass. In fact, one study showed that as long as you replenished nutrients within 24 hours, you received a muscle building benefit. Another showed that there was still some benefit, albeit lesser, even after 48 hours. You just need to replenish the nutrients at some point in time. For my body, 2 hours feels like the right amount of time for my muscles.

What To Eat After Workout

Now that you know the benefits associated with not eating immediately and not waiting forever to ingest a post workout meal, the obvious question is what you should eat. Your body is primed to quickly digest what you give it, so you should try to avoid fat as it slows down the digestion process. A nice mix of carbs and protein is ideal. If you’re looking for specifics, bodybuilders will tell you a carb/protein ratio between 2:1 and 4:1 is ideal with protein equal to 0.15-0.25 grams per pound of bodyweight (weighing 136lbs, I would have approximately 27g of protein and 54g of carbs for a post workout meal).

Even though you’re hungry, try to avoid all these fatty foods post workout

If you enjoy spending money on post workout shakes, that’s fine, but you can get the ratio you need from a simple glass of fat free chocolate milk. One glass of Over the Moon chocolate milk contains 150 calories, 11g protein, 25g sugar, and of course 0g fat. If you believe bodybuilding literature, 2 glasses would be ideal. I usually settle for just one glass. Alternatively, exercise a couple hours before breakfast, lunch, or dinner and replenish your nutrients with a healthy meal made up of solid foods, rather than liquids. Yes, whole foods won’t be absorbed as fast, but that may or may not be important.

My favorite post workout shake…so tasty!

I think the key takeaway from all this is that you have to question the research about post workout nutrition. No study has unequivocally proven that you need a certain carb/protein ratio within a certain amount of time after exercising. My best advice on what to eat after workout is that you should drink a glass of chocolate milk about 2 hours after exercising.

Not Your Average Fitness Tips

  1. Question what you’ve read or heard about post workout nutrition.  How Much Protein reveals a lot of misconceptions about the studies.
  2. There’s no rush to immediately eat after workout.
  3. Avoid eating for 1-2 hours after exercising to maximize HGH release which helps to preserve muscle and burn fat.
  4. Don’t overwork your body and deprive it of nutrients for an extended period of time after intensely exercising.
  5. Fat free chocolate milk is an optimal post workout nutrition drink 2 hours after exercising.

36 Responses to “Post Workout Nutrition: What to Eat After Workout”

  • Good stuff. Another bonus is that chocolate milk tastes so much better than most protein shakes.

    -Drew

  • Yeah, buddy! I’m all about questioning the status quo when it comes to health, fitness, and wellness. And when it comes to exercising, the “bodybuilding” mentality has convinced even the most casual of exercisers about the importance of the post-workout protein shake. I’ve drank far too many whey protein-milk-flaxseed oil shakes than ANYONE should have to consume and these days I generally wait at least an hour after exercising to eat… and only then REAL FOOD. Thanks for putting this bogus myth under the microscope.

  • Darrin,

    I agree man. Over thinking this stuff is unnecessary. In fact some of my personal acquaintances that have bad ass physiques. Don’t rely on nutrition much.

    But – they bust a** in the gym

    Something that you cannot package and sell though.

    Y.

  • Excellent another myth exposed.
    I don’t think eating straight after helps much only if you want to bulk up with the extra calories.
    I tried it and watched others didn’t make a difference really. it always felt good eating after but that more comfort food.
    2 rules I say … try it one way then try it the other and use what works
    next: you can avoid any supplements if you have a healthy diet But any flavoured milk is good ( i prefer homemade chocolate skimmed milk) not the off the shelf ones as too many preservatives.

  • Drew,
    Chocolate milk does taste really good. Almost too good to the point where I drink much more than I should.

    Darrin,
    Sounds like we’ve had the same experience with protein shakes. Real food beats something that a supplement company developed in a lab any day.

    Yavor,
    Excellent point that supplement companies and food companies will always try to sell you more, more, more!

    Raymond,
    You’re absolutely correct…make yourself a test subject and see if eating right after helps or hurts. I’m planning on doing a separate post on supplements, but a healthy diet trumps any and all supplements.

    Dave

  • Ryan:

    Help!!! I am new at this and am trying to learn. I’m working out an hour a day at a high intensity Kettlebell Gym. I take a post workout After Glow, and 3 protein shakes through out the day. Should I stop? I’m just trying to add lean muscle and lose fat @ 25lbs.

  • Ryan,
    3 protein shakes plus Afterglow is a lot of protein. There’s no harm in having that much, but there shouldn’t be a need to have that much either, assuming you get a reasonable amount for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The resource mentioned above, How much protein , might be a valuable read for you.
    Dave

  • Travis:

    Is 1% Milk ok since i cant stand skim milk.

  • Travis,
    The only reason that skim milk is preferred is that you don’t want to take in fat to slow down the digestion process post workout. In other words, stick to carbs and protein. That being said, there are no absolutes and if you want to use 1% instead, try it out. Before you do that, I’d urge you to try Over the Moon chocolate milk. You’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between that and 1%.
    Dave

  • melissa:

    If I am lactose intolerant, can I substitute light Soymilk or almond milk post-workout? Will it produce the same effects as regular milk? Also are there other foods such as nonfat cheeses that i can consume? Thanx

  • Melissa,
    You can certainly substitute soy milk or almond milk. The idea is to get protein and carbs 1-2 hours after your workout. Ideally you’d avoid fat in your post workout meal. Other than that, anything goes. Sometimes I’ll time lunch or dinner around a workout and just eat a normal meal…chicken with veggies and some fruit for dessert.
    Dave

  • Brandon:

    I personally believe Whey-Protein Isolates is the best to drink after an intense work-out to maximize gains and do deliver the protein to you’re muscles fast. I usually take in around 50g of protein after my workouts.

  • Brandon,
    Whey protein can be good after a workout. I think it’s best to mix with carbs though to improve the overall effectiveness. Additionally, I’m not really sure you need all that protein right after exercising. As long as you’re seeing good results, keep it up. Some people would have a tendency to eat too much and put on fat if they had 50g of protein after exercising plus their regular meals.
    Dave

  • Paul:

    Im 185 pounds and I’m trying to lose approx 10 to 15 pounds. 175 is where I would ideally like to be, I do cardio for 45 minutes 4 times a week at high intensity but I haven’t been able to lose any weight. As a Diabetic I have to eat at certain times, with a certain amount of carbs each meal. I try to stay away from the “fatty foods” as I know they are not good for me. Do you have any suggestion to lose 10-15 pounds? I’m stummped.

  • Toni:

    I used to fall into the trap of rewarding myself with a gigantic bowl of sugary breakfast cereal or a couple of pieces of cinnamon toast smeared with lots of butter after a hard workout whether it was 6 a.m. or 9 p.m. I now know that exercising hard is not an excuse to eat high-fat foods. You do need to nourish your body but in the right way after exercise. Also, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not going to perform all these exercises then kill any progress I’ve made by eating poorly. I’m a big fan of cottage cheese topped with blueberries and a few walnuts after a workout. That’s what I do.

  • Toni,
    The scenario you mention is all too common. Exercise and then watch all the gains slip away by rewarding yourself with junk. Sounds like you’ve changed your ways for the better!
    Dave

  • Hello Dave, thank you for sharing these tips, I want to try this, I am overweight of over 80 pounds but I am wondering if how long can I expect to have some changes?

  • Jason,
    I almost always recommend a slow and steady approach to weight loss. That’s the healthiest way. Starting 80lbs overweight, you might be able to lose 3-4lbs per week. Eventually it will probably be 1-2lbs per week and finally it will be challenging just to lose 1lb per week. Start by making simple changes to your diet and exercise program and progressive make them more challenging. Happy to help further if I can.
    Dave

  • Nathan Chen:

    Do you know if we should be taking casein shakes or any food at night to maintain muscle during sleep? You’re webite has helped a lot and made me feel like an idiot because I thought I was the one who knew a lot haha thank god for having people like you exist.

  • Great post, you have been well ahead of the game for a long time now. I also follow this approach using 2 glasses of chocolate milk for rapid absorption, then wait 2 hours to eat my dinner.

  • Nathan,
    I think the amount of protein you need is a bit overblown. I put on a ton of muscle mass (and little to no fat) during Phase 1 of Visual Impact Muscle Building and didn’t touch a protein shake. However, some hardcore bodybuilders wake up in the middle of the night to have protein shakes. I just find that too extreme and frankly a waste of money. Here’s some more info on protein if you’re interested:

    http://www.notyouraveragefitnesstips.com/health-and-nutrition/how-much-protein-do-i-need-per-day

    Michael,
    I’ve even gotten away from the chocolate milk and just focused on eating my biggest meals after exercising when possible.

    Dave

  • Nathan:

    Can you list what you eat before you go to bed?

  • Nathan,
    On most nights, I try to stop eating after dinner around 6pm so that I can get a good 15-16 hour fast in. However, on nights that I exercise (2 times per week), I either eat a regular dinner after or just have some BCAAs and fruit.
    Dave

  • Nathan:

    So during sleep the only thing that happens is fat loss? The muscle loss thing was only to sell casein protein right?

  • Nathan:

    Also, I read eat stop eat and isn’t 5 days of fasting too much?

  • Nathan,
    You don’t necessarily lose fat during sleep. You could lose muscle during sleep as well but probably only if you exercised at night and didn’t eat anything after. The protein shake industry is difficult to figure out. It works for bodybuilders but my goal isn’t to look like a bodybuilder so I don’t necessarily believe in utilizing the same methods.

    As for fasting, 5 days of 24 hour fasts would obviously be too much, especially since Eat Stop Eat advocates not overeating at meals before or after. The daily approach done for 16 hours with an 8 hour feeding window is just fine though. You could probably fast as long as 20 hours like the Warrior Diet recommends and still be fine as long as you’re ingesting enough calories during the eating window. Eat Stop Eat’s goal is to eliminate meals and eliminate calories 1-2 days per week so it’s a little different than the daily approaches.

    Dave

  • Toni:

    Dave,
    I deep-sixed the protein shakes as it was too costly. I *finally* took your advice about drinking chocolate milk after my workouts. It’s cheaper and the whole family can indulge too.

    Also, is it true that on average a person can lose 1-2% body fat a month?
    ~Toni

  • Toni,
    Nice to hear you’re saving a little money. The amount of fat you can lose is going to depend on what type of shape you’re in. For an overweight beginner, 1-2% per month is definitely achievable. For an experienced exerciser, 1-2% per year might be more realistic. Think about it for you…can you imagine losing 1-2% per month for an entire year…you’d be down to 0% body fat! If you’re just looking to lose that in one month, it’s possible but again, the lower your fat, the harder it is to do.
    Dave

  • Toni:

    Dave,
    I never thought of it that way, that’s true. I was just thinking if 1% body fat roughly equals say 3 lbs. of fat that *most* people can lose three pounds of fat, not water weight, in a month’s time. I asked because I’m wondering if my body fat can be lowered (as I’m working towards at least 17% from 18% now) in time for the summer. I mean, 18% is okay but a 1% drop would help me to look better overall.
    ~Toni

  • Toni,
    I’d say you keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be likely to lose 0.5-1 lb of fat per month. That should get you to your goal by summer.
    Dave

  • Therese Becker:

    Where can you purchase Over the Moon Milk? Do you have to go to a health food store? I have never seen it in a regular grocery store.

  • Therese Becker:

    Also I hear that it is bad to eat Blueberries or strawberries in your protein shake after a workout because they are mainly fructose! UGH!!!! I just did! What carbs should you mix into a protein shake after a workout or should you just add your protein to the over the moon milk?

  • Therese,
    Over the Moon is in grocery stores…I’ve bought it at Shaws and Stop and Shop before. Maybe it’s not as widely distributed any more. As for carbs after a workout, “experts” will tell you to focus on fast digesting carbs (i.e. sugar) with the ultimate post workout carb being dextrose. I don’t think this is anything major and is incremental at best in helping avoid muscle loss. Chocolate milk works well because it has protein and sugar though. Lately I’ve just been having whey protein on its own after a workout and refueling on my normal carbs during the day. I’ve seen some studies that suggest you don’t need to have carbs immediately after a workout. If you want more protein above the chocolate milk, then feel free to mix in whey protein. Just adds to the overall cost.
    Dave

  • Oni:

    I agree with everything this site stated. I am about 5 9 201 pounds, my arms are about 18′ and am i excellent condition. I fell into the traps like everyone else did with the netflix documentaries and all the placebos out there. The best advise I could ever give you is don’t over think the process. It is simple people. The body as it always does….adapts. A protein drink after a meal is not required. Most of the shakes or proteins you buy say something that people for years have been ignoring…sup·ple·ment (s p l -m nt). n. 1. Something added to complete a thing, make up for a deficiency, or extend or strengthen the whole. In the case of protein shakes is to make up for a deficiency. The truth is if were all able to have a personal chef that could make the foods we wanted there would be no need for these supplements, which would define these has definition number 2.
    They have us all fooled us into thinking we need them to define the first and third definitions. The first thing they do is plant the seed. They use this word called ca·tab·o·lism (k -t b -l z m). n. The metabolic breakdown of complex molecules into simpler ones, often resulting in a release of energy. This happens from typically over training and when the body has no other choice because the need for energy is simply too great, it breaks down. No lets take it a step further stop associating this word with working out and no lets put you on a mountain. You have to climb it because your energy source/nutritions are at the top and there is nothing left at the bottom. At first you are climbing the mountain with great efficiency but as the body uses up its energy stores it needs another energy source…depending on how hard you are working and long the body will use water and oxygen to convert fatty tissue to energy (this was why we evolved and were given the ability to store fat). Notice there has been no talk of “that word.” That’s because this process hasn’t started yet. 24 hours after your initial summit, if your body’s glycemic levels are not restored it begins to break down. Why? Because muscle is highly active tissue and is hard to maintain without the proper nutrition. And in this state the body would rather keep nutritions fed to the more important parts of the body like the brain the heart…etc not muscle. Muscle is extremly active/volatile tissue and needs to fed. If notWhich is why if you don’t have a calorie surplus its hard to gain muscle.

  • Oni:

    I’m sorry about the last line, I did not mean to hit submit, I had not done spell check yet. What I was trying to say is muscle is extremely active/volatile tissue and needs to be fed. Again the body is not going to take protein to feed muscles when more important things need to energy to function. Thus it eats itself to allow you to function, so the ATP process
    The truth is it doesn’t matter where the body gets the protein from, casein, whey, animal, so as long as it has what it needs to repair itself and replenish its carb stores. The amount of protein is another topic but what I will say is that most studies done are done with average joe blows not people that are working out every day or have some type of program they follow weekly. Most studies say the body uses about 20 grams at best to synthesize protein at any given time but testosterone impacts that number drastically and no matter who you are this number increases as you workout. The amount of this hormone varies in all of us so the only way to know is trial and error, become your own test subject. Carbs, if anyone says avoid carbs…lol don’t listen to them. Did you know that the saliva in your mouth is primed to break down carbs? Chew on a piece of bread or a starchy banana. Chew on it for a few minutes….the flavor should start to change. It will become sweeter. That’s because there is an enzyme in your saliva that starts to break down starches and carbohydrates. Your teeth are also primed to eat meat. Eat these things if you want to put on muscle mass. Just understand the more muscle you put on, the more carbs and protein you need. That is why body builders weight goes up in the off season. They are trying to put on muscle mass. Putting on mass is easy, sculping is a bit more challenging.
    Do yourself a favor and just remember catabolism is what they use to make you think you need all these placebos but just read this and see if you understand for example, during rest, the body tends to recover and remain in an anabolic state. When the body does not properly rest for long periods of time, as in prolonged vigorous exercise, muscle tissue will continue to break down. Without proper nutritional intake, the natural process of tissue growth and repair will not take place.

    Even though this does not sound particularly problematic, simply imagine remaining in a constant state of depletion. Quite literally, when the actual muscle tissue in the body endures lengthened stretches of the catabolic state, it eats away at itself in an attempt to find a source of stored energy.

    This is why sleep is so very important, this is where the real magic takes place. Get lots of sleep otherwise you won’t build to your potential. This is when the body truly repairs itself both physically and mentally. I don’t want to take up any more time but any questions email me at rreeco@hotmail.com. I love helping people and unplugging them from this Matrix known as the fake fitness world.

  • Great tips, thank Oni!

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