Post Training Nutrition

By Kyle Arsenault CSCS

“You need to eat some carbohydrates and protein immediately after training in order to jump start the recovery process, minimize muscle breakdown and take full advantage of the anabolic (muscle building) window!”

This is commonly heard and preached throughout the strength and conditioning world and it is something that I have always tried to engrain in my athletes…until recently.

But don’t worry, I am NOT saying that consuming quality nutrients immediately post training is a bad idea or will have negative results, it just may not be quite as important as we may have thought. According to this review on the physiological effects of post training nutrient consumption, the evidence to support that immediate nutrient intake is crucial for the greatest results is not as clear as we have been told.

You can read the entire review (if you are a geek like me you will) or you can check out the points below for a quick synopsis…

1)      The goal of post training nutrition is to promote recovery and physiological adaptations by restoring energy reserves that were depleted during training (mainly muscle glycogen which is stored carbohydrate in the muscles), decrease protein degradation (halt protein breakdown), increase protein synthesis (promote protein building) and enhance muscle hypertrophy (increase muscle size, or as I like to say, “Jacked diesel status”). And on a side note, increasing lean muscle mass is a positive for every athlete, even our ladies!

2)      As with any meal, the most important component of a post training meal is quality protein. Some studies have shown that adding a carbohydrate with the protein further promotes the positive effects, but really the best approach is to consume a whole food meal that contains quality protein, carbohydrate and fat. If your goal is fat loss, forgoing the carbohydrate post training is suggested, but if your primary goal is to add weight (muscle) consuming carbohydrate with protein is suggested.

Grilled animal flesh, veggies and quality carbs…a perfect meal

3)      The amount of nutrient consumed largely depends on age, gender, size, training age, intensity and pre training nutrient consumption (more on this below). The harder and longer you train the more nutrients you need compared to if you are completing a lower intensity training session. As a general rule of thumb, 20-40g of high quality protein is fair recommendation, and if you are consuming carbohydrate you can shoot for roughly the same amount or a little more if you are training at a higher intensity.

4)      Training promotes the up regulation of glucose into the cells by enhancing insulin sensitivity and increasing the translocation of GLUT4 (a protein which allows glucose to enter the cells). This is a good thing when trying to control blood sugar levels and restore muscle glycogen. This also gives you a little more wiggle room to consume some carbohydrate that you generally wouldn’t, as your body is more likely to store the carbohydrate as glycogen versus fat…a post training meal can in a sense act as a reward. This still doesn’t give you permission to pound donuts post training, but something such as jelly, jams or other higher sugar food (but still more natural) isn’t bad!

Some natural jam or fruit with sprouted grain / whole wheat toast…a decent, sweet tooth fixin’ post training option when paired with quality protein!

5)      As long as you restore energy (glycogen) before your next training session or competition performance is less likely to be negatively impacted. Therefore nutrient consumption post training becomes more important if you are training multiple times in a day (two-a-days or split routines for some dedicated individuals) or have several competitions within a day (wresting meet, athletic tournament, etc.).

6)      The need for an immediate post training meal deceases if you had consumed a pre training meal. The anabolic (building) effect of a meal is roughly 3-4 hours. Therefore your pre training meal offsets the catabolic (breakdown) effects of training for roughly that period of time. Simply put, your pre training meal (if you have one) should be separated from your post training meal by no more than 4 hours (if you eat at 12pm, train at 1pm for an hour, you have up to roughly 2 hours to consume your post training meal). If you train in a fasted state, it is encouraged that you eat as soon as possible following training to mitigate the catabolic effects of training.

The Take Away

As long as you are not training in a fasted state (have not eaten for more than 4 hours or so), or do not have another training bout or competition in the near future, you will not wither away to nothing if you don’t consume nutrients immediately post training.

A decent guide is 20-40g of protein and carbohydrate post training (if fat loss is the goal try skipping the carbs), but a whole food meal containing quality protein, carbohydrate and fat within a couple hours (depending on what time you ate pre training) is the best bet. Check out this nutrition guide to learn the easiest way to construct performance meals along with some simple examples.

From this review it seems that we have a bit more leeway when it comes to the post training “anabolic window.” This is nice to know especially if you are an individual who can’t even think about trying to eat right after training, or if you are sick of carrying around a cooler with pyrex everywhere you go!

Pyrex is great, but it can be a bit annoying carrying around 20 containers each day!

What is your experience with post training nutrition? What is your favorite post training meal? Share in the comments below.

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