Post-Workout Nutrition Confusion? You are not alone! Flipping through every magazine, you can read a different "must do" from varies gurus about the perfect post-workout food! From the most popular "you must have a protein shake within 5 minutes" to newer "fasting is the way to go" for fat loss. There is ample reasons to be more than slightly confused.
So are you ready to dispel some myths & clarify what's best for YOU? Here goes:
I work with a wide array of clients who are all striving towards different goals:
- Increased Athletic Performance
- Increased Cardiovascular Function
- Maintaining Bone Density
All awesome reasons to hit the gym!! One of the most common questions every gym goer asks upon starting a new routine is "what should I eat post workout?". A protein shake? Carbs? No Carbs? How About Healthy Fat?
These answers all depend on my cliche phrase of who are you & what are your goals! The intensity of your workout, when you ate last, your goals in the workout/recovery & most importantly overall daily intake factor in to the post workout equation. So I thought I would quickly breakdown a few different scenarios of IF, HOW & WHY you need to be concerned with your post sweat-fest intake.
~ The General Fat Loss Client:
Post yoga session, no immediate refuel needed.
IF: you are a beginner fitness enthusiast looking to lose fat, working out at a low-moderate intensity level (which may feel strenuous to you but is mostly bodyweight/cardio/lower intensity lifting) & are eating an adequate total daily caloric intake.
THEN: The answer is no, you don't need to slam a shake or even eat within that often touted 30-45min post workout window. You already have enough glycogen in your system & haven't solicited a demanding enough physical output to need to replenish immediately. Eat your next meal as normal & make sure it's balanced with protein to maintain muscle.
~ Advance Fat Loss Client:
IF: you are an intermediate to advanced lifter, runner or whatever your workout of choice is & are looking to lose a bit of fat while maintaining your workout intensity.
THEN: It probably would be safe to fit in some type of post workout fuel just as a "can't hurt" measure. Will you lose all your gains if you don't? Definitely not. Simply on the more intense training days, you should aim to maintain all of your lean muscle mass. Therefore a safety net of protein post-training can't hurt. Now this doesn't mean you need to keep your shaker bottle glued to you at the gym. It just means have a small snack or plan to eat your normal next meal within an hour after training.
Post Interval Cardio, I skip & enjoy my next meal.
This is somewhat dependent on your sport/performance goals. In general always include a solid source of protein! Carbs & fats are variable based on the activity. If you find yourself losing strength, muscle, have another intense workout the same day or are not recovering well, include carbohydrates. If you have no energy issues or any of the above symptoms, just consuming protein for fat loss might be the ticket.
What about Fat? It's not necessary & does slow down the replenishment of nutrients from protein & carbohydrates to your muscles. Which is why I actually recommend healthy fat consumption for most meals because we want slow absorption of food to sustain our hunger for a longer period of time. So if your post-workout nutrition is a meal that is suppose to sustain you for multiple hours? Go ahead & include that healthy fat from cooking oils, avocado, nuts etc. That way you are not ravenous an hour later. If the food you consume post workout is just a snack to get you through for an hour or so? Skip the fat.
~ Athlete or Musclie Building:IF:
Top priority is muscle building or athletic performance such as training for a race, then yes I always recommend eating within the notorious post-workout window to be safe.
post heavy lifting, I always refuel
WHAT: Choose a snack or meal based on a close to equal ratio of protein to carbohydrates to quickly replenish glycogen stores to muscle. The best post-workout carbs comes from quick metabolizing sources of glucose, such as starchy sources like oats, sweet potato, quinoa, yam, or rice. That plus your standard protein shake or a real food meal like chicken breast + starchy carbs is a great way to make sure you are building muscle & fully recovering to perform optimally next workout. This is a time to skip the fat if you are concerned with refueling as quickly as possible. As mentioned, healthy fats are much needed but do slow absorption rates. So have a quick post workout shake & then include healthy fat in your next meal.
Ok that that was a bit science heavy so heres a simple recap:
~ Newbie Fat Loss Client: No need for immediate post workout meal. Eat next meal per normal.
~ Advanced Fat Loss Client: Aim for protein only post workout UNLESS performance/energy suffers OR if it's a full meal meant to sustain you. If that's the case, a balanced healthy meal of protein, some carbs & a little healthy fat is best to keep you from being ravenous a few hours later.
~ Performance Athletic or Muscle Building: Consume protein & carbs within 45 min to an hour post workout. Skip the fat on this snack.
My Go-To Smoothie Formula:
- 1 scoop high quality protein powder (or 6oz plain greek yogurt/cottage cheese)
- 1/2 frozen banana
- 1/2c frozen berries
- 1c unsweetened almond milk
- 2 handfuls of spinach
Optional Add Ins: for a meal I add healthy fats such as ground flax, avocado or 1tbsp nut butter.
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Fat loss is simple right? Move more + eat less = scale down. Follow this simple template & all will be right with the world...You look at this equation & say ok move more. How can I burn ALL the calories, sweat it out hard & make the fat drip away the quickest? I got it! The more days I workout, hours I can fit in cardio sessions & calories I can cut will definately get me in my skinny jeans asap. Because after all, 1 pound is equally to 3500 calories. Therefore if I can only eat 1000 calories a day & spend an hour on the elliptical (which says I burned a 500...lies btw), mathematically that means I will lose 3lbs a week. Perfect, I can handle that for a month or two no problem!Maybe that works for the first week. You drag yourself into the gym every single day & sweat it out on the treadmill. You eat your egg whites for breakfast, tiny salad for lunch & a bit of chicken with broccoli for dinner. You step onto that scale & SCORE! Down 4lbs!!Yet come week 2 you find yourself struggling to get in quality workouts because you are fatigued. Duh! You aren't feeding your body enough so why should it give you energy to burn away? Next you are not just a little hungry in between meals, you are STARVING. From the second you get up to when your head hits the pillow. H-A-N-G-R-Y! Heck you may even wake up in the middle of the night in need of sustenance. Sure you fight it off for a day or two but let's be real? Eventually you succumb. And you not only eat a normal amount of food, you eat twice that. All that exercise you are doing is making your body scream for nutrient replacements. Insert the binge on crappy fast food, sweet treats or at minimum oversized portions. But wait? I'm exercising a TON. Cardio all day long. That burns a lot of calories so eating a bit more is fine. Wrong! Because you have now down regulated your metabolism by trying to starve it into submission PLUS burned all your muscle via that lovely treadmill. Muscle = faster metabolism, which you worked ridiculously hard to kill.Ok I say all this in a harsh sounding tone. I know! But after YEARS of doing this myself I am super passionate about helping people understand HOW to get the results they are working so hard for. Which rarely involves listening to the stupid magazine covers telling you the perfect 1200 calorie diet paired with how to get your bikini body in 2 weeks. *insert eye rolling*
Intro into running, because I desperately wanted to "tone up".
Let me tell you my personal experience now that a rant is out of the way. Back when I was in the constant "must lose last 10lbs"
cycle, I assumed that the more I exercised, the more weight I would lose. The best way to burn calories? Running of course!
Or cardio of any kind would do. As I usually ran as much as I could until my knees hurt, then jumped on the elliptical on my "rest days"
.Heck I even decided the best way to lose that weight would be to run a marathon. All that running HAD to result in weight loss. So I did it. I ran 40 miles a week & watched my watch tell me how many calories I burned with every mile. On paper I should be losing at least 2lbs a week!To fast forward a bit let's just say instead of losing 10lbs marathon training, I GAINED 10lbs. And I can promise you it wasn't 10lbs of lean sexy muscle. In fact I had the most cellulite i've ever had, no muscle definition & felt quite "soft" all the way around. Skinny fat is what I would call it. So how did I gain 10lbs while marathon training?
A few simple facts:
Marathon Finished! Super proud BUT a good 10lbs heavier & no muscle.
Now I am not JUST bashing cardio.
- I was only doing cardio & lost a significant amount of muscle mass. Muscle mass is GOLD when it comes to a speedy metabolism & being able to eat enough to fuel my recovery.
- I was hungry ALL the time! Yes I burned 400-1000 calories on many a run. Guess what? One burger balanced out that equation quickly. You can easily out eat any amount of exercise. But I couldn't help it. I was hungry ALL THE TIME. So I ate. Not unhealthy foods but too much, too frequently. I earned it right?
- I was training for performance, yet attempting to eat for aethestics. My goal was to run a marathon. That was the focus, the training & I really needed to do was eat to support that. Yet instead I tried to starve it! You need to create a deficit when trying to lose body fat but NOT when you are trying to perform at a sport. Those are two SEPARATE goals!! Can they be balanced? Yes, sometimes you can work to find that small caloric deficit that meets both needs, but it's tough. And often not sustainable.
- I was causing havoc on my hormones! That much physical stress in the form of exercise plus dietary stress majorly impacted my hormones. I actually had blood work done & my cortisol was threw the roof! I was waking up in the middle of the night, exhausted midday, cold all the time, lost my period & my body was in no place to function efficiently. AKA fat loss stalled. PLEASE NOTE: these are all BIG warnings signs of overtraining!!!
Overtraining happens in so many different ways including high intensity cross training, heavy duty weight lifting, crossfit, HIIT workouts & even intense yoga. Stress is stress & MORE is not always better. This is why
I encourage clients to decide what their TOP
goal is.~ Is it performance such as I want to train for a race & need to provide my body sufficient fuel to do so. ~ Is it fat loss? ~ Muscle gain? ~ Maintaining your current weight while enjoying your lifestyle?
There are different
optimal training programs to achieve different
goals. Burning the candle at both ends all the time won't get you there.
Strength training a few days, very little cardio, balanced diet & feeling great.
did I recover from my marathon weight gain?
This is the awesome part. I worked out MUCH LESS!
I went from spending 10+ hours a week on the roads running to maybe 2-3 hrs at most in the gym. Most of my workouts did not
include any huffing, puffing or sweating bullets. Instead I lifted weights a few days a week to build muscle & did a few shorter but intense cardio sessions that didn't overstimulate my appetite. Plus took a lot more walks & enjoyed time recovering.Due to that balance of building muscle & not creating havoc on my hormones, I was able to keep my hunger & cravings in check. Therefore able to live relatively comfortably
in a small caloric deficit, aka I saw a steady
Muscle is that you?
decrease on the scale while not feeling miserable. Which was much easier to maintain over the time needed to drop fat, actually see muscle definition & feel much more energized in & out of the gym.Magic?
Nope not at all. Just counter to what seems to make sense, the tabloids have told us & fighting that all in
mentality. Let's recap the take aways for how to AVOID
overexercising yourself out of fat loss goals:
Ultimately my #1 goal of fitness is HEALTH.
- PICK ONE GOAL: performance, fat loss, muscle building or maintenance. There is no right answer & it will change over time. BUT there are more efficient ways to achieve each. If you just need to de-stress & that's what working out is for then GREAT! Do what makes you happy & never feel bad about that. But understand your top priority so you have realistic expectations.
- KEEP HORMONES IN CHECK: if you are performing at a high level of intensity & not putting it back into your body. It will at some point rebel. You can't use & abuse it into submission.
- MUSCLE RULES: this is the best tool you have in the body composition game. The more you have or can at least maintain, the more calories your body burns at rest. Cardio builds endurance & heart health but NOT muscle. Aka lift something!
- THINK LONG GAME: if you are trying to lose fat, it didn't come on overnight & won't disappear that way. Bummer I know. But find the exercise balance & dietary intake you can maintain comfortably for the duration needed to hit your goal. Not to mention you can see yourself sticking somewhat close to after. AKA if you can't see yourself eating that way in a year, it's too restrictive. Find a better balance.
- MAINTANENCE IS OK: you don't always need to be in diet mode. Even if you still want to or need to lose body fat, it's ok to hang out in maintenance for a bit. In fact it's a must! If I sign up for a face & train for it, it's with the understanding I may lose a little muscle & not be as defined as I'd like. BUT my goal is to fuel performance. That is awesome!!! Fat loss is something I can come back to IF & when I want to. We shouldn't stay in a deficit all the time & it's important to exercise for fun! Not just to change our physical appearance.
Balanced & simply maintaining :)
To keep me moving into my old age, my heart ticking, my brain stimulated & my inner competitor challenge. Whatever your method of moving, it shouldn't be solely focused on fat loss. What's the fun in that?
There is nothing wrong with having aethestic goals but thinking that you can abuse your body into looking the way you want, well it won't ever happen. Nutrition rules the physique world, fitness keeps you strong & empowered. Take care of your body, it's the only one you have. If you have a specific goal & aren't sure the optimal path to get there, invest in yourself by finding a coach. We are all too harsh on ourselves so having an unbiased guide is well worth the investment.What's your WHY behind your fitness program?