What To Eat After A Workout To Lose Weight And Build Muscle

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A lot of people don’t know what to eat after a workout to lose weight and build muscle. They think eating will disrupt their muscle growth and workout recovery completely. This is not true. There are foods that you must eat after a workout to recover from your workout faster and continue to build lean muscle.

Should I eat after a workout?

In short, yes, but it does depend on your ultimate goal, according to Hannah. She emphasises that what you eat is very individual and will completely depend on:

  • What form of exercise you’ve done
  • How long you’ve worked out for
  • What your overall goal is.

In general though? “Yes, you should refuel and rehydrate your body if you’ve done any form of high intensity exercise, cardio or weight training,” she explains. If you are someone doing a lot of high volume training, for example training for a marathon, it’s even more important, she stresses.

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Why should I eat post-workout? What are the benefits?

Regardless of your goal, you should be eating nutrient-dense foods to both fuel and recover your body, according to Hannah.

“Eating post-workout will improve recovery, help you push performance at your next session, and reduce muscle damage such as DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness),” she explains. That’s because during a workout, you break down muscle to create small micro tears. Eating food with protein triggers the repair process for all these mini tears.

Hannah expands: “Consuming the right foods means you’ll help your body to repair and rebuild the torn muscle fibres mentioned above, which are important for muscle synthesis and replenishing lost glycogen (aka carbohydrate) stores.” And this is crucial as these are all vital for performance.

Basically, by eating post-session, you’re giving your body the right recovery tools to mend itself and then work harder next session. And recovering well plus sensibly pushing yourself harder during workouts = ideal.

If you don’t start the recovery process with food quickly after a workout, you can actually make yourself weaker in the long-term because your muscles will remain damaged and therefore over-exerted during exercise. Which kind of defeats the object of going to the gym regularly.

As well as requiring a protein-heavy meal or snack following a workout in order to help your muscles repair themselves, there are other physical reasons your body needs to be refuelled asap. Sweating during exercise means you lose water as well as electrolytes, and if you don’t replenish these you will start to feel dehydrated, which can leave you feeling tired and faint.

And failing to eat after exercise can also impact your mood, it turns out. Exerting yourself physically makes your glucose levels drop, but glucose is essential for brain function as well as your general energy levels. Low brain function can have an effect on your mood and your alertness, so if you want to make the most of that post-work-out high, you need to replenish those glucose levels with a well-balanced meal.

However, do note here, as above, that it is dependent on the type of workout you’re doing. “If you’re doing a quick lunch time class or some yoga and don’t eat immediately afterwards, it’s not the end of the world. It’s what you eat over the course of the day that matters the most,” she explains.

But if you are working out regularly or training for something a little more serious, post-workout nutrition is crucial.

When after I exercise should I aim to eat?

So what exactly does Hannah mean by recovery? Eating the second you finish your workout, or eating within a certain time frame?

“For women, aim for within an hour of working out,” Hannah advises.

And what should your post-workout snack – or meal – look like?

If you want to maintain your current weight

  • One 20g to 30g portion of protein: think tofu, milk, yoghurt, three eggs, ham slices, chicken slices, fish, whey protein, vegan protein.
  • Plus one portion of carbohydrates: for example, a slice of toast or two, rice, cereal, or fruit.

“The sooner you have these carbs after a workout, the better replenishment you get,” explains Hannah.

If you want to build muscle

The same as maintenance, but with bigger portions.

  • One 25g to 35g portion of protein, ideally with leucine (the amino acid responsible for turning muscle building on). Eg tofu, milk, yoghurt, three eggs, ham slices, chicken slices, fish, whey protein, or vegan protein.
  • One to two portions of carbohydrates: eg, a slice of toast, rice, cereal, or fruit.

Eating enough protein and overall calories across the day is the most important factor, Hannah explains. If you’re looking to build muscle, you need to be in a calorie surplus, aka consuming more calories than you have used.

What To Eat After a Workout

The Spring has come to town, which means it’s the perfect time to welcome a new, healthier version of yourself. Going to the gym is only half of the battle, though; knowing what to eat after a workout is key to achieving physical fitness.

In fact, if your workouts are wearing you down and you have little progress to show for them, the culprit might be your post-workout diet. To get the most out of your workouts, it’s essential to eat the right foods at the right times. Specifically, to effectively lose weight, build muscle, and maintain energy, eating before and after your workouts is non-negotiable. Are you ready to start maximizing your workouts? Consider the best post-workout snacks and foods below:

What to eat after a workout?

1. Eggs

Eggs have long been considered one of the best foods you can eat post-workout. Why? For starters, they’re packed with protein. While they’re not a high-calorie food– they have 70 calories each– they contain amino acids that help to reduce muscle damage. Before you head to the trash can with the yolk, know this: an egg’s yolk houses all of the vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and half of the protein. Simply put: eat the yolk, too.

2. Banana

Everyone knows that bananas do a body good, but why are they particularly helpful after a workout? And how many calories are in a banana? First of all, they’re full of carbs– the good kind– that help restore damaged muscles. Another super pro is that bananas are high in potassium, which plays a significant role in your body’s metabolism, water, and chemical balance.

3. Salmon

Salmon is chock-full of– you guessed it– protein. But that’s not the only factor that makes it an excellent post-workout food choice. The omega-3s found in salmon are anti-inflammatories, so they’re good at helping to repair damaged muscles.

4. Avocado

Yes, avocado is a high-fat food, but it’s full of monounsaturated fat– otherwise known as “good fat”. The best post-workout foods include good fats, which aid in healing muscles and joints. A bonus: avocados contain an array of B vitamins to help you metabolize all of those carbs.

5. Sweet potato

Protein is important for your body post-workout, but it’s not sufficient by itself. Why? Your body breaks down its energy reserves– otherwise known as muscle glycogen– during a workout. Thus, you need fuel– ideally in the form of plant-based carbs– to replenish those lost reserves. To accomplish this goal, look no further than the sweet potato. It might surprise you to learn that this tasty side dish can actually be considered a super food. Besides being loaded with carbs, sweet potatoes contain a whopping three days worth of vitamin A.

Do’s and Don’ts of Post-Workout Nutrition

Post-workout nutrition is a topic that tends to be overlooked, and it is important to know the benefits of giving your body what it needs to recover. After an intense workout, your body needs to be refueled. When you don’t replenish your body, it can leave you feeling fatigued and stall the recovery process. When you don’t restore what you have lost, it will put your body at risk of further damage during your next workout.

That being said, here are the do’s and don’ts when it comes to consumption after workouts.

Post-Workout Nutrition: The Do’s

1. Fuel Your Body with Protein

Protein fuels your body with amino acids to repair muscle proteins that are broken down during your workout. Stick with lean proteins such as antibiotic-free chicken, wild-caught fish, and occasionally a lean cut of grass-fed beef. If you don’t have a lot of time to refuel after your workout, quick fixes like eggs, almonds, and cottage cheese are great options.

2. Increase Your Glycogen Intake

During high-intensity workouts, your body becomes depleted of glycogen, a polysaccharide. When you eat carbohydrates, your body releases insulin, which takes glucose from the blood and stores it as energy in the cells and muscles. When the body gets excess fuel, the glucose molecules are linked together to form glycogen.

It is said that after about 20 minutes of high-intensity workouts, your muscles will become depleted of glycogen storage. When you are unable to finish that last rep, your glycogen has become exhausted. Eating carbs promotes insulin secretion, which in turn promotes glycogen synthesis. The release of insulin is more proactive when carbs and protein are eaten together.

3. Eat the Right Kind of Carbs

Not all carbs are created equal, however. There are whole carbs and complex carbs.

Whole carbs are in their natural form and contain fiber that helps the body regulate its use of sugar. An example of these would be sweet potatoes, fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains.

Refined carbs are processed and stripped of fiber. Examples of these are white bread, white pasta, fruit juices, and white rice. Refined carbs cause major spikes to blood sugar levels in our bodies, which initially give energy but then cause us to crash shortly and crave more sugar. Do fill up on the right kind of carbs.

4. Satisfy Your Meal with Healthy Fats

Good sources of fat in small amounts are also an important factor after workouts. A small amount of fat will help you feel satisfied with your meal and stay full for longer periods of time. There are good fats and bad fats, so it is important to make sure you are getting it from the right source.

Bad fats are called saturated and trans fats, and when eaten in excess, they have been shown to increase blood cholesterol levels and LDL levels. Saturated fats should be eaten sparingly. Examples of saturated fats are processed meats like salami and bacon, as well as dairy products like milk and cheese. Trans fats should be avoided at all costs. Trans fats are in foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Some examples of these are fried foods, like doughnuts, French fries and most fast foods, vegetable shortenings, cookies, and processed snack foods.

Good fats are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. They are shown to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Some examples of healthy fats are avocados, nuts, chia seeds, and fish.

Post-Workout Nutrition: The Don’ts

1. Stay Away from Unknown Ingredients

When it comes to the foods you do not want to eat after workouts, it can get confusing. Here is a rule to consider: If you don’t know what the ingredients are, you shouldn’t eat it. Most things that are packaged are usually processed and full of sugar, along with other preservatives. If you do eat something processed, be sure to check out the list of ingredients. If you don’t understand more than three of these ingredients, avoid it altogether.

2. Don’t Eat Spicy Food

Spicy foods are also best to avoid after workouts. Foods that are prepared with hot spices like chili peppers or cayenne contain a potent ingredient known as capsaicin, which is an irritant to our bodies. Spicy food stimulates the digestive system and can cause heartburn and digestion issues, especially after your body has used up energy during a workout. Your body is trying to repair itself, which is why it’s important to choose foods that are easy to digest.

3. Avoid Unnecessary Sugars

Stick to real, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and clean, antibiotic- and hormone-free meats. Lots of sports drinks, energy bars, and protein shakes have hidden ingredients that aren’t helpful in the recovery process. They can be very deceiving since they are marketed toward athletes, yet most of them are loaded with unnecessary sugars, making them a poor option post-workout.

4. Skip the Alcohol

Alcohol is a big NO after workouts. It might sound fun to grab a celebratory drink after crushing it at the gym, but alcohol slows down the repair process of exercise-induced muscle damage by inhibiting the production of certain hormones that are used to help, like testosterone. Alcohol is also a diuretic, so when you are already dehydrated after a workout, this will only delay the recovery process more.

Post-Workout Meal Benefits

Numerous studies highlight the benefits of post-workout nutrition as the following:

  1. Prevents Muscle Breakdown
    A tough strength training workout will create microscopic tears in your muscle fibers. If adequate nutrients are not supplied before and/or after the workout, these muscle tears can lead to further muscle breakdown, which means your muscle is broken down to form protein that your body uses as energy to repair itself.
  2. Increases Protein Synthesis
    After a strenuous workout, your body is biochemically primed to suck in nutrients. Your muscles are highly insulin sensitive, which means those carbs you eat can help shuttle protein into your muscles, instead of getting converted into fat.

Insulin is a storage hormone that has a bad reputation because it is integrally involved in fat storage. After a workout, however, insulin is your friend and a proper post-workout meal can improve muscle building and increase fat loss.

  1. Faster Recovery
    A properly timed post-workout meal with the right nutrients can help decrease soreness in your muscles for a given amount of training. For example, if you are able to recover in only a day as opposed to 2-3 days, that means you can train harder and more frequently, which will lead to better and faster results.

4) Glycogen Replenishment
Regardless of the type of workout, if you are working out intensely, your body will use glycogen as fuel. Glycogen, which is stored in your muscles and liver is best described as your body’s preferred fuel source for workouts. Depending on the duration, type, and intensity of exercise, glycogen stores can become depleted.

Eating ample carbs after a workout can not only promote protein synthesis, but also help replenish energy stores to keep you feeling energetic the rest of the day.

Post-Workout Meal Timing

There is a lot of debate as to the proper timing of a post-workout meal, but the preponderance of evidence suggests eating immediately after a workout as generating superior results.

A 12-week study conducted with previously untrained men examined the effects of consuming supplemental protein “immediately after versus two hours after a strength-training session.

Those who consumed protein immediately after their workout gained significantly more muscle size and strength than those who consumed it two hours removed from their workout.”

Because of studies like this one, the 30-60 minute period after a workout is known as the “anabolic window” to help maximize the training effect.

Most studies, however, have found that post-workout nutrition isn’t as important as many people make it out to be.

The consistent finding is that, as long as your daily overall protein intake is adequate, then the actual timing of when you consume eat isn’t that important.

Post-Workout Meal Size & Breakdown

Given that the speed with which nutrients reach the body is critical, we need to take into account rates of digestion to maximize the nutrient delivery effect.

Dietary fat slows down digestion, so a post workout meal should be low in fat. While protein in the form of meat can take a good 3-4 hours to digest whey protein takes as little as 20-30 minutes to hit the bloodstream.

Fast digesting carbs are ideal post-workout to help maximize the insulin effect and replenish glycogen stores.

Whey protein combined with a fast digesting carbohydrate in liquid form has emerged as the top post-workout meal of choice for anyone from athletes to bodybuilders to recreational exercisers.

Consider a carb to protein ratio of anywhere from 1:1 to 3:1, with an average of 2:1 depending on the duration and intensity of the workout (i.e. 60 grams of carbs to 30 grams of protein).

Sports nutritionists will typically recommend consuming 0.25 to 0.40 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight.

Your post-workout meal is the only meal in my opinion where a protein shake should be considered.

Whole, natural foods are superior for getting a lean, healthy body for a number of reasons ranging from greater satiety to increased thermic effect (food burns calories during digestion whereas shakes do not).

Please keep in mind focusing on total calorie intake, smart food choices, and proper exercise are far more important than maximizing the “anabolic window”.

I can’t emphasize this enough. Sadly, pre and post-workout nutrition has sabotaged many fat loss programs because of excess calorie intake. People lose sight of the forest amidst the trees.

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