When it comes to post-workout nutrition, it has been drilled in our heads that we need to take advantage of this magical “window of opportunity” to reap the full benefits of strength training. But is it true? Let’s separate fact from fiction and determine what will apply according to your workout routine and daily macronutrient intake. So, what type of post-workout nutrition is right for a strength training athlete?
Post-Workout Nutrition: Protein Synthesis
According to popular belief, we have anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours (depending on the source) after a strength training workout to consume whey protein, which will supposedly aid in production of muscle growth due to your body being in a state of shock. So which is it? What is the ideal time frame for applying post-workout nutrition? 30 minutes? An hour? Three?
When it comes to post-workout nutrition and protein synthesis, the so-called science is very conflicting: much of the information available is cited from studies done on elderly people engaging in cardiovascular exercise. The problem is, healthy young adults don’t digest and absorb whey protein the way the elderly do. For the young and fit it’s absorbed quickly, but for older individuals whey protein is broken down the same way as if they were consuming casein protein (very slowly). There are extreme biological differences that exist between the nutrient breakdown and absorption processes of the young and the elderly, and the way each group assimilates macro-nutrients. With conflicting research and different body processes among large groups of people, further research is necessary to determine what is optimal.
It is important not to rely on any single source of information, as there are many confusing and conflicting accounts all over the internet, with varying levels of credibility. For example, there’s a much overlooked study (from Tipton and Colleagues in 2003) that examined responses of protein synthesis for an entire day after a workout – in other words, enhanced levels of post-workout nutrition for 24 hours! It goes without saying that protein synthesis is the most important thing to focus on post strength training, but what is that magic window?
My suggestion is to consume 15-40 grams of protein within one hour of strength training. To me this makes the most sense due to the body’s own ability to repair itself. Also, drink plenty of water and a few very important things will occur: the body will eliminate toxins, remove fatty acids from blood, and help clear triglycerides. Let’s not forget that our natural HGH levels are drastically elevated post-workout, which helps aid in organ reserve to cell reproduction, bone density, and muscle mass. The moment insulin is elevated, HGH levels drop.
Post-Workout Nutrition: Glycogen Replenishment
Glycogen replenishment is another common post-workout nutrition concern. We are told that we need to replenish the body’s glycogen loss that occurs during our workouts so that it will be restored for our next workout. First, let’s understand how the body works naturally: carbohydrates are supposed to replenish glycogen stores in the liver and muscle cells while supplying the body with a sufficient amount of blood glucose for immediate energy.
Carbohydrates work in conjunction with insulin (one of the most powerful hormones present in the human body). Insulin assists the body in glycogen replenishment via the active transport of nutrients into muscle cells by way of the sodium potassium pump, which is located in the cell surface of the muscles. In doing this, insulin naturally assists in keeping the body in a state of anabolism (builds things and consumes energy) and actually prevents catabolism (breaks things down and gives out energy).
So what does that mean? Timing is everything! It is only good to introduce glycogen replenishment when you are insulin-sensitive, and that would be after a resistance workout. Any other time insulin is introduced during a state of insensitivity, which is most of the time, negative health consequences occur.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
The truth of the matter is that it is all bodies function differently and have individual needs, which are directly dictated by your genetics, pre-existing medical conditions, exercise, and diet. According to a 1993 study by Pascoe et. al, the average person who consumes carbohydrates with every meal does not need to worry about glycogen restoration, being carbohydrates only contribute to a 16% increase in muscle. The average person should mainly be concerned with increasing protein synthesis.
So, eating a diet high in carbohydrates will have their glycogen stores replenished within 24 hours anyway. But post-workout nutrition needs are different for everyone: some exceptions are endurance athletes, people who train more than twice daily and those that follow a more ketogenic-styled diet. Therefore it is of great importance for people following a low carbohydrate diet to consume high glycemic carbohydrate sources about an hour following a resistance workout; at the very least, some high glycemic carbohydrates with the first meal following a post-workout shake. Examples of high glycemic carbs include white rice, white potatoes, pasta, etc.
Post-Workout Nutrition Recommendations
It is important to keep moving forward — don’t bury your feet deep in the sand. Expand your knowledge, and thoroughly research the science that is available on post-workout nutrition in order to be up to date on the constant changes taking place in the advancements of athletic enhancements. Through properly timed and researched nutritional science and carefully experimenting with different things that may work better for you, you will then be able to observe and record the positive and negative effects of whichever choices you apply. Do a lot of self-experimentation because there is an overwhelming amount of flawed “science” out there, and industry misinformation can negatively influence the way post-workout nutrition is taught and implemented. What you think you know (or what you’ve been taught) could actually be the very road block between you and that next level you hope to reach.