At the beginning of February, we started a brand new 6-week Fuel Your Body Nutrition Challenge.
If you missed it, you can read about it here. And even if you didn’t participate in the first few weeks of the challenge, don’t worry—it’s not too late to jump into week 4, where we’ll be focusing on post workout meals.
To get the most out of this nutrition challenge, make sure to join our private Facebook group where you can share your experience and get in touch with fellow members of the 12 Minute Athlete Community.
Being a part of the community will not only help you to stay accountable with your own goals, but also see how others are doing, find support, share your successes and struggles, and of course, get some great, new meal ideas.
Every week during this challenge, we are focusing on one thing that helps us to improve our diet and keeps us on a healthy eating track. The focus of the Week 1 was to eat a protein-packed breakfast. On Week 2, we talked about the importance of healthy snacks. Week 3 was all about veggies, the nutritional powerhouse.
Week 4 of the Fuel Your Body Nutrition Challenge is all about post-workout meals. Here’s why post-workout meals are so important, and what you should be eating after a tough workout:
Nutrition Challenge Week 4: Post Workout Meal
When you’re working out, your body obviously uses energy. Carbohydrates are the first macronutrients that your body uses for energy.
Carbohydrates are stored in your muscles as glycogen, so after a hard workout, your glycogen storages can be pretty empty. It’s super important to refill them to get the recovery process going.
As the building block for our muscles, protein is also a super important component of a post-workout meal. Protein rich foods are also very satiating, so they fill you up quickly.
Think about eating a post-workout meal like you were building a house: to build a strong and beautiful house, you need high quality materials.
So making sure to refuel with high quality food after your workout will help you build a strong and powerful body.
Is a Post-Workout Meal Absolutely Necessary?
In general, it’s recommended to eat as soon as possible after a workout, preferably within 15-60 minutes. However, there are some things worth asking:
Did You Workout Fasted or Fueled?
If you are working out fasted (you haven’t eaten for 12 or more hours), it’s generally very important to eat a post workout meal as soon as possible, preferably immediately or within an hour after training.
If you had some food within a couple of hours before the workout, your glycogen storages are probably not exactly depleted. Don’t be too concerned if you can’t or simply don’t want to eat right after your workout, especially if you had a light workout of moderate pace cardio or something like yoga.
How Intense Was the Workout?
If you just did a high intensity interval workout and totally depleted your energy levels, then the sooner you eat your post workout meal, the better. The same is true for other workouts that burn a lot of energy—for example, if you run 1+ hours, you also burn a lot, so you need to refuel after that as soon as you can.
But if your workout was something relatively light that didn’t demand a lot of energy, there is no need to eat right away. Eat later when you get hungry.
The problem with the “mandatory” post-workout eating is that also people who didn’t use a whole lot of energy and/or had enough food before a workout, think that they need to eat a proper, often high calorie meal.
That may easily lead to over eating, because they are overestimating the caloric expenditure from a workout and the amount of food that they actually need. Healthy foods also add up and instead of helping to lean out and gain muscle, the excess calories get stored as fat.
The Importance Of Post-Workout Meal After a High Intensity Workout
Since most of you here are working out like athletes and burn a lot of energy during your workouts, it’s super important to replenish the energy you used during your workout as soon as you can. Remember that especially if you worked out while fasted.
Refueling after a high intensity workout is important for two reasons that are closely related:
- Faster recovery. You want to recover from the workout as fast as you can, because that way you are ready to work out soon again. If you don’t provide your body with quality energy (a.k.a. food), you’ll most likely end up tired, fatigued, and sore, and definitely won’t feel ready to work hard during your next workout.
- Building muscle. Muscle growth is possible only if you eat enough. That’s especially true after your workout when your muscles are ready to put all the nutrients that you give them to good use. Eating a good balance of protein and carbs after your workout will help you achieve leanness and muscle growth.
When working out hard, we cause micro tears in our muscles. To help them heal (which in turn leads to faster recovery and building muscle), make sure to eat a good post-workout snack or meal.
Macros in Your Post-Workout Meal
The most important thing about post-workout meal is that it should include both carbohydrates and protein. If you don’t feel like having a full meal right after working out, at least have a snack such as a protein shake (and full meal later), but still remember to have both carbs and protein.
For best muscle recovery after a hard HIIT workout, aim for approximately 3:1 carbs and protein ratio.
Here are some examples of good carb and protein sources that you can combine into a balanced post-workout snack. You can mix and match these foods, choosing one carb and one protein rich food.
If you use these amounts, the carbs to protein ratio will be approximately 3:1 (not all combinations give you exactly this ratio though; if you choose higher carbs, also choose higher protein). This ratio is suggested to be the most appropriate for ultimate muscle recovery.
- 1/2 cup raw oats (150 kcal, 27 g carbs)
- 1 medium-sized banana (105 kcal / 27 g carbs)
- 1 medium-sized cooked sweet potato (103 kcal /24 g carbs)
- 3 tbsp raisins (99 kcal /24 g carbs)
- 1 cup blueberries (84 kcal / 22 g carbs)
- 1/4 cup canned tuna (50 kcal, 11 g protein)
- 1/4 cup chicken breast (52 kcal, 10 g protein)
- string cheese, 1 stick (80 kcal, 7 g protein on average)
- 1/4 cup cottage cheese (45 kcal, 7 g protein on average)
- 1 hard boiled egg (70 kcal / 6.5 g protein)
- 1 serving whey or vegan protein powder (120 kcal / 20g protein on average)
When you pair one carb and one protein food from this list, your snack will end up being around 200-300 kcal.
To make larger meals, you can simply have bigger portions of the same foods but still combine them so that the ratios remain similar. You will find more great carb sources here. Add in some veggies and you have a healthy meal that will support your recovery.
What If I Can’t Eat After My Workout?
Even if you burn a lot of energy with your workout, it may happen that you may not be able to eat after a workout. Isn’t it counterintuitive – how come you are not hungry after burning so much?
That’s because exercise suppresses appetite. Exercising makes the levels of appetite increasing hormone (ghrelin) to drop and appetite decreasing hormone (peptide YY) to rise. As a result, you may simply not want to eat for a while.
As mentioned earlier, if you ate something before the workout, having a post-workout meal immediately isn’t that crucial if you don’t feel like it. But if your storages were pretty empty already before starting to workout, try to have at least something small as soon as you can and then eat a larger meal later. Liquid meals are usually easier to down than solid foods, so protein shakes can be a great option.
Don’t Overdo It
While eating after a workout is important, make sure to be aware of the amounts you’re actually eating. Many people fall into the trap of eating too much, simply because they think they burned more than they actually did. Even perfect post-workout meals add up if you don’t keep the eye on the portion size.
This is why it can be helpful to count calories even just for a short time to help you get a better idea of the amount of food you should be eating for your goals.
Join Us for the Nutrition Challenge Week 4!
Get ready to have satisfying post-workout meals next week! Join 12 Minute Athlete Facebook Group, chime in with your pictures of your tasty foods and share your thoughts, comments, struggles and successes.
We are super excited to see those pictures and help you progress towards your goals
We would absolutely love if you shared your recipes too, so others can test them out as well.
Let’s do this!
Kersten Kimura is a NASM PT, kettlebell enthusiast and a fan of HIIT workouts. After relocating from chilly Estonia to California, she has taken full advantage of the area and works out outdoors whenever possible. You can find her throwing around her sandbag or swinging kettlebells at local parks, or sprinting along the gorgeous Bay Trail.
Find out more about Kersten here and sign up for her newsletter to get her one week equipment free workout plan and seven simple dinner recipes.