Your workout doesn’t end when you leave the gym. In fact, what you do after your workout is just as important as the exercises you perform. Post-workout nutrition plays a crucial role in recovery, muscle growth, and overall performance. By giving your body the right nutrients at the right time, you can optimise your results and speed up your progress.
Intense physical activity puts stress on your muscles and depletes your energy stores, specifically glycogen.
To replenish these stores, there are four key factors to consider:
1. Glycogen Depletion: The intensity and duration of your exercise have the biggest impact on glycogen depletion. The higher the intensity and the longer the duration, the more your glycogen stores will be depleted. Consequently, the more depleted your muscle glycogen storage is, the longer it will take to refill.
2. Muscle Damage: Intense exercise can cause microscopic damage to your muscles, known as muscle damage or microtrauma. This damage can delay the process of glycogen storage.
3. Carbohydrate Intake: Consuming carbohydrates increases the rate of glycogen refuelling. This is especially important for individuals who train daily and need to replenish their glycogen stores efficiently.
4. Glycogen Depletion: The more experienced and physically fit you are, the more efficient your body becomes at refuelling glycogen stores. As you gain training experience, the efficiency with which you refuel improves automatically.
While proper post-workout nutrition is crucial, the timing of your nutrient intake is equally important. After exercising, there is an anabolic window when your body is more receptive to absorbing glycogen compared to other times throughout the day. To maximise the benefits, it is generally recommended to consume a balanced meal anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours after your workout. This time frame allows for optimal nutrient absorption and glycogen replenishment, leading to improved recovery and muscle growth.
To optimise your post-workout nutrition, focus on achieving the right balance of macronutrients.
Protein intake is vital as it provides the building blocks your body needs for muscle repair and growth. Consuming an adequate amount of protein after your workout will optimise this process, stimulate muscle recovery, and prevent muscle breakdown. Choose lean protein sources like chicken, lean beef, fish, tofu, beans, Greek yoghurt, or protein shakes.
Including a baseline level of healthy fats such as avocado, fatty fish (e.g. mackerel and salmon), nuts and olive oil, in your post-workout meal is important for hormonal balance, cellular health, and regulating blood sugar levels.
Carbohydrates are essential for replenishing glycogen stores, and the amount you consume depends on your fitness level. If you’re lean and have a very active lifestyle, you can tolerate and use higher amounts of carbohydrates as an energy source. Opt for carbohydrates such as whole grains, sweet potatoes, or quinoa, which provide sustained energy and support recovery.
Don’t forget the importance of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants for overall health and recovery. To ensure you are getting these essential nutrients, include a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables in your post-workout meal. Additionally, hydrate and replenish fluids lost during exercise by drinking water.
While these recommendations serve as general guidelines for post-workout nutrition, it’s crucial to note that everyone’s nutritional needs are different. Factors such as exercise intensity and duration, body composition goals, dietary restrictions, and personal preferences will influence your post-workout meal choices.
To help you create well-balanced post-workout meals, here are a few simple recipe ideas:
- Grilled chicken/salmon/lean steak with sweet potatoes/rice and vegetables
- Greek yoghurt with nuts and berries
- Whole grain toast with eggs/smoked salmon and avocado
- Chicken/tuna/lean minced beef whole grain wrap with plenty of colourful vegetables
- Quinoa salad with chickpeas, avocado/olive oil and vegetables
- Protein shake with banana
Written by Melita Luksic, COACH London