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after a workout

This Is What You Should Be Eating After a Workout

Whenever you are participating in intense physical activity, you are going to be placing heavy demands on the body—demands that it then must deal with. You’ll be breaking down body tissues, causing your muscles to grow weaker as your workout continues, which then, after recovery, is what will allow them to grow back stronger than they were before. This said, in order for that growth to occur, you need to supply your body with the raw materials to do so. This is where nutrition comes into play. While what you eat over the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours will definitely help with improving recovery rates, the time period right after your workout session is especially critical as this is when your body is ready to take in any nutrients it’s fed and put them to work immediately.

So what do you need for recovery? Let’s take a quick look.

Fast-acting Protein

The very first thing that you’ll need to eat immediately following your training session is a fast-acting source of protein. Right after training, your muscles are in a broken-down state. Picture this. Your house as just caught fire and the very place you live is being destroyed. Would you want the fire truck to take the longest route possible to your house or would you want it to go directly there, as quickly as possible? Clearly, when your home is at stake, you want them there NOW. The longer they take, the longer it’ll take for you to rebuild your home because the damage from the fire will just worsen the longer it burns.

The same goes for your muscles after a workout session. The sooner you can get the repair team—the protein—to those muscle tissues, the sooner the rebuilding process can start. This means there will be less for you to rebuild or repair later on, allowing you to recover that much faster between workout sessions.

Kinita Kadakia Patel's The Athlete in You
An edited extract from The Athlete in You

Which protein is best then? For the absolute most optimal results, you’ll want to go with a whey isolate protein powder. This particular type of whey protein has been designed to digest as rapidly as possible and will serve your needs perfectly in this situation. Whey is also quick and easy, so there’s no need to waste precious time cooking as you would with food protein. You simply measure it out, mix with water, shake and drink.

If you don’t want to use whey or don’t have any around, the next best options include egg whites or white fish. While these still won’t break down nearly as fast as the whey isolate would, they’ll break down faster than chicken or paneer.

How much protein you need to consume immediately after training will depend on:

  • Your current body weight
  • Your total calorie intake
  • How intense and long your workout session was

The heavier you are and the longer and more intensely you are training, the higher your protein intake will need to be.

Likewise, the lower the calories in your diet, the more protein you will need as there is a higher risk that your body will be in a catabolic state. This means your body is breaking down muscle tissue at an accelerated pace instead of building it. Just to give you an idea, most athletes will be best served taking in between 25–50 grams of protein post their workouts. This is like taking one scoop of whey protein isolate or three whole eggs.

Simple Carbohydrates

In addition to fast-acting protein, you also want to take in some simple carbohydrates after your workout. […] Picture your muscle cell as a large fuel tank. Before your workout, it was filled up, ready to be used. Immediately following the workout, the muscle cell has been emptied and is now completely dry. When you spike blood glucose levels (by eating simple carbohydrates), you’ll release insulin, and insulin is like a bus that carries all those carbohydrates into the tank, filling it up so it’s ready for the next time. If you don’t get that large release of insulin, eventually those glucose molecules will find their way to the muscle cells, but it will take a lot longer. They’re walking to the tank rather than being driven.

And spiking blood glucose does another thing: it’ll also help shuttle faster the protein that you eat into the muscle cells. So if you eat a fast-digesting source of protein plus spike blood glucose levels, you’re really putting your best foot forward for a maximum recovery.

So which simple carbs are best post workout and how many?

When we say simple carbs, fruit works very well here as simple sugar is found in most fruit. Alternatively, white rice, white potatoes, white bread, or even some rice cakes can work too. The key thing you want to ensure is that any carbohydrate you choose is low in fats. If there is too much fat in the carbohydrate, it will blunt the spike in blood glucose levels and throw the entire series of events off-kilter. Think of fat as a handbrake on the bus, slowing it down completely.

Therefore, low-fat carbs are best here. Again, how many carbs you need will heavily depend on the duration and intensity level of your training session. The more intense the session, the more fuel you will need to get through it, and thus, the more drained your ‘tank’ will be. Those who have more total body weight will also require more carbohydrates simply because they have a larger tank that needs to be filled.

A good general rule? Aim for around 0.4 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight per twenty minutes of intense exercise training. So if you weigh 55 kilograms, for instance, and did a workout that was an hour long, you would want to consume about 66 grams of carbohydrates in total, or just over 250 calories worth. This will help replenish the energy that you used while also providing your body with energy to utilize the protein that you ate to assemble new, lean muscle mass tissue. Try and take both your protein and carbohydrates together, if possible. Some great ideas for post-exercise meals are:

  • A whey protein isolate shake made with bananas or some orange juice
  • Boiled egg whites with white potatoes
  • Grilled fish served with white rice
  • A soy protein isolate shake and some white bread smeared with a little jam

As long as your meal of choice meets the requirements noted above, you’ll be setting up your recovery meals correctly. […] If you want to become an athlete, you need to make sure that you are putting the right fuel in your engine—it’s that simple.

This is an edited extract from Kinita Kadakia Patel’s The Athlete in You, available now through Penguin Random House India.

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