I have said it before and I will say it again; if you workout then the most critical meal is the post-workout meal. Breakfast is huge because it starts the day and sets the tone. Other meals are valuable for energy, such as the pre-workout meal. But the post-workout meal helps spike growth hormone and instantly start the rebuilding and recovery phase which is important to make those critical gains.
Those gains are why we workout in the first place.
What and When to Eat
Just like a good pre-workout meal, what you want to consume is protein and carbs. Fats have no real place in this meal. While fats are useful, there are certain times (such as pre and post-workout) where they are not ideal to take in.
You need to consume this meal within 60 minutes of finishing your workout for optimum results. Personally I aim for 30 minutes. Typically you can finish at the gym, drive home, and take a quick shower within 30 minutes. Then you have a decent amount of time to make and eat your food and still fit within that window.
The idea is to get protein absorbed into your system quickly to help with recovery and muscle growth. The best source of protein for this case is whey protein because it absorbs into the system so quickly (when taken as a shake). Soy is a good second option if you don’t like whey that much.
For amount of protein it is good to aim for .25 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Some people say as low as .15 grams is sufficient, but I find the .25 easier to calculate as it is a simple 4-to-1 ratio. But there is a cap of about 40 grams maximum because your body really can’t process/digest more than that in one sitting.
Now is a great time to fill up on carbs to quickly replenish your lost glycogen stores. Unlike other meals where you take in complex, whole grain carbs, the post-workout meal is a great time to use more fruits and other types of foods with slightly more sugar content.
For amounts you should look at a 4-to-1 or 3-to-1 ratio of grams of carbs take in per pound of bodyweight. The more cardio you did during the workout should mean a slightly higher intake of carbs to replenish those stores that were depleted further than normal.
Honestly the best post-workout meals will always involve a protein shake. It is the easiest way to get the needed amount of protein into your body and it will be quickly absorbed. If you can handle it, you can mix a shake with water.
- Protein Shake – Whey or soy mixed with low fat milk or water. Usually I will add L-Glutamine and Creatine (if I am in a cycle) into the shake as well.
- Fruit and Yogurt – This is my favorite simple meal/snack after a workout. You can mix any sort of seasonal fruit with as much yogurt as you need to reach your carb requirement. It takes minutes to make and eat. Afterwards you typically don’t feel over full.
- Water – About 30 minutes after the meal I start back up with water or a Gatorade style drink to get rehydrated. Usually sipping over the next hour prevents feeling bloated as your body is still digesting your post-workout meal.
You can mix any other types of carbs in that you want instead of the fruit and yogurt. Some people prefer chicken and rice or chicken pasta which are great if you have them prepared ahead of time and can just reheat them. Other options include a nice egg omelet or egg scramble with things like veggies or potatoes, salmon and sweet potatoes, or tuna and brown rice with a veggie side.