While I can’t tell you when it was that I first heard it or who told me but there have been several times in my life that I have been told that it’s not entirely what you say that counts, but HOW you say it. I would certainly agree but I would also add that WHEN is just as important as how. Some would even go far as to say that timing is everything. I mean, when I think about it, the who, what, where, when, and how can all vary in degrees of importance depending on the subject matter. When it comes to nutrition, it's really the what and the when that we’re most interested in. Today, we’re going to talk about post-workout nutrition in regard to gaining muscle. We already know a great deal about the who, where, when, and how; we’re talking about you (who), wherever you happen to be (where) immediately following a workout (when), and to be quite frank I don’t give a shit (how) you do it. From herein, it’s all about the (what); WHAT to eat post-workout if gaining muscle is the goal.
First and foremost, before we go any further, it’s imperative that we understand one key concept: efficiency. Post-training, your body is hungry and it’s prepared to soak up nutrients. DO NOT, I REPEAT DO NOT, provide your body with sources of nutrition that are slow and or difficult to digest! Foods that are high in fat, fiber, and or those which contain proteins that lack solubility are all poor choices post-workout. For example, white rice and white potato are superior choices compared to pasta which contains gluten, and superior to oats, brown rice, and sweet potato which all contain a significant amount of fiber. Similarly, lean white fish such as cod or sole digests are incredibly easy. Chicken breast is a decent choice and I would label red meat as a poor choice for post-workout. And while I generally prefer whole food, shakes are sometimes required for practical purposes. In that case, whey isolate is processed to remove lactose and fats and will digest faster than whey concentrate; but both of those will digest much easier than a protein such as casein. Casein contains proteins that are less soluble and once ingested, they are difficult for your body to break down and the rate of digestion is decreased. Your body is hungry, you want to provide it with nutrient sources that immediately begin feeding it. Your body is also tired; to offer it hard-to-digest foods is illogical and counterproductive.
Now that we have established how important it is to consume foods that are easily digested, let’s talk about macros. My recommendation is to comprise the meal solely of protein and carbohydrates and to determine the amounts of each based on your body weight and the number of meals you consume each day. Your body weight in pounds x .276 if you consume 5 meals per day or multiply your body weight x .23 if you consume 6 meals per day and that will yield the number of grams of protein that would be reasonable to consume post-training. For example, someone who weighs 250 pounds and is eating 5 meals per day: 250 x .276 = 69g of protein post-workout. From there, simply match the number of grams of carbohydrates. Done this way, a post-workout meal for a 250-pound athlete would be approximately 70g of protein + 70g of carbohydrates.
Finally, what does the perfect post-workout meal look like? I have no clue whether it appeals to you or not but from where I stand, THE MOST IDEAL post-training meal is a white, low-fat fish such as cod and white rice. This meal served as my go-to post-training meal for nearly my entire bodybuilding career. Fish is so tender and white rice is so easy to eat that neither requires much physical effort to chew and both are easily digested and assimilated by the body. If a person were opposed to fish and rice then the next best option is chicken breast and white rice or white potato. Chicken is low in fat and physically easy to digest and white rice and potato having very little fiber and no gluten make these foods ideal for post-workout. If the situation did not allow for the consumption of a whole food meal then a whey protein shake mixed with water and an appropriate-sized serving of rice baby cereal would be an excellent choice. All three scenarios provide for an easily digested protein source combined with a rapidly digestible carbohydrate.
After sixty to ninety minutes of hard training, you have effectively created a nutrient deficit and in doing so, have primed your body for refueling. Don’t make the mistake of giving your body foods that are difficult to digest and slow to provide you with the necessary flood of nutrients. Your body wants food NOW! Protein and carbs are your greatest allies in this meal and a 1:1 ratio is an excellent place to start. Whole foods are great when you can sit down to a meal and shakes can be a great option when you’re on the move. No matter what you do, make sure to give your body the nutrition that it needs most when it most needs it.
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