What to eat after a workout. This is a topic that frequently gets discussed in my online bootcamps. There is no one size fits all approach but I’d like to share with you what I have personally have found to be most effective.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “timing is everything,” and properly refuelling after a workout is no exception. Eating the right foods, at the right time for the right reason is crucial to replenishing your body’s energy stores and prepping you for your next workout. There is no one size fits all approach to refuelling recommendations. There does however exists a variety of different opinions. What is recommended will change depending on your goals and the type of workouts you are engaging in.
Here is what I personally have found to maximize the effectiveness of my workouts. Specifically I follow a carb cycling and intermittent fasting nutrition plan and I built my exercise plan around it. Download my FREE guide to intermittent fasting and carb cycling here.
Below you will find an outline of what to eat after your workouts. You will learn how I refuel my body following a cardio sprint workout vs a heavy weight training session. Keep in mind my goals are fat loss while maintaining/gaining lean muscle mass.
What to eat after Cardio Sprint Days:
Everyday I skip breakfast. I fast until at least noon. In the morning I am consuming water, black coffee and supplement with branch chain amino acids and probiotics.
Twice a week I do sprint training follow by low intensity cardio. Sprint training depletes glycogen stores so my body can switch to burning triglycerides (or fat) for fuel faster. The low intensity cardio further promotes fat breakdown. Typically, I try to do my sprints in the AM fasted. I then remain fasted for at least 1-2 hours after my sprints. To protect my muscles from being broken down and used for fuel I consume BCAAs (branch chain amino acids).
BCAA – leucine, isoleucine and valine- are found in muscle proteins. During exercise muscles are broken down. Research has shown BCAA supplementation before exercise improves muscle recovery by decreasing the release of essential amino acid from exercising muscle. BCAA supplementation just prior to exercise also increases protein synthesis (muscle growth), reduces muscle soreness and increases function (1).
What to eat after Heavy Weight Days:
I’ve been experimenting with doing my heavy weight workout fasted. I will definitely consume BCAAs prior to my workout as well as a tsp of coconut oil in my coffee. I try to time my heavy weight workout closer to when I will be breaking my fast. If I am planning on breaking my fast at 1 o’clock, I aim to do my workout anywhere from 10 o’clock to 12 o’clock. I find I get hungry after a full body workout and don’t want to wait long to eat. You also don’t want to wait too long to consume your protein and carbohydrates after a heavy weight workout because these macros help repair your muscles.
One concern I had about doing heavy weight workouts fasted is that I would not have as much strength. I have been doing fasted heavy weight workouts for months now and I have not noticed this being an issue.
One exception to this is LEG day. I always pair leg day with my high carb day. I like to consume some carbs prior to my leg workout to provide me the additional energy to max out my leg workout. The majority of my remaining carbs I like to consume following my leg workout. I still fast on leg day until at least noon.
What if you have to workout in the AM?
For my clients who only can workout first thing, I recommend trying both your cardio speed bursts and your heavy weight workouts fasted and see how you feel. Personally, I would highly recommend consuming BCAAs if this is your plan. If you find that you are hungry you may need to break your fast early and have your last meal earlier. Try your best to stick to your intermittent fasting feeding window. You can also add coconut oil to black coffee to see if that is enough to regular your blood sugars. If you absolutely feel like you need to consume something I would suggest a low carb protein shake immediately after your workout.
What if you have to workout in the PM?
If there is no way for you to workout in the morning here is what I would suggest and do. For your cardio workouts, I would do it after your last meal. You will deplete your glycogen stores and switch to burning triglycerides until you break your fast the following day.
For your heavy weight workouts I would do them at least 30min-1 hours away from food so you don’t develop cramps and feel nauseous. Following your heavy weight workouts, consume the rest of your macros for the day.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Here’s the deal, the best time to exercise is when you are ACTUALLY going to do it. Planning is everything. I see this time and time again. The clients who are most successful have a plan and they stick to it.
If you know you are NOT going to exercise after work then find time to complete the workout in the AM or at lunch. While timing your food around your workouts may put you at a slight advantage, not doing your workout at all will definitely put you at a disadvantage.
It is also very important to listen to your body. If you feel nauseous, dizzy, or weak during your fasted workouts, then fasted training is probably not for you. If you feel your muscles are more sore post workout then normal then consider a BCAA around your workout or consuming at least a protein shake sooner after your workout.
I hope this makes sense and has been helpful for you. Hopefully this will help make deciding what to eat after a workout easier. Please comment below with any questions and let me know what you have been doing.
***Always consult your primary healthcare provider before engaging in a new training program and nutrition plan. If you do decide to supplement with BCAAs or a protein powder be sure to read the nutrition facts and ingredients. Some protein powders & BCAAs contain colours and artificial flavourings as well as may interact with prescription medications. If you are unsure about ANY supplement or are taking a prescription medication, have a health condition or are pregnant or breastfeeding, consult a physician or health care provider before adding a supplement. ***
Jackman, Sarah R. et al. “Branched-Chain Amino Acid Ingestion Can Ameliorate Soreness From Eccentric Exercise”. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 42.5 (2010): 962-970. Web.