What Eat After Workout?
That’s one of the key questions that grips many sportsmen and women who frequent gyms. Doubts arise from the awareness that the various foods are different not only in composition but also in digestive needs, and that all these characteristics must be adapted to the needs of the individual athlete.
The choice of the post-workout snack should be made in compliance with certain variables; these are: training aim, possible pathological conditions, body needs (type of training carried out), frequency and intensity of training, balance of the diet in the rest of the day, personal taste and comfort, practicality of use.
That said, it is necessary to specify that the post-workout snack performs 4 functions:
- Supports the body in terms of energy and, sometimes, restores glycogen stocks
- Reduces – slows down – interrupts muscle catabolism
- Relieves the sense of appetite while waiting for the main meal
- Promotes the supply of water and non-energy nutritional molecules: fiber, vitamins, minerals, phenolic antioxidants, phytosterols, lecithins, etc.
When Eat Post-Workout Snack?
Most people would say, “After workout!”
However, this is not so superficial, as the time between the interruption of motor effort and introducing nutritional molecules is the key to many dietary strategies.
As often happens, many of these strategies are diametrically opposed to each other! So which is the most correct one?
A first current of thought is that the post-workout snack should take full advantage of the body’s anabolic window. This “moment” – proportional to the amount of the previous athletic effort (volume and intensity) – can be superimposed on the duration of the first phase of EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption) and is excellent in the first 15 minutes after the end of the effort, after which it gradually fades away. Among the various metabolic reactions typical of the circumstance, in principle there is a remarkable glucidic receptor capacity of the muscle even WITHOUT the intervention of insulin; obviously, the avidity of the fibro cells is however sensitive to the release of the hormone.
To make a long story short, some athletic trainers and sports dieticians suggest taking the post-workout snack while still “out of breath” or at most in the locker room, to increase the speed of restoration of glycogen stocks and interrupt the muscle catabolic process.
Other professionals, on the other hand, base their choice on different aspects that characterize EPOC; these are: the increase in basic energy expenditure and the increase in the release of somatotropin (growth hormone or GH).
The latter mediator, which increases as blood glucose decreases, plays a glycogenolysis role during exercise (to increase blood sugar) but, prevents (as far as possible…) excessive muscle catabolism.
With the support of GH it would therefore be possible to take full advantage of the increase in basal metabolism by postponing the post-workout snack until over 60-120′ after the end (i.e., once the first phase of EPOC has been completed).
As deduced, the choice of one or the other method depends very much on the aim pursued; the first case mainly concerns bodybuilders in the hypertrophy phase and athletes who practice over 4-5 workouts per week. The second, mainly bodybuilders in the cutting phase (definition), those who practice fitness for slimming purposes or athletes who must reach the weight of a certain category.
It is better to keep in mind that the post-workout snack becomes essential only when it requires a certain immediacy, i.e. in the first case. In the second case, when the end of the session is placed close to the main meals, there is no need to eat it.
Nutritional Composition of the Post-Workout Snack
“What is the most appropriate nutritional composition for a post-workout snack?” As with the previous question, the answer here is, “It depends…”
Taking into account the subjective nutritional needs, depending on the aim and the kind of training, the meals need to be carbohydrate or protein-rich, with a variable speed of entry into the circulation, and an equally fluctuating lipid percentage.
Assuming that the goal is to promote the anabolism of carbohydrate stocks as quickly as possible, the post-workout snack will be early, almost entirely based on carbohydrates with a medium-high glycemic index, with very few fibers, proteins and lipids (some branched amino acids may be recommended for supplemental support).
Then, the green light to sweet liquids, fruit juices, rice biscuits, rusks, boiled potatoes, ripe banana, boiled white rice, etc.. It is not to be excluded as a second post-workout snack based on protein and lipid, to be taken after about 1-2 hours; it is the case of: yogurt (normal, thickened, lean, whole, etc.), tuna, cooked egg white, lean sliced meats (possibly not very salty), roast beef and a few oilseeds (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, etc.).
On the other hand, if the anabolic target mainly affects muscle fibres, the snack will be mixed. High glycemic index carbohydrates will act as an insulin stimulator and foods of animal origin from plastic substrate (amino acids). The time tolerance is higher and foods can be taken even 15′ after training.
The products are the same but with lower portions; part of the glucidic ones leaves room for proteins. It is better to avoid too many fibres and lipids in order not to reduce the glycemic index too much.
Another example concerns the research of adipose catabolism. I would like to underline that in this circumstance the training must be carefully considered (especially in the presence of a slimming diet) to avoid excessively compromising the muscular tropism. It is not uncommon that, through supplemental support with creatine, we use protocols of strength stimulation, therefore very intense but with few repetitions and lasting about 30-35′; it is better to totally avoid aerobic activity.
Respecting the criterion mentioned in the previous chapter, the post-workout snack will be taken at least one hour after the end (better 90′).
The nutritional base will be mainly of: high biological value proteins or branched amino acids, very few low glycemic index carbohydrates, dietary fibre and unsaturated lipids.
Protein foods are the same as those already mentioned, preferring thickened low-fat yoghurt and egg white (for the highest biological value); carbohydrate foods could be vegetables (especially carrots) or some types of fruit (such as Granny Smith apples or grapefruits or strawberries, etc.), while lipidic foods are extra virgin olive oil or oilseeds (but it is still appropriate to take into account the lipid part in protein foods). Fruit, vegetables and oilseeds also increase fiber intake.
The last circumstance that should be mentioned concerns those who try to reduce the fat mass in a progressive but very slow way. Here it is possible to use a mixed method, in which you try to block muscle catabolism by exploiting the anabolic window but with the use of low glycemic index foods (avoiding as much as possible the stimulus of insulin).
This system is often associated with mild and infrequent training protocols, possibly mixed but with a low-intensity aerobic component. This allows the slow but complete recovery of glycogen stocks in the time between workouts.