The debate on what is best to eat post-workout has been raging on for a while now. There are many interesting arguments concerning protein timing, macro ratios, and the anabolic window.
This article will look to clarify what works best post workout.
One of the biggest myths in bodybuilding and even in general gym circles is that fasted cardio leads to superior fat loss. This is not the case, as the lack of energy would prevent the participant from performing at a high intensity.
However if for whatever reason you did perform fasted cardio then your post workout nutrition would be of vital importance.
The reason for this is that all of the protein that was in your system would have been used up during the workout, and there would be none left to fuel recovery.
A study by Kumar et al (2009) found that immediately taking a combination of carbohydrates and protein post-workout was necessary to fuel muscle protein synthesis .
Even if you have had sufficient food pre-workout, you will still require some form of post-workout food to top up protein levels for protein synthesis.
For years it was believed that you needed to take protein straight after a workout to stay anabolic (promoting growth). The theory was that without an immediate source of protein your body would instead become catabolic – meaning that it would use muscle tissue to fuel protein synthesis.
Technically this is true, and the “anabolic window” does exist. However the window is a lot larger than most people think, it can also be affected by pre-workout nutrition. So if you had a large protein heavy meal 90-120 minutes before a workout, chances are that there is sufficient protein still in your system to fuel muscle protein synthesis.
This could keep you anabolic for around a couple hours after a workout, by which point you would probably be consuming your afternoon or evening meal (dependant on what time you are training obviously).
If you typically train after your last meal, or very early in the morning and your next proper meal won't be for a long time afterwards, then a post-workout high-protein snack would be a good idea.
There are lots of options for this, ranging from cooked meals, to packaged snacks. Below we will look at four of the most effective.
1. Protein Shakes
Whey protein shakes are a great post-workout snack for many reasons, they are easy to transport and can be taken to the gym. They are high in protein (ranging from 25-50g depending on how many scoops).
Whey protein is a very fast digesting protein source so you will be able to use it for protein synthesis almost immediately.
It's also versatile, and can be combined with creatine (which improves recovery and creatine uptake) . It can also be combined with carbohydrates if your goal is to build muscle mass.
Protein powder can also be used in making other snacks. It combines well with 0% Fat Greek Yoghurt to make a high-protein snack, or it can be combined with an egg, milk, water, and some baking soda to make a microwaveable “mug” cake.
2. Protein Bars
As with protein shakes these bars are easy to carry with you when you go to the gym, contain fast-absorbing whey protein, and can also be combined with creatine. A well made protein bar could be the perfect post workout snack.
This might sound crazy but candy that contains dextrose can be a fantastic post-workout snack. This is because it will cause a big spike in Insulin which will help to speed up the process of muscle protein synthesis.
So sweets such as Gummy Bears and Pixy Stix that are high in Dextrose are an excellent choice.
You can also buy powdered dextrose and take it post-workout … But where would the fun be in that?
4. A chicken Sandwich
People seem to think that post-workout nutrition needs to involve out of the ordinary food choices, but your typical chicken sandwich contains a good amount of protein and carbohydrates which will help to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
What you eat post workout is influenced by what you are pre-workout, if your pre-workout nutrition was perfect then you can stop worrying about the post workout.
You can still take your dextrose and a protein shake, but your body isn't going to immediately become catabolic.
One trick that might make both pre and post workout nutrition easier would be to time your workouts better.
Rather than timing your nutrition to suit the workout, you could try timing your workout to suit your nutrition. In other words you could schedule your session so that it is between breakfast and lunch, or between lunch and dinner, so that you've had something to eat around 90 minutes prior to exercise.
 Kumar, V., Atherton, P., Smith, K., Rennie, M. 2009. Human Muscle Protein Synthesis and breakdown during and after exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology 106(6): 2026-2039
 Cribb, P., Williams, A., Stathis, C., Carey, M., Hayes, A. 2007. Effects of Whey Isolate, Creatine, and Resistance Training on Muscle Hypertrophy. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 39(2): 298-307