#1 Most Important Post-Workout Nutrient: Protein
It’s essential to consume protein around your workouts because the amino acids found in protein are the building blocks to your muscles. In fact, building muscle is all about creating a “positive protein turnover rate.”
This means that your body has to add more amino acids to a muscle than the amount that gets broken down regularly.
Now, most of you have probably heard of the anabolic window (which is a myth) that suggests that you need to get your protein shake in as fast as possible after a workout.
Even though it’s not true that you need to take in protein IMMEDIATELY after a workout, a good guideline is to try to get at least a minimum of twenty grams of protein within an hour and a half of finishing your workout.
Keep in mind if you happen to train in a fasted state as I do, it’s better to have that protein sooner rather than later.
If you do train fasted, there will be fewer amino acids circulating through your body since you didn’t eat any protein before your workout.
On the other hand, if you did eat and you had a lot of protein before your workout you can probably get away with extending that time frame even past the 90-minute mark.
Generally, taking down protein within 90 minutes after finishing your workout is a good guideline to aim for.
The first and one of the best protein sources post-workout is whey protein. Whey is a fast-digesting protein source, which is especially beneficial if you train on an empty stomach.
That’s because it’ll digest quickly and cause a rapid spike in amino acids that will quickly become available for your body to use for muscle repair and recovery.
So as a result, whey protein will stimulate protein synthesis which is the build-up of new muscle fibers. Whey will do it faster than slower-digesting protein sources like casein. (1)
The best part about whey protein is that it’s one of the world’s best sources of leucine, which happens to be the most important amino acid for muscle growth. This is because leucine activates mTOR, which is the primary muscle-building pathway in the body.
That’s why simply having a whey protein shake can be an excellent post-workout protein source, especially if you’re short on time.
Now even though casein isn’t the best protein source if you train fasted, it still has a similar nutrition profile to whey. However, casein does have other qualities that may make it an even better choice if you don’t train on an empty stomach.
This is because whey is not as effective as casein at preventing muscle protein breakdown. (2) Remember, to build muscle we want to both reduce muscle protein breakdown and increase muscle protein synthesis.
Casein may also be more beneficial for fat loss because it digests slower. This helps you feel full for longer.
In a study (3) where they compared people that took either a casein supplement, a whey supplement, or a placebo after weight training the researchers found that not only did people in the casein group experience more than double the amount of muscle growth compared to the whey group, but they also lost twice the amount of fat. (4)
So for all of you that have a pre-workout meal and don’t train fasted you may want to take a closer look at casein instead of whey post-workout.(5),(6)
Now since casein and whey are both good choices post-workout it should come as no surprise that milk is also a great option.
This is because both casein and whey are derived from cow’s milk. Based on the available research, milk does seem to be an equally excellent option.
For example, in a study published just a few years ago, researchers found that drinking whole milk stimulated muscle protein synthesis to a similar degree as whey protein. (7)
Interestingly enough, research shows that whole milk stimulates muscle protein synthesis better than skim milk, even when whole milk contains less protein than skim milk. (8)
So, if you want to boost muscle growth and recovery, consider drinking whole milk instead of skim milk after your training session.
You can even take some whey or casein protein powder and blend it with some whole milk after your workout. However, keep in mind that you may be better off with skim milk if you’re cutting calories and trying to burn fat.
Also, keep in mind that the fat content of milk slows down the absorption rate. At this point, you should know that that’s not a problem if you had protein before your workout, but you’ll be better off with skim milk if you are training in a fasted state.
Another high-quality post-workout protein source can be found in eggs. Just like whey protein, eggs score very high in leucine which, is the most important amino acid for muscle growth and, on average, one egg has six grams of protein.
That means that you’ll only need about three to four eggs to meet the minimum of twenty grams of protein post-workout.
Eggs are also an easy-to-consume protein source, which makes them one of the ten best foods to eat after a workout. You could simply boil a couple of eggs and eat them after you finish training.
For most people, this is much more convenient than walking around with a Tupperware box with chicken breast or another source of protein.
Now, a big myth that has stuck around thanks to Old-School Bodybuilders is that it’s best to eat or drink the eggs raw.
Obviously, this wasn’t recommended for taste, but instead, raw eggs were believed to be better post-workout for muscle growth when compared to cooked eggs.
But luckily you don’t have to gag on raw eggs because it’s not true. Research indicates that up to around 50 percent of raw egg protein is not absorbed or digested in the small intestine. (9)
You would need about twice as much protein from raw eggs compared to cooked eggs.
So, you’re better off cooking your eggs however you want, whether that’s scrambled, sunny side up, or over easy – it’s all better than raw.
The next high-protein food to have after a workout is salmon. Salmon is an excellent protein source, containing about twenty grams of high-quality protein per 100-gram serving, which is about the same as 3 1/2 ounces. Salmon is also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, and these fatty acids will definitely help after a workout in a number of ways.
This includes: lowering cortisol, increasing testosterone, reducing muscle protein breakdown, boosting muscle protein synthesis, and increasing nutrient partitioning, (10) which helps the nutrients get to where they need to go.
Salmon also pairs very well with garlic, and garlic contains allicin, which is a compound that may help reduce muscle soreness post-workout.
#5: How to Incorporate Carbs Post-Workout
Now of course other protein sources are good too, like chicken, beef, and pork.
For vegans and vegetarians, plant-based sources of protein like seitan, beans, and tofu, can be great as well.
All of those could easily go into a ‘Best Foods’ list, but here I’ve carefully chosen only the top 10 best foods to eat after a workout.
In addition to protein, we also have to include some carbs. Consuming carbs post-workout can have anti-catabolic effects, which means they help reduce muscle protein breakdown.
Carbs can do this thanks to the response that your body has to carbs which is to increase insulin production. Most of you don’t know that insulin actually suppresses muscle protein breakdown.
To reap the maximum benefits, you’ll have to trigger an insulin concentration of 11, 15, or 30 milliunits per liter, depending on the study that you look at. (11)
That may not mean much to you, but if you eat 100 grams of carbs after a workout, you’ll spike insulin enough to reduce muscle protein breakdown after a workout, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. (12)
This is why many trainers recommend that you also have carbs post-workout. What they fail to realize, however, is that protein also increases insulin.
In fact, research indicates that just 20 grams of protein are enough to exceed the insulin threshold to reduce muscle protein breakdown. So from that standpoint, carbs are redundant for muscle growth and recovery as long as you already consume enough protein post-workout.
With that said, I still do believe it can be beneficial to consume carbs post-workout, especially if you’re in a bulking phase, in which case you’re trying to take in more calories anyway.
The reason is that when you have carbs post-workout, it assists with muscle glycogen resynthesis better than consuming it at another time of the day.
For instance, a study from the University of Texas found that “There’s a supercompensation of glycogen stores when carbohydrates are consumed shortly after a workout.
Delaying the consumption of carbs by just 2 hours reduces the rate of muscle glycogen re-synthesis by as much as 50%.” (13)
For those of you that don’t know, fully refilling your glycogen stores will help you have more strength and energy for your next workout.
So, while it is not necessary to consume carbs post-workout, it can be beneficial in some cases, especially if you train multiple times a day, in which case the faster glycogen resynthesis is highly beneficial.
#6: Tart Cherry Juice
One of the best carbs that you can have post-workout is Tart Cherry Juice. Of all the carb-rich food sources that are available, tart cherry might just be the absolute best because it speeds up recovery.
For example, multiple studies show that consuming tart cherry after resistance training reduces muscle protein breakdown and muscle soreness while speeding up recovery. (14)
That’s pretty impressive for a relatively simple carbohydrate. One of those studies even concluded that tart cherries “reduce muscle soreness, strength losses during the recovery process, and markers of muscle breakdown. (15)
#7: Watermelon Juice
Another great carb-rich alternative to tart cherry juice is watermelon juice, and it has a range of benefits. In a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (16) researchers found that giving athletes about 2 cups or 500 milliliters of watermelon juice helped reduce muscle soreness and heart rate recovery after 24h.” (17)
Reducing heart rate recovery may sound like a bad thing at first, but it’s actually a really good thing!
Heart rate recovery refers to how long it takes you to bring your heart rate back down to normal after stopping exercise. So the faster your breathing and heart rate return back to normal the more fit you’re considered to be.
Part of what allows watermelon juice to have this effect is an amino acid found in watermelon known as l-citrulline.
L-citrulline stimulates blood flow, and that blood flow helps your body deliver amino acids to your muscles while simultaneously helping your body clear waste products such as lactic acid from your muscles.
Now even though both tart cherry and watermelon juice contain carbs while also supporting recovery, other healthy carbs are slower digesting, more filling, and have more fiber.
Out of the best foods to eat after a workout, oats are one of the greatest options.
They contain about 66 grams of carbs per 100 grams of oats, which is a little more than a cup.
This makes oats a much more carb-dense food source than tart cherry and watermelon juice. On top of that, oats also contain a decent amount of protein.
A 100-gram serving of raw oats will provide you with almost 17 grams of protein.
That’s a lot of protein for a carb source, but keep in mind that oats are not a great substitute for a high-quality protein source like the ones that I’ve already gone over.
Oats won’t provide all the amino acids that you need, but if you’re vegan you can combine oats with other protein sources to get your full spectrum of amino acids.
Next up are bananas and they happen to be an excellent source of electrolytes.
It’s beneficial to have electrolytes after a workout because they get lost through your sweat and your muscle contractions.
For those of you that don’t know, electrolytes are chemicals that have an electric charge in your body. Examples of electrolytes are sodium, magnesium, potassium, and chloride.
All of these electrolytes are very necessary for a wide range of bodily functions, including muscle recovery and ensuring that your muscles can contract properly.
This is why being deficient in one or more electrolytes can cause muscle cramping. So, to prevent that from happening, it’s important to take in enough electrolytes, especially after workouts where you’re sweating a lot.
One way you can do that is by eating bananas.
One medium-sized banana supplies you with about 8 percent of your daily magnesium needs and 10 percent of your daily potassium needs.
On top of that, a banana is a high-quality, fast-digesting carb source. One medium-sized banana will provide you about 28 grams of carbs.
#10: Don’t Forget Water!
Of course, other than eating bananas you also want to hydrate. And that brings us to the final thing that you definitely want to have post-workout and that’s water. Even though I’m mentioning this at the end it doesn’t mean it’s any less important.
Replenishing the fluids that you lost through your sweat is not only essential for your health but also your results. That’s because dehydration reduces hypertrophy, or muscle growth, by lowering muscle protein synthesis while raising protein breakdown rates.
To make matters worse, a study found that even a small 5 percent dehydration significantly reduced testosterone after resistance training while increasing cortisol and norepinephrine. (18)
If you don’t drink enough water, you’ll actually hurt your gains. So, make sure to drink enough water during and after your workout.
That about wraps it up. If you’d like any extra help with planning a solid workout and diet plan, or you just want a coach to help push you towards your goals, click the link below. We have programs that provide everything from a full video exercise library to recipe books and meal prepping strategies.
Even if you don’t want to take that next step and work with us just yet, you can still get your free macro plan based on your body. To get there and begin your transformation, click on the diet planner tool below!
1. As a result, whey protein stimulates protein synthesis (the build-up of new muscle fibers) more quickly than slower-digesting protein sources like casein.
2. While casein is decent at reducing protein breakdown, whey isn’t effective in that regard.
3. As a result, casein is superior for gaining strength and muscle compared to whey, as shown by a study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism.
4. “Lean mass gains in the three groups did not change for diet alone, versus gains of 4 ± 1.4 and 2 ± 0.7 kg in the casein and whey groups, respectively.”
5. “Mean increase in strength for chest, shoulder and legs was 59 ± 9% for casein and 29 ± 9% for whey, a significant group difference.”
6. “This significant difference in body composition and strength is likely due to improved nitrogen retention and overall anticatabolic effects caused by the peptide components of the casein hydrolysate.”
7. For instance, one study published in the journal Nutrients found that drinking whole milk stimulated muscle protein synthesis to a similar degree as whey protein.
8. Interestingly, research shows that whole milk stimulates muscle protein synthesis better than skimmed milk, even when the whole milk contains less protein than the skimmed milk.
9. Research indicates that up to around 50% of raw eggs’ protein is not absorbed or digested in the small intestine.
10. This includes lowering cortisol, increasing testosterone, reducing muscle protein breakdown, boosting muscle protein synthesis, and increasing nutrient partitioning.
11. Insulin suppresses muscle protein breakdown, and to reap the maximum effects, you’ll have to trigger an insulin concentration of 11, 15, or 30 mU/I, depending on the study that you look at.
12. If you create such an elevation, such as by consuming 100 grams of carbs, you will reduce muscle protein breakdown after a workout, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
13. “There’s a supercompensation of glycogen stores when carbohydrate is consumed shortly post-exercise. And delaying their consumption by just 2 hours reduces the rate of muscle glycogen re-synthesis by as much as 50%.”
14. multiple studies show that consuming tart cherry after resistance training reduces muscle protein breakdown and muscle soreness while speeding up recovery.
15. “attenuate muscle soreness, strength decrement during recovery, and markers of muscle catabolism in resistance trained individuals.”
16. As an alternative to tart cherry juice, watermelon juice is also a carb-rich food source that may benefit workout recovery, as shown by a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
17. “helped to reduce the recovery heart rate and muscle soreness after 24 h.”
18. For instance one study found that a 5% dehydration significantly reduced testosterone secretion after resistance training while increasing cortisol and norepinephrine.