What to Eat Post-Workout, According to a Trainer & a Nutritionist
Kirsty Godso & Kelly LeVeque gave us the 101.
While it’s easy enough to choose a workout based on what you enjoy (or can tolerate) and what areas you want to target, what’s not so easy is figuring out what to eat afterwards (or beforehand, in some cases). We’ve heard a million times that you need to eat within 30 minutes of working out if you want to maximize the benefits of your sweat session and properly refuel and recover, but at times we’ve doubted this theory—probably because we often don’t get around to having our protein smoothies until a good hour or so after we’ve left the gym, and we’ve been pretty happy with our results (just sayin’). So we turned to two of our favorite women to set the record straight. Below, nutritionist and health coach Kelly LeVeque and Nike master trainer Kirsty Godso (who is also co-founder of killer workout Pyro Tings) answer all of our burning questions. (See what we did there?)
Is it crucial to eat within 30 minutes of working out?
Kelly LeVeque: “Early research suggested it was important to eat within 20-60 minutes of working out—also called the post-exercise anabolic window (to increase muscle growth)—but what wasn’t made clear was that nearly every subject in every study had completed a fasted workout [ed note: a fasted workout is when you don’t eat beforehand]. It is well documented that a fasted workout can increase human growth hormone, testosterone, and help burn fat and increase lean muscle gains. So of course, a post-workout meal of amino acids and glucose would support growth and recovery.
“New research suggests recovery has to do with overall consumption and available nutrients in the bloodstream, even if amino acids and glycogen are coming from a pre-workout meal. Even more, newer studies are contradicting the theory that you need to eat protein within the anabolic window for growth and show that it’s equally beneficial to wait a few hours. I recommend fasted morning or afternoon workouts [for my clients] to reap the hormonal benefits that support body composition, and fuel up with a [smoothie] or meal when it’s most convenient post-workout.”
What should you be eating post-workout?
KL: “A mix of protein- and fiber-rich carbohydrates offer the perfect way to fuel post workout. Amino acids lead to muscle growth and repair, while the slow release of glucose can refuel muscles for your next workout without causing a blood sugar roller coaster. My clients take this a step further and load up on what I call the Fab Four at every meal: protein, fat, fiber, and greens. [These] meals turn off hunger hormones, squelch inflammation, and provide the body with the perfect complete meal of essential nutrients. Protein ups collagen, muscle tone, and metabolism; fat benefits hormones, skin, cellular health, and does not store as fat (simple carbs do); fiber for gut microbiome proliferation and detoxification; and greens (or veggies deep in color) are cancer- and inflammation-fighting phytonutrients.”
Kirsty Godso: “If I’m not going straight into a proper meal, I will have a scoop of vanilla whey protein isolate mixed with water after my workout. This is to aid recovery post-workout! I use my own brand, Made Of, which is free of any unnecessary additives. If you’re using protein powder, you want to be very aware of what ingredients are in it and how many.”
Is it possible to eat too little post-workout?
KL: “Yes, but again, this is all based on overall consumption. Undereating can cause a decrease in your resting metabolic rate, leading to initial weight loss followed by weight gain. You never want to starve or calorie count to lose weight, because you will ultimately cause metabolic damage. Instead, I educate my clients on how hormones can support and slow weight loss; this freedom allows them to eat freely and still meet their body composition goals.”
KG: “Everyone’s body is uniquely different, and depending on what type of training you’re doing and how much energy you’re exerting, your body will need different levels of nutritional support. I recommend being in an honest conversation with your body on how it feels each day. You may notice through different seasons you will be more or less hungry. Learn to understand when your body feels full and the difference between hunger and dehydration.”
What about eating prior to working out?
KL: “Eat when you are hungry! Eating before and after a workout can lead to overconsumption and derail progress. If you need fuel for a workout, simply eat again at your next normal meal time. That being said, I push my clients to avoid snacking. Needing a snack before a workout normally stems from a mental fear that they will feel sick or lightheaded, but it’s very rare if you are fueling properly throughout the day.”
KG: “People can often experience light dizziness when working out in the morning on a completely empty stomach. I suggest eating half a banana, or what I personally do is have a scoop of whey protein isolate mixed with water 20 minutes before I work out in the morning so my body has a bit of fuel in the system. If you’re going to get up early to train, you may as well ensure you’re actually going to have the energy to put in the work!”
The best ingredients for a post-workout smoothie?
KL: “I created the Fab Four smoothie formula to help my clients learn how to build a low-sugar meal-replacement smoothie. This is very different from the many juice shops, grocery smoothie bars, and smoothie recipes online, which can be loaded with sugar. The Fab Four smoothie limits fruit and instead helps you fill up on protein, fat, fiber, and greens, which naturally help to elongate and balance your blood sugar curve and fuel your muscle for recovery. This combination keeps you from crashing before lunch and sabotaging your healthy eating efforts.”
KG: “If you can have dairy, I recommend whey protein isolate as your protein option—this is the most premium form of protein. Many people who don’t often eat dairy can actually consume a high-quality whey protein isolate without any issues. This is the only dairy I consume. Preferably if it’s a post-workout smoothie, you will just have the protein powder and water. However, if you’re trying to fill yourself up for longer and make more of a meal replacement, you can add other ingredients to fill you up for longer. Some of my go-tos are: lucuma powder, glutamine, frozen blueberries, ice, bee pollen, mucuna powder, and maca powder.
“Remember that your body is your body. There’s no one formula that fits everyone. Some trial and error with nutrition is always required to find the perfect way to nourish your body and the activities that you perform. Don’t ignore the impact that your internal dialogue around food has! Be kind to your body, and it will be kind to you.”
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