Have you heard the saying that the secret to a fit, healthy body is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise? Quite a bit of research suggests that's true. Proper nutrition does play a huge role in your body's ability to build and maintain lean muscle mass, particularly after working out. This is especially important for strength workouts, even ones using your own body weight.
When you perform strength exercises (think squats, lunges, push-ups, weight training machines, etc.) your muscles start to develop tiny microtears. This sounds a bit morbid, but it's what needs to happen in order for your body to grow any amount of lean muscle to help you stay strong and toned. The tears are easily repaired by rest and, you guessed it, proper nutrition. Without a steady supply of nutrients, your body will not be able to repair as effectively, potentially leading to muscle breakdown. This will lead to the exact opposite of a strong, toned body and your hard work will be wasted. Plus, your whole body is depleted after a workout, and without any nutrients to provide fuel, you're going to feel exhausted, crabby, and most likely dive off the food craving deep end. This is why post-workout meals can be a game-changer when it comes to your physique and overall health.
So what food is the best fuel post-workout?
Carbs have gotten a bad rep over the years as a weight-gaining culprit. However, carbs are incredibly important to muscle recovery, exercise performance, and even assisting in the growth of lean muscle mass. Keep in mind that not all carbs are created equal when it comes to an overall healthy diet.
Even after a tiring workout, it's important to reach for carbs that provide positive fuel like whole grains, and fruits and not junk food carbs like chips and candy. Positive fuel will ensure you don't have an energy crash, and will provide other essential vitamins and minerals to your body that are often lacking in junk food.
This macronutrient is an essential part of any diet, but it is particularly important to help the recovery and growth of muscles. Those micro-tears that occur during strength training can only be adequately repaired by the amino acids found in complete protein sources. You can think of these amino acids as "building blocks" that patch up the tears in your muscles and make them larger and stronger. Just like carbs, not all proteins are created equal. When thinking about your next post-workout meal, you will want to reach for protein that is considered complete. Plenty of different types of food contain some amount of protein, but only certain sources have all 9 essential amino acids required by the body. All types of animal protein (meat, dairy, fish, eggs, etc.) contain the 9 essential amino acids humans require. However, plenty of plant sources when combined with each other (think peanut butter and whole-grain bread or black beans and brown rice) create a complete protein as well. Both plant-based and animal-based complete protein sources work great for post-workout fuel.
So how much and what should you be eating?
As is true for most things, the amount is going to depend on you ... and how hard you're working out. Longer, serious strength training workouts (think over 1 hour) are going to require more fuel. Short (think 45 minutes-1 hour) of strength training is going to require less. For most, workouts tend to be on the shorter end, so the following snacks work great to help recover and grow lean muscle mass:
A single-serve Greek yogurt with a handful of berries
One cup of chocolate milk
Protein bar or protein drink (think grab and go at the gas station or at your gym)
1 Rice cake with a tablespoon of almond butter or peanut butter
Two eggs with 1 slice of whole-wheat toast and a handful of berries or 1 banana
These snacks typically provide between 10-18 grams of protein and 10-20 grams of carbohydrates. A perfect balance!
For more help on post-workout snacks or anything else related to fitness and wellness, please email SAFFP's Fitness Director at email@example.com