by Evan Peikon
Before I delve into this article I want to throw out the caveat that the recommendations I make here are for Athletes only. NOT psuedo-athletes or those seeking health and longevity. By athlete i’m referring to someone whose day/life revolves around training and recovery. A pseudo athlete can still be a high level performer, but their focus includes health and longevity more than the athlete seeking performance (contrary to popular belief, top level athletes often must sacrifice health for performance). Now that we’ve gotten that out of the whey (pun intended), I’ll go into more detail about Post Workout nutrition for athletes in the Sport of Fitness.
PWO Nutrition Basics
To keep this simple I will start by saying high intensity training causes damage to our muscles, depletes fuel stores, and causes multitudes of hormonal changes. So, to combat this having proper post workout nutrition increases protein synthesis to repair muscle damage, and replete glycogen stores to refill our muscles. After workout cortisol and growth hormone are both elevated as well. However, they are antagonists. So by taking in fast acting protein & carbs you are able to blunt cortisol release and put yourself into a more favorable hormonal environment (that was a gross oversimplification with many steps/ actions missing, but for the sake of this article it mechanisms of action aren’t as important as knowing the outcome. As always though, feel free to email me @ email@example.com if you have any specific questions on the physiology). So now that we know why we need optimal post workout nutrition, we hit a roadblock when trying to figure out what that entails. Why? Well, due to the nature of our sport , and training, we perform different types of workouts and operate in different Energy Systems on a day to day basis. That being said we must use different formulas for different types of training stimuli, which is the main purpose that I wrote this article (ie- to teach you how to tailor your post workout nutrition to yourself and your training on a given day.)
Considerations (Body Fat % & PWO Fuel Sources)
First thing comes first. The leaner the individual, the more carbs they can take in post workout due to increased insulin sensitivity and thus better nutrient partitioning. Also note that leaner individuals will take in faster acting carbs. So that raises the question… What is considered lean, and what are the options for PWO proten & carb sources. For a male competing in the sport of fitness 7-8% body fat is right around the leanest they can get without sacrificing optimal hormonal status (obviously there are outliers though). A male at 7-8% will get the highest amount of carbs post workout in the chart displayed below. Next would be a male at 9-12% body fat. This is most likely the sweet spot for performance for most individuals. And last would be a male over 12% body fat. If a male competing is higher than 14%, my recommendation would be to fix some lifestyle/nutrition habits before tinkering with post workout nutrition. For a female competing in the sport of fitness ~12% is right around the leanest they can get. Optimal would be closer to 12-16%. However, a BF % of 16-25 for females is still in the range where they can perform at a high level.
Next we will talk about specific post workout protein/ carb sources.
For lean athletes the optimal PWO protein source would be from Whey (cow or goat’s). For athletes with a higher BF % a low fat whole food protein source such as chicken or turkey would be the next best option.
For leaner athletes the optimal PWO carb sources would be dextrose, maltodextrin, or waxy-maize (note- since writing this article I would add Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin to the list. While it is a bit more expensive, I think the benefits outweigh the cost). For less lean athletes good sources would be starches such as sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and white rice. Note: When dealing with body fat %’s, you must get this measured. Estimating by sight is inaccurate, and comparing yourself to pictures of others doesn’t work either (due to the fact that two people at the same BF % can have different weights, anatomy etc making the visual comparison skewed. If having you BF measured isn’t an option our recommendation would be to round it up. So id you think your ~8%, use the recommendation for the 10-12% athlete etc.
Tailored PWO Nutrition
Now we will go onto what types of macros you should hit post workout for a given athletes (at a given BF%) doing a particular type of workout. Take into account though that individual variation plays a HUGE factor, so these recommendations are only starting point (the key is to tinker and make them work for you). Note: These recommendations are based off an assumed a body weight of ~185 for males & ~138 for females. If you weigh more or less, scale appropriately. Also taken into account that we used a given formula to predict the carb/protein needs for the CP-Cellular session and tinkered with the macros for other sessions based on how much glycogen would be used & how muscle damage would be accrued.
Though the previously listed recommendations still hold ground as good starting points, you must also take what you are currently doing into account before jumping straight into a new Rx. If you’re currently an 185lb, 8% body fat, male taking 25g protein post workout you shouldn’t just up your PWO fuel to 35g Pro/ 45g Carbs right away. Instead you should make small adjustments and slowly work your way up to the recommended dose. Then examine how you look, feel, and perform and begin to tinker from there.
Post Workout Meal (Extended Recovery):
60-90 Minutes After your workout/ post workout meal you should ideally consume a balanced meal with protein, carbs, and fat. I also cannot stress enough that the recommendations in the article are just recommendations, and that they are aimed at performance oriented athletes. If you goal is aesthetics, performance (without competing), or health/ longevity this article is NOT for you. There is plenty of information out there for what a non-athlete should do for post workout so i’m not delving into it here (see Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, or Whole 30 for examples). Just know that it isn’t necessary for you to be downing sugars/ liquid nutrition if that is your situation.