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Last Updated on December 16, 2020

What to Eat After a Workout (Revealed by Professional Trainer)

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What to Eat After a Workout (Revealed by Professional Trainer)

With a workout plan in place, it’s important to stay consistent while slowly progressing each week. You don’t want your training to get stagnant because, over time, as your body will become used to doing the same thing. Workouts need to be intense and focused in order to drive your results.

But the workout is just part of the equation. What you do after your workout is what will really help you to gain strength, build muscle, lose fat, and enhance your fitness. This is where rest, recovery, and most importantly, nutrition, are critical to achieving your goals.

This article will look at what to eat after a workout but, before we look into that, let’s understand what actually happens inside your body when you workout.

Why It Matters What You Eat After a Workout

You may think that training in the gym is where you build strength and muscle, but that’s not the case. The gym and the workout are what sets the stage in order for you to improve your body. When you workout, you’re putting the body through a form of stress. Your body adapts to this stress in various ways; it gets bigger, stronger, fitter, and leaner.

When you strength train, you are breaking down your muscle tissue on a microscopic level. The act of resistance training creates small tears in the muscle tissue. When these tears are repaired, they get a little bit bigger than they were before. This is the act of muscle gain happening on a micro level.

However, you don’t just break down the muscle tissue and expect it to repair back bigger than before. It requires proper nutrition, hydration, and recovery. This is why it’s important to focus on what to eat after a workout.

The same thing goes for enhancing your fitness and cardiovascular function. Engaging your muscles, and cardiovascular system allows them to push through plateaus and improve your fitness levels. This will also require proper nutrition to do so. The most important thing to remember from all of this is what you do at the end of one workout helps prepare you for the next one.

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What to Eat After a Workout to Gain Muscle

Protein is going to be one of the obvious choices here but it is only part of the equation. Protein does a lot of things in the body such as:

  • Building enzymes and hormones
  • Immune system function
  • Keeping hair and nails strong
  • The building block for skin, bones, ligament, and cartilage
  • Balancing fluids
  • Maintaining proper pH
  • Transporting and storing nutrients

And in our interests in regards to fitness, it helps to build and repair muscle. Those microscopic tears in the muscle tissue require protein in order to build back larger and stronger than before.[1] When you are finished working out, your muscles are like a sponge and are wanting to absorb protein to replenish and repair.

So after a workout, you want to make sure you get a serving of protein within 30 to 60 minutes. There’s varying information about how long you can wait and still get the benefits of protein, but why wait when you’re trying to structure your workouts and meals? It’s true you don’t need protein the second you’ve finished your last rep, but you want to consume some relatively soon after training.

Since your muscles are a sponge, it makes sense to get some easily digestible nutrition in after a workout. This allows your body to make use of it quicker and not have to spend a long time digesting, absorbing, and transporting those nutrients. Protein shakes can be very helpful in this situation, but they’re not absolutely necessary. Think of protein shakes as convenience and time-saver for those situations when getting adequate protein intake may be more difficult.

The Best Protein Sources and How Much You Need

Some good post-workout protein sources include:[2]

  • Eggs
  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Grilled chicken
  • Oatmeal and whey or plant-based protein
  • Cottage cheese

As far as how much you need to consume, the recommended amounts involve consuming 0.14 to 0.23 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight in that first meal 30 to 60 minutes after a workout.[3] If you weigh 150 pounds, your post-workout protein requirement would be 21 to 35 grams of protein.

This will help decrease muscle protein breakdown and increase muscle protein synthesis. Muscle protein synthesis is basically just a way to say growth, but it’s where the hard work from the gym is created.

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How Many Carbs Do You Need?

Whereas protein is important for muscle recovery, carbohydrates help to refuel your body and muscles. When you work out, you use the glucose that is stored in the muscle and liver as glycogen. Intense workouts deplete these glycogen stores and your post-workout nutrition helps to restore them.

The type of activity you do will determine how much glycogen is required. High endurance activities like swimming, running, and cycling will require more than resistance training (though resistance training still will use it). After intense workouts that have more of a cardiovascular emphasis, you will want to consume 0.5 to 0.7 grams of carbs per pound of body weight. For the 150 pound person, this ends up being 75 to 105 grams of carbs.

A good combination is consuming carbs and protein together after a workout as the combination of the two can lead to more insulin secretion. This insulin secretion allows for more protein and glycogen to be uptaken by the muscles and this results in better repair and replenishment.

Your best carb choices after a workout will be the ones that are absorbed a bit faster and are easily digestible. Look for things like:

  • Oatmeal
  • Rice cakes
  • White rice
  • Chocolate milk
  • Regular and sweet potatoes
  • Fruit
  • Quinoa

What Not to Eat After a Workout

Since you have depleted your body from exercise, you want to restore as many nutrients as possible. Not only will this help nourish the body but, it’s clearly needed for improvements to fitness and physique. Consuming nutritionally devoid foods will not help to accomplish this.

Manufactured, processed, and junk foods are the ones that are devoid of nutrients. They are full of artificial ingredients, additives, and chemicals and will not help to replenish the body. They are also full of calories that are more likely to end up stored as body fat. They will also not fill you up because your body will still be requiring the nutrients that it deserves.

You will continue to be hungry for those nutrients your body craves and it will result in overeating. This is the opposite effect you want to have, especially after exercising in the hopes of getting fitter, leaner, and stronger.

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What to Drink After a Workout

Water is always going to be your best bet before, during, and after working out. Sports drinks are often consumed, but if the workout hasn’t been that intense, you are probably taking in more calories than needed – and often more than you burned.

Sports drinks can have a place, especially if it’s intensely vigorous exercise outside in the heat. This type of training can cause your body to lose a lot of water along with electrolytes through sweat. A sports drink is the easiest way to replenish all of this in those conditions.

However, water will still be a sufficient choice. Water does a lot of things besides keeping you hydrated, such as:

  • Regulating body temperature
  • Transport of nutrients
  • Circulation
  • Digestion and absorption
  • Cognitive functions

Water also helps with performance and recovery. If you are playing a competitive sport, and allow yourself to become dehydrated, this can affect your decision making and thought process. This is when you start to make plays and decisions you normally wouldn’t. This is why you want to make sure to drink through your exercise consuming 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes.

After your workout, you want to consume at least 8 ounces of water. When drinking water in relation to exercise, you don’t want to chug it but sip it.

Drinking water too fast can lead to cramping. You want to think of it the same way you would water a plant. When you water a plant you sprinkle on the water. If you dump it all on it just floods and pools and this is a similar impact that happens in your body.

Another tip is to drink water that is room temperature, so it’s not a shock to the body – like ice water is – when consumed.

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How Long Should I Wait to Eat After a Workout to Lose Weight?

Even if weight loss is your goal, you still need to replenish your body with carbs and protein. These are both important in the healing and recovery process, and will also prepare your body for its next workout. However, you may be able to wait a bit longer to consume them.

If you’ve been doing any form of cardio, fasted cardio, or high-intensity interval training, your body gets to a state where it’s still able to burn calories and body fat after the workout is done. The act of burning fat is called lipolysis and you want to ride this wave after your workout.[4] If you eat immediately following training, you can interrupt this process. But you also do n’t want to wait too long as your body still requires nutrition.

Waiting the same amount of time –30 to 60 minutes after a workout to eat – will allow your body to get the most fat-burning benefits from the workout. It’s also important not to go more than 2 hours after a workout without eating as you’ll start to undo the progress you made from the workout.

Final Thoughts

Exercise and nutrition need to go hand-in-hand if you’re looking for results. Whether it’s muscle gain, fat loss, improved fitness, or all of these things, it’s vitally important to pay attention to what you eat after a workout.

A priority needs to be made on protein and carbohydrates and the timing of these things will help determine your success. Avoiding the things that will set you back in your progress is also critical. Consistency and discipline with training and nutrition will be the magical combination to get the most out of your workouts.

More About Workout Exercise

Featured photo credit: Ryan Pouncy via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Adnan Munye

Personal Trainer and Fitness Expert

15 Fitness Goals That Will Help You Live a Healthier Life This Year 13 Most Common Muscle Building Mistakes to Avoid How to Lose Water Weight Fast And Naturally When Is the Best Time to Work Out? (Science-Backed Answer) What to Eat After a Workout (Revealed by Professional Trainer)

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Published on August 24, 2021

What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

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What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

I’ve been a dietitian now for a long time (more years than I care to mention), and if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that fad diets are best avoided. This is why I’m so pleased that whole food diets are being talked about more and more.

Rather than a “diet,” I prefer to think of a whole food diet as a way of life. Eating this way is balanced, and it is a great way to support your all-around body health and longevity. Plus, it’s delicious and—in my opinion—not limiting either, which is a massive bonus.

A well-balanced diet follows some fairly basic principles and, in essence, consists of plenty of the following:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Lean protein
  • Nuts
  • Water

This is essentially all a whole food diet is. Unfortunately, there isn’t an accepted definition of the whole food diet, which means that there are some highly restrictive versions around and some involve principles to frame your diet around rather than strict rules.

Read on to learn more about the whole food diet as a framework for eating rather than a strict rule book of dos and don’ts that restricts your lifestyle.

What Is a Whole Food Diet?

By definition, a whole food diet consists of eating foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. It’s easy to get lost in a quagmire of organic, local, or pesticide-free, but a whole food diet is basically food in its most natural form. Obviously, spices can be ground and grains can be hulled, but you get the idea. You eat the whole food rather than what’s left after being refined or processed.

In other words, it involves a lot of cooking because whole foods do not involve anything processed. That means no premade sauces, dips, or convenience foods like chocolate bars, sweets, or ready-meals. It also includes things like tinned vegetables and white bread.

Why? Processed and convenience foods are often high in salt, saturated fat, and additives in comparison to anything homemade. Because of this, their toll on your overall health is higher.

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Can Other Diets Also Be Whole Food Diets?

Here’s where it gets confusing—yes, other diets can also be whole food diets. Eating a whole food diet is a lifestyle choice, but many other diets can exist within a whole foods construct. So, diets like the MIND Diet and Mediterranean Diet are also whole food diets.

For example, here are the foods involved in the MIND Diet:[1]

  • Green, leafy vegetables five times a week
  • Five or more different colored fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Berries five times a week
  • Five or more servings of nuts a week
  • Olive oil five times a week
  • Whole grains five times a week
  • Oily fish twice a week or take an algae-based omega-3 supplement
  • Legumes and pulses five times a week
  • White meat/mix of plant-based proteins twice a week
  • Vitamin D supplement
  • Minimally processed foods
  • No more than one glass of wine a day
  • One or two coffee or tea a day max
  • Two liters of water a day

That’s pretty much a whole food diet, right? As long as any meat or plant-based proteins are as unprocessed as possible, then it can be a whole food diet.

Other diets, like a vegan diet, for instance, could be whole food diets or not. It really depends if processed foods are included. Some food substitutes are really heavily processed, so it’s important to read labels really carefully. But it’s only some, not all.

And here’s where it gets woolly. If you don’t need to eliminate certain food groups for whatever reason—ethical, health, religion—then a whole food diet can be great. But if you do exclude certain foods, then it could be beneficial to include certain “processed” foods. This is to make sure that you don’t miss out on vital nutrients to keep you healthy.

Processed Foods That Are Okay on a Whole Food Diet

Many brands of cereals are fortified with B vitamins, which can be hard to come by on a plant-based diet.

For example, vitamin B12 (needed for maintaining a healthy nervous system, energy, and mood-regulation), is largely found in animal sources. It is something that those on a plant-based diet need to keep an eye on, as studies show that around 20% of us are deficient. And we also know that 65% of vegans and vegetarians don’t take a B vitamin supplement.[2]

So in that case, choosing a cereal fortified with B vitamins would be a good option, if done wisely. By that I mean use your discretion and check the labels, as many brands of cereals are packed with sugar and additives. But you can strategically choose minimally processed foods using a whole foods mentality.

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As a rule of thumb, if there are any ingredients that you can’t pronounce, don’t understand, or sound artificial, they probably are best avoided.

Benefits of a Whole Food Diet

In a 2014 analysis by Yale University, they concluded that “a diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”[3]

A diet rich in fruit and vegetables or other high-fiber foods like whole grains and nuts is really important in maintaining good long-term health and preventing health problems like diabetes and cancers. These kinds of foods also help our bodies to cope and control the effects of inflammation.

In fact, one review from 2019 stated that “diets high in plant foods could potentially prevent several million premature deaths each year if adopted globally.”[4] This is a big endorsement for a whole food diet.

Whole Foods and the Gut

Whole foods are loaded with fibers that are sometimes lost during processing or refinement. Fiber is essential for a healthy gut because aside from its traditional “roughage” reputation, it also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut, providing a whole host of other benefits.

They also provide a lot of variety, which the gut loves. The more variety, the better. So, even though you might fall in love with certain recipes, it’s important to mix up the kinds of whole foods you eat to maintain a healthy gut. Aim for 30 different whole foods each week. It’s easier than you think!

Whole Foods and the Brain

The brain is a really hungry organ, and it uses 25% of the total energy you consume from your food. Everything it needs to function at its best is—you guessed it—a whole, unprocessed food.

In fact, the best diet recommended for brain health is the MIND Diet. In one study, it was shown that people who follow the MIND diet closely had a 53% reduced rate of developing Alzheimer’s.[5]

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Some of the best whole foods for the brain are:[6]

  • Oily fish
  • Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Whole grains

Is It Easy to Follow a Whole Food Diet?

Once you’ve got your head around having “ingredients” rather than “ready-to-eat” things in your kitchen cupboards, it’s actually very easy. The only issue is the lifestyle and habit changes that come along with it.

It is very likely that for many people, following a totally, religiously whole food diet may be unattainable at least some of the time. For example, there are days where you don’t get time to make your lunch or if you want to enjoy social eating. Similarly, people who have young children or who are working more than one job are unlikely to be able to follow a whole food diet all of the time.

Sometimes, we put ourselves under pressure to be as perfect as we can with diets like this, which can lead to an eating disorder called Orthorexia, which is a preoccupation with healthy eating.

This means that following a whole food diet, in principle, can be healthy and accessible for some people but not for everyone. It also means that those with previous disordered eating, as always, need to avoid any form of dietary restriction or rules around their diet.

Is a Whole Food Diet Boring?

Absolutely not! The beauty of this way of eating is that there are barely any recipes that are off-limits. If you can make it yourself using natural ingredients, then it counts. So, dig out your recipe books and get familiar with your spice cupboard.

Here’s my advice if you’re just starting: stock up on coconut milk and canned tomatoes. You’ll use them all the time in sauces.

Best Hacks for Sticking With a Whole Food Diet

Here are some tips to help you stick with a whole food diet and develop this lifestyle.

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1. Practice Batch Cooking

Especially in the beginning, if you’ve been used to eating more convenience-based or packaged foods, you’re likely to feel like you spend the majority of your life in the kitchen. So, I’d suggest getting your cookbooks out and planning around five things to make per week. If you make double, or even triple portions depending on your household, you’ll have enough quantity to last several meals.

For example, his could be homemade granola. Make it once, and that’s breakfast sorted for a week. Whole food diet ingredients like oats, quinoa, buckwheat, nuts, and seeds are all delicious, and great nutritional resources to keep you feeling full until lunchtime.

I also love to make big stews, sauces, and curries that can happily be reheated and added throughout the course of a few days.

2. Make Your Own Convenience Foods

Sticking to a new way of eating can be really difficult, especially for your willpower. So, it’s very important to make it as easy as possible for yourself.

Pre-chop. Pre-chop. Pre-chop.

If you’ve got a container of carrot sticks on hand or can happily munch on a few pieces of melon from the fridge, use those—it’s almost easier than grabbing something from a package. This can extend to your other vegetables, too. If you get your veg delivered or buy it from a market, choose a few things to slice after you wash them. That way, if you need a speedy lunch or a lazy dinner, it’ll be ready in minutes.

Ready to Try a Whole Food Diet?

If you’re looking to maximize your overall health, well-being, and vitality, I’d absolutely suggest a whole food diet. But, as with everything, it’s important to do what works for you and your own lifestyle.

Featured photo credit: Louis Hansel – Restaurant Photographer via unsplash.com

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