Written by Guest Expert Robb Wolf, former research biochemist and 2X New York Times/WSJ Best Selling author of The Paleo Solution and Wired To Eat.
So, you just wrapped up a solid training session and are wondering what to eat to optimize your hard work.
What do you eat?
Well, it depends.
What is your primary goal? Fat loss? Muscle gain? Improving a specific physical attribute like endurance, strength or power?
Your primary goal should dictate not just a significant portion of how you compose your post-training meal (including timing), but it should inform your overall nutritional strategy.
Ok, so your primary goal is a biggie in this story, but perhaps the next most important feature is what you actually DID for training.
A blistering session of hard glycolytic intervals will likely need a very different post-training meal than a neurological-based strength session with low volume but high intensity (based on a percentage of repetition maximum).
Instead of tackling all this with iron-clad specifics (“eat exactly this”), let’s look at this more as the parameters that will influence what you eat after your workout.
I think the following is a solid way to think about post-training nutrition:
Regardless of your goals and training, orienting your meal towards ADEQUATE protein is going to be a win.
“Adequate protein” is arguably anything north of about 30g of dense protein that is rich in branched chain amino acids, particularly leucine. This appears to be a minimum threshold to hit if we are to produce anabolic signaling, nutrient partitioning and all the good things we associate with protein.
30g is by no means the top end here, but should rather be viewed as a minimum.
Total amount of carbs will be based on your training, goals and individual physiology. Some people do well on a high carb intake, others thrive on lower relative levels.
Higher intensity, glycolytic activities will produce a greater need for carb intake,, while more neuro-based strength work will likely require less.
Similar to carbs, fat intake will be highly dependent on your individual situation.
Some people do quite well on lower total fat intake while others are crushed by this type of plan. Ultra-endurance athletes appear to benefit (in general) from a fat-centric dietary approach (although targeted carbs are critical for most).
So, how do we take the above and put something together that looks like a post-training meal?!
- Make sure to hit that minimum of 30g dense protein.
- Be aware of the tradeoffs of fat and carbs as they relate to your needs, specific training etc.
Hard glycolytic sessions necessitate more carbs, a genetic predisposition towards carb intolerance may reduce carb need and/or efficacy. You likely have a sense of where you are in this story.
- The post training meal should constitute between 20-33% of your daily calories. If you eat 3 meals per day, that 33% level is likely good. If you eat more meals, you can certainly drop that down closer to the 20% amount.
I know this is a somewhat vague prescription, so how do we know if we are getting all this right?
- You should be making gains towards your primary goal.
- You should notice improvements in how you look, feel and perform
- Your average HRV score should increase and/or remain at a favorable level.
Based on these guidelines, we can tweak the timing, amounts and ratios of our post-training nutrition to optimize for our individual needs.