What is post-workout nutrition?

Post-workout nutrition is an intriguing topic and rightfully so. The basic idea is that the body deals with nutrients differently at different times, depending on activity. What you consume before, during, and especially after your workout is important. By consuming particular nutrients after your workouts, you improve your body composition, performance, and overall recovery.

Generally, post-workout nutrition has three specific purposes:

  1. Replenish glycogen
  2. Decrease protein breakdown
  3. Increase protein synthesis

In other words, athletes/exercisers want to:

replenish their energy stores, increase muscle size and/or muscle qualityrepair any damage caused by the workout which in doing so, they want to increase performance, improve their appearance, and enable their bodies to remain injury-free. These benefits will work for everyone, regardless of gender or age.

Why are workout and post-workout nutrition so important?

When we work out intensely, we damage tissues at the microlevel, and we use fuel. This is what ultimately makes us stronger, leaner, fitter, and more muscular, but in the short term it requires repair.

Repair and rebuilding occurs through the breakdown of old, damaged proteins (aka protein breakdown) and the construction of new ones (aka protein synthesis) — a process known collectively as protein turnover.

Muscle protein synthesis is increased slightly (or unchanged) after resistance workouts, while protein breakdown increases dramatically. We’re doing a lot more breaking-down than building-up.

The relationship between these two parameters (rate of muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein breakdown) represents the metabolic basis for muscle growth.

Muscle hypertrophy occurs when a positive protein balance can be established during recovery — in other words, when we make sure we have enough raw materials available for protein synthesis to occur, so that it doesn’t lag behind protein breakdown. This can be especially difficult with endurance athletes as protein synthesis drops and protein breakdown goes up.

Protein breakdown and synthesis

Studies show that this trend can be reversed – specifically, protein synthesis is stimulated and protein breakdown is suppressed when you consume the right type of nutrients after exercise. Protein is not the only concern, however. During exercise sessions, stored carbohydrates can be substantially depleted. Therefore during the post workout period, we require protein and carbohydrates.

The raw materials we give our body through the consumption of food/supplements in the workout and post-workout periods are critical to creating the metabolic environment we require.

In other words, in order for our bodies to use raw materials to rebuild and recover, those raw materials have to be available. And if they’re available, then our body is more likely to use them. Simply having the materials around can signal to our body that it’s time to rebuild.

We improve availability in two ways.

Increased blood flow to skeletal muscle during and after exercise means that more nutrients are floating around more quickly. Providing an amino acid and glucose dense blood supply during and after exercise means that the rate of protein synthesis goes up. Which leads to an improved availability by having more blood circulating more rapidly, and by having more nutrients in that blood.


Some refer to this workout and post-workout phenomenon as “the window of opportunity”.

During this window, your muscles are primed to accept nutrients that can stimulate muscle repair, muscle growth, and muscle strength.

This window opens immediately after your workout and starts to close pretty quickly. Research suggests that while protein synthesis persists for at least 48 hours after exercise, it’s most important to get postworkout nutrition immediately, and within 2 hours afterwards.

If you feed your body properly while this window is open, you’ll get the benefits.

If you don’t provide adequate post exercise nutrition fast enough — even if you delay by only a couple of hours — you decrease muscle glycogen storage and protein synthesis.

As soon as you drop that last dumbbell, you should be consuming some postworkout nutrition.


As we’ve mentioned, post-workout nutrition requires two things:

Protein to aid in protein synthesis and Carbohydrates to help replace muscle glycogen (and to enhance the role of insulin in transporting nutrients into cells)

You could certainly eat a whole food meal that meets these requirements after exercise. However, whole food meals aren’t always practical as some people aren’t hungry immediately after exercise. Whole food also digests slowly, and we want nutrients to be available quickly. A whole food meal that requires refrigeration might be less practical.

On the other hand, consuming a liquid form of nutrition that contains rapidly digesting carbohydrates e.g., maltodextrin, dextrose, glucose, etc and proteins e.g, protein hydrolysates or isolates might accelerate recovery by utilizing insulin for nutrient transport into cells;can result in rapid digestion and absorption; and is most certainly better tolerated during and after workouts.



Save your workout drink for weight training, interval, and endurance training lasting 45 ìminutes or longer.

Casual exercise like walking the dog, carrying your wifes shopping bags…Doesnt require immediate nutrition.

When performing energy expenditure work to burn energy or lose fat, a recovery drink is not necessary. If you’re prioritizing fat loss, performance and recovery from these sessions are not as important as creating an energy deficit.

Still, if overall energy intake is low from food intake, and lots of time is being spent performing energy expenditure work, consuming a branched chain amino acid (BCAA) supplement might be helpful.

Summary and recommendations

With intense workouts/training, start by ingesting 50 grams of carbohydrate and 30grams of protein (in 500 ml water) per hour of workout time.

You can sip this during the workout or consume it immediately after.

You can either make your own post-workout drink or find a pre-formulated drink that contains rapidly digesting carbohydrates (e.g., maltodextrin, dextrose, glucose, etc) and proteins (e.g., protein hydrolysates or isolates).

Once your workout is complete, have a whole food meal within an hour or two.

By: Phil Downing

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