THE 30-MINUTE WINDOW
Post-Workout Meal Myths Part II
Welcome back! We already know that it might be okay to wait an hour or two, or even three to eat after finishing at the gym. Today I’m going to tell you why it’s okay to eat pasta if you think protein shakes taste like chalk, or in other words what can constitute a 100%-effective and healthy post-workout (PWO) meal, whenever you should choose to consume it.
WHAT IS A POST-WORKOUT MEAL?
While the science of the post-workout window (see pt. I) is legitimate, as with all things the post-workout meal concept has been picked up by many companies who would like you to believe that the only viable post-workout meal to optimize your results is their 11 000 calorie sugar bomb powder. This is myth number two – you can and should slam down unhealthy processed sugars. Your muscle cells are primed to uptake glucose more efficiently than normal, but human bodies are never primed to efficiently process 150 grams of pure sugar. Besides, if our goal is for overall health, well-being, and balance, then those carbs should come from natural, unprocessed sources that don’t throw our bodies out of the harmony for which we work so hard through the rest of the day to maintain. The carbs definitely can come from sugars to some extent, such as fruits or small amounts of natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup. The majority should come from complex carbohydrates (starches like pasta, rice, potatoes) that will breakdown rapidly enough into glucose to make it into those primed muscle cells before the window shuts, without shocking your homeostasis with excessive insulin spikes.
Note: this is one time where it is OK to choose white rice and pastas over their wholegrain counterparts, if we are mostly concerned with the speed of absorption (see next section!)
The next ingredient is protein, or more specifically amino acids. Amino acids also enter muscle cells wherein they act as building blocks of the protein that makes up our muscles. Insulin and glucose assist in the absorption of amino acids, and thus including some in our post-workout meal is a great idea. Again, proteins that break down somewhat more rapidly into amino acids will make it into our muscle cells more quickly. This is where the science has been stretched yet again; from milk to whey protein to hydrolysed (pre-broken down) whey protein, there seems to be no limit to how much money we can spend on an ever-faster-absorbing protein source. Sticking with our philosophy of overall health, I suggest completely normal proteins that satisfy both our budgets and our nutrition requirements: whey protein powders, vegan protein powders (pea, brown rice, hemp), milk or yogurt, legumes (peanuts, peas, beans), or lean meats. Herein I have busted myth number three: expensive protein powders are the only option.
For those of you in the know about nutrition, you know that we have one more macronutrient to talk about – fats. In the post-workout mythology, fats are the extreme enemy; slow-digesting fats will ruin your post-workout meal and all the benefits of consuming it with one hand while steering the car home with the other (myth four!). Skipping over the minute details, fats are a completely normal, healthy, and in fact necessary part of our diet. It is true that if we are looking for benefits of post-workout nutrition, that we don’t want a fat-dominant meal. However, some healthy fats will help with digestion of fat-soluble vitamins, and avoiding them like the plague is going to be much more effort than it’s worth. Some examples of fats that could be included are a dash of olive oil in pasta, part of an avocado, a few nuts, or some oily fish.
As a bonus, we will continue with component D in our part III – supplements, wherein I discuss which supplements should be included in the post-workout meal and which ones should be explicitly avoided (spoiler: you might find it surprising!)
POST WORKOUT MEAL SUGGESTIONS
To tie everything together, here are a few suggestions for post-workout meals to optimize the physiological benefits of training and maximize your recovery, while keeping overall health and well-being (and relaxation!) as top priorities. The basic formula is carbohydrate-dominant, accompanied by protein, and sprinkled with a bit of fat – use your imagination and follow your tastebuds!
- Oats with peanut butter, banana, cinnamon and (coconut/almond/hemp/oat/cow/sheep/goat) milk
- Pasta with tomato sauce, olive oil, and (a bit of) cheese
- Multigrain toast with (peanut/almond/etc.) butter
- Granola with yogurt, berries, and (hemp/chia/sunflower/pumpkin) seeds
- Rice and beans with vegetables and soy sauce
- Peanut butter, banana, and protein (whey/hemp/pea/brown rice/etc.) shake
- Stir-fry with rice or noodles, tofu, and vegetables
We would love to hear about your favourite postworkout-meal(s) in the comments below!
Peter is a travelling fitness junkie, always on the search for new opportunities, places, and optimal physical and mental health. He has an academic background in chemistry and environmental science, and a passion for music, creating, and exploring!