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Post-workout Nutrition

It never fails:  time is called, the WOD is over, athletes take a minute or two (or five!) to catch their breath and put away their equipment, then out come the shaker bottles filled with their recovery shake of choice.

Pat-Barber-500x500Many athletes at CrossFit DFW use some kind of shake and/or meal after the WOD to help their bodies recover from the work they just completed, and with good reason.  During the WOD, you are depleting energy stores in your tissues, as well as causing microscopic damage to your muscles and surrounding tissue.  This sounds bad, but it’s not……when your body repairs that damage post-WOD, the tissue becomes stronger, meaning that over time you’ll make gains in strength, speed, and/or endurance.  This result is why we workout, right?

One of the best ways to help your body along in this rebuilding process is to eat a post-WOD meal after the workout.  You’ll find some more specific reasons for post-workout nutrition in this (http://breakingmuscle.com/mobility-recovery/eating-to-recover-how-and-what-to-eat-post-workout) article.
Here are a few general guidelines for your post-workout nutrition:

  1. Have a mix of protein and carbohydrate.  While each athlete has a different genetic make-up and varying goals (fat-loss, muscle building, prep for a mulit-event competition, etc), a very general guideline is 30-60 grams of protein along with 50-100 grams of carbohydrate.  Again, this is VERY general, and you may need more or less of each nutrient.  Play around with these amounts, and see what works for you.  How do you know if it’s working?  If you are reaching your goals (weight, performance, etc), have a minimum of muscle soreness, and generally feel recovered and energetic most days.
  2. The jury is out on the inclusion of good quality fats (olives, nuts, avocado) in your post-workout meal.  Conventional wisdom says to leave them out as they slow digestion in general, and this is the time you want nutrients to get into your system quickly.  However, there are some people who advocate for them.  Unless you’ve got some advanced goals and/or are following a Zone diet, I would skip them.
  3. Eat this meal within 15-60 minutes after your workout.  Again, this is a general guideline.  Some athletes can stomach a meal or shake right after a workout, while others need more time to catch their breath before ingesting a meal.  Just keep in mind that the sooner, the better.  Once you leave the gym and get on with the rest of your day, the likelihood of getting that post-WOD meal in goes down as your to-do list, job, or other responsibilities take over.  Try to pack your meal in your gym bag so you have it right after the WOD, or in your car on the way home or to work.
  4. Make this meal as minimally processed and with as few ingredients as you can.  Your body has just done an amazing amount of downloadwork will find it difficult to digest highly processed food.  I prefer whole foods (usually deli turkey or hardboiled eggs, along with mashed sweet potato or butternut squash, or a banana), but there is a school of thought that liquid nutrition in the form of protein shakes are more easily digested and will hit your system more quickly.  If you choose a protein shake, read the label!  Really, read the label!  Egg white or whey protein are good options, with a minimum of sweeteners and/or flavors.  As with any processed food, the fewer ingredients, the better.  Also, look for a high-quality shake, meaning fewer fillers and mystery ingredients.  Yes, they can be more expensive, but if you ask your fellow athletes, many will tell you they recover better and faster when they are using a higher quality product versus the cheapest powder on the shelf.  If your protein shake of choice doesn’t contain enough carbohydrate (many don’t), then add in some starchy vegetables and/or fruit.

For more advanced information, check out the following sources.  You will find some varying opinions, but research to back up their points.  The goal is find what works for you.

Stupid Easy Paleo (http://stupideasypaleo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Stupid-Easy-Paleo-Post-Workout-Guide1.pdf)

Precision Nutrition (http://www.precisionnutrition.com/workout-nutrition-explained)

Robb Wolf, low-carb vs. high carb recovery (http://robbwolf.com/2009/07/01/post-workout-nutrition-high-or-low-carb/)

Robb Wolf, real food ideas (http://robbwolf.com/2009/07/01/post-workout-nutrition-high-or-low-carb/)

Danielle Lackey