Foods to eat after a strength workoutAre you aiming to gain muscle, boost strength, and improve your balance and stability? That’s great to hear! Strength training has been shown to reduce your risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis.
In order to achieve your strength goals, regular training sessions are required. However, just turning up to the gym isn’t enough. Nutrition plays a vital role in translating your physical efforts into real results, particularly post workout.
Many people make the mistake of crash dieting, or cutting carbs, when trying to get ‘ripped’. This is a big mistake – you cannot build or repair muscle tissue with insufficient macronutrients – you’ll end up with a stress injury rather than a six-pack. It is also a mistake to use junk foods to meet your increased calorie needs – also known as ‘dirty bulking’. You may nullify many of the positive outcomes strength training can achieve.
It doesn’t matter if you lift heavy weights for low reps, or low weights for high reps - your post-workout nutrition targets remain the same. We’ve created a list of nutrients and foods to help you understand what’s required, and to create your own recovery plan.
High biological value (HBV) protein
Proteins provide the building blocks for new muscle tissue – necessary for repair and growth post workout. In particular, foods containing ‘high biological value’ (HBV) protein contain all essential amino acids, including leucine and isoleucine. These amino acids, in particular, play a special role in muscle recovery. By facilitating muscle repair, HBV protein can also prevent next-day soreness (or ‘DOMS’) and long-term strains, tears and injuries.
Studies show that the ideal total HBV protein target for men and women is between 20-30g, within 60 minutes post exercise (2). In addition, a regular intake of HBV protein throughout the day is also advised. This is because strength training will increase the rate at which your body uses protein over a 24-48 hour period, and unlike fats or carbohydrates, the body cannot ‘store’ excess protein for later use.
Food sources of HBV protein include animal meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, soy and protein powders. For vegans, you can combine wholegrains with legumes in order to mimic an ‘HBV’ protein. For example, baked beans on multigrain toast, or a freekeh and chickpea salad.
Low GI carbohydrates
One important aspect of strength training recovery is replenishing your glycogen stores. The best way to do this is with carbohydrates. If you skip carbohydrates in your post workout meal, you risk losing some of your protein intake to gluconeogenesis for glycogen storage. Gluconeogenesis from proteins is an inefficient process – and with much of your precious protein being ‘wasted’ in order to refuel, you may fall short of your muscle repair and growth goals. In turn, this can jeopardise your recovery and increase your risk of injury (1).
Experts recommend approximately 0.8g/kg body weight of carbohydrate within 60 minutes post workout, in order to properly replenish your glycogen stores (2). For example, if your current weight is 60kg, your carbohydrate goal would be 48g. Excellent sources include wholegrains, seeded bread and crackers, rolled oats and high fibre cereals, sweet potato and fruits.
If you’re concerned about gaining weight, just remember - post workout is the BEST time to consume carbohydrates. Your body is still in an ‘energy burning’ zone, and the carbs you consume are less likely to be stored as body fat (3).
In a busy, heated, indoor gym environment, sweating heavily can cause a loss of vital electrolytes - sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. These electrolytes assist in maintaining bodily-fluid balance, and with nerve and muscle function. A minor drop in electrolytes may result in fatigue, headaches, cramping and reduced performance (4), so replenishing them after a power and strength workout is paramount! Sources include fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Rapid bursts of energy output during strength training demand efficient oxygen transport throughout the body, for energy production. Oxygen transport pathways, including the synthesis of red blood cells, rely on B vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, B-6 and B-12. Studies have shown the exercise can cause B-vitamin stores to diminish, so regular replenishing is essential (5). You can find B vitamins in a wide variety of foods, including wholegrains, dairy, lean meats and, of course, Vegemite!
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA, DHA and ALA, are powerful anti-inflammatories. As well as reducing blood pressure and cholesterol, omega-3’s have been shown to reduce inflammation in muscle tissue post exercise, and delay/prevent muscle soreness and injury (6). Oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and ocean trout, are excellent sources of EPA and DHA, whilst linseeds/flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and soy products are excellent sources of ALA.
With these nutrients in mind, here are our top meal and snack ideas post workout:
Protein smoothie with 1 banana, 2tbs rolled oats, 1tbs chia seeds, 1 handful of greens, calcium enriched almond milk, and your chosen protein powder (make sure it contains all essential amino acids!)
Soy and linseed toast with two poached eggs, avocado and tomato, and a sprinkle of feta
Large wholegrain wrap with grilled chicken, hummus, and three veg salad
Quinoa and vegetable salad with 100g tuna and a handful of pumpkin seeds
Grilled salmon fillet with roasted sweet potato and steamed green vegetables
Vegan option: Tofu and vegetable stir fry with brown basmati rice
Vegan option: Wholemeal pasta with lentil ‘bolognese’ and nutritional yeast for parmesan
Snack pack of sliced apple, cheese cubes and walnuts
170g high-protein yoghurt with berries and 1tbs natural muesli
Smoked salmon with avocado on multigrain toast
Cottage cheese, tomato and Vegemite on wholegrain crackers
For vegans: A non-dairy latte and a homemade protein ball (made from vegan protein powder, nuts and dates)