Post-workout Nutrition: What Does the Science Say

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Post-workout Nutrition: What Does the Science Say

Post-workout nutrition is still raising discussions among scientists. There are different opinions on what it should look like and how important it really is for different types of athletes. Research results also differ, depending on its conduct and various factors. However, there are facts that everybody agrees on, so let’s take a closer look at this topic.

What post-workout nutrition really is?



The basic role of post-workout nutrition can be explained on three levels:

  • our bodies use nutrition in different ways, depending on the time and activity
  • it is very important what we consume before, during and after the workout
  • our body’s performance, composition and its ability to recover can be greatly influenced by what we eat after the workout.

There have been numerous studies whose focus was on different things regarding the complete process, including the composition of carbohydrates in drinks athletes consume after the training to specific amino acid combinations that are most effective. These studies have been determining strategies for the post-workout nutrition of athletes of all types.

In other words, what any athlete wants to achieve by proper post-workout nutrition is to:

  • increase the quality and size of their muscles
  • replenish the energy they lost
  • help the muscles recover from potential injuries.

The important things to bear in mind


Availability of raw materials

If we want our bodies to be able to use raw materials to rebuild our muscles, we need to have those materials available. In other words, the sole presence of those materials in our system could easily signal our bodies that it should rebuild the muscles. And how do we improve that availability? Well, there are two ways to do this:

  1. improving our blood circulation so that nutrients move through our bodies more quickly.
  2. providing more nutrients to the blood, including amino acids and glucose, allowing the protein synthesis to increase.

“The window of opportunity” phenomenon

This short period of time after the workout represents an opportunity for the muscles to receive the nutrients needed for their recovery, growth and strength building. It starts right after the workout is finished and doesn’t last for long – 2 hours at best.

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So, if you consume proper food within this period, you will get the important benefits. The effect won’t be the same if you intake the same quality of food a couple of hours after this window of opportunity – the storage of glycogen and protein synthesis will be significantly decreased. So, the moment you are done with the exercise, concentrate on consuming the right nutrients.

The right post-workout diet


So, in short, your post-workout diet should include:

  • proteins to help with the protein synthesis
  • carbohydrates which are helpful in replacing glycogen in the muscles, as well as in enhancing the role of insulin in transporting the nutrients.

You have two choices when it comes to taking in these nutrients. The first one is to eat a whole food meal that consists of these nutrients. However, there are certain problems that can occur. Namely, some people aren’t hungry after the exercise, while whole foods are digested really slowly, which isn’t always good because we want the nutrients to be absorbed quickly after the workout. And lastly, if your whole food meal has to be refrigerated, it won’t always be practical to eat it within the first 2 hours after the exercise.

The other way to take in the nutrients is to consume them in a liquid form, which contains carbohydrates that can be quickly digested, as well as proteins. The effects of this form of consumption include faster muscle recovery and fast absorption of the nutrients, while the body tolerates it more after the workout.

Of course, it goes without saying that the more intensive your workout is, the more your body will have to recover from it. It means that the dosage of the nutrients you intake will have to be higher than the average dosage and sometimes your body won’t be able to produce a sufficient amount of them. This is the case with glutamine, which is a non-essential amino acid, meaning our bodies can construct it from available compounds, but if your workouts are very intensive, you’ll need to add glutamine supplement to your post-workout shake or meal, which would help the muscles recover. Even though protein-rich diet can usually satisfy your body need for glutamine, it doesn’t mean it will always be the case and that you should disregard taking it in the form of a supplement.


In general, it would be wise to consider using different protein supplements, as most studies show that they improve the overall performance and feed our cells and muscles better than regular food, as they are goal-specific. The only thing to bear in mind is never to consume more than 20g at once.

To conclude


Maybe the details differ, but the fact is the post-workout nutrition really makes a big difference when it comes to improved performance and muscle recovery in the long run. If we push our bodies to the limits, it’s only fair we give them something in return.

Catherine Palmer

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