Eating After a Workout
Does it matter WHEN you eat after exercise?
What you eat every day can dramatically change your physical appearance. However, WHEN you eat something can also make a difference.
For years the “accepted wisdom” was that after you finish a workout, there’s a 1-2 hour window that’s critical for you to refuel—a mixture of carbs to replenish your depleted glycogen and protein to rebuild torn muscles. Eat the right things at the right time, and you’ll maximize muscle growth and gains.
It’s not that simple, and it’s taken more than 20 years and several studies to figure it out.
In 2001 a study was published in the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism. Researchers gave their subjects a supplement with 10 grams of protein, 8 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of fat. It was given either EARLY (immediately after a workout) or LATE (three hours later.)
The people given a supplement immediately after exercise saw “Leg glucose uptake and whole-body glucose utilization... stimulated 300%” versus only 44% for the late group. After a workout, the conclusion was that there’s a critical window that you need to eat protein and carbs for maximum muscle growth.
That study and many others used small groups of younger men in relatively good shape. They were also focused on differences between taking in protein immediately after a workout or waiting 1-3 hours. Something surprising happened when researchers expanded their testing window.
In one experiment, whey protein was given to one group of men just BEFORE a workout. The same amount of whey protein was given to a different group of men immediately AFTER a workout. This experiment was conducted over eight weeks. Then researchers measured to see if there was a difference in the body composition or strength between the two groups of men.
There were no differences between the two groups. The timing wasn’t important, as long as your “daily protein intake was adequate.” You can theoretically eat anytime within a 5-6 hour window BEFORE or AFTER the workout.
There’s just one small problem with eating before a workout. If you overeat or do it too close to when you start, it can trigger nausea. The more intense your workout, the greater your chances of feeling sick. You can minimize your chances of nausea if you wait at least 1-2 hours after a meal before you workout.
Let’s you’re waiting to work out at least 2 hours after a meal, and your workout lasts an hour, which means you haven’t had any protein or carbs for at least 3-4 hours. When you finish exercising, you’re going to be tired. Eating within an hour after might not be required to maximize muscle growth, but it will give you the energy to finish up your day.
Protein Requirements Increase With Age
There’s one more issue. As we age, the amount of protein we eat is especially critical. Two studies show surprising differences in the amounts needed for younger versus older people. Researchers concluded that younger people need less.
The first study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in January of 2009. Six healthy young men went to a lab on five separate occasions. They performed an “intense bout of leg-based resistance exercise. After exercise, participants consumed, in a randomized order, drinks containing 0, 5, 10, 20, or 40 g whole egg protein.”
One of the things researchers were measuring was protein synthesis. At the end of the study, 20 grams of protein after the workout was enough to “maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis.”
In 2012, the British Journal of Nutrition published a study that looked at many of the same things, but they did it with 37 men who were all around the age of 71. Using the same type of test, the men “completed a bout of unilateral leg-based resistance exercise before ingesting 0, 10, 20 or 40 g of whey protein isolate.” Afterward, muscle biopsies were performed.
Researchers found if you’re at rest, 20 grams of protein is sufficient to “increase myofibrillar muscle protein synthesis above fasting rates.” But taking in 40 grams of protein increased muscle protein synthesis “to a greater extent.” The conclusion was that “in contrast to younger adults, in whom post-exercise rates of MPS are saturated with 20 g of protein, exercised muscles of older adults respond to higher protein doses.”
So if you’re younger, taking in 20 grams of protein after a workout may be enough, but if you’re older, you may need up to 40 grams of protein, before or after a workout for optimum muscle protein synthesis.
It’s unlikely you’ll be eating a meal with 40 grams of protein in it before your workout. So supplementing that with a post-exercise shake can help bring you to your daily required amount.
Postexercise nutrient intake timing in humans is critical to recovery of leg glucose and protein homeostasis
D K Levenhagen 1, J D Gresham, M G Carlson, D J Maron, M J Borel, P J Flakoll
American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2001 Jun;280(6):E982-93. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.2001.280.6.E982
Postexercise muscle glycogen recovery enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement
John M Berardi, Thomas B Price, Eric E Noreen, Peter W R Lemon
Medicine in Science and Sports Exercise, 2006 Jun;38(6):1106-13. doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000222826.49358.f3.
Nutrient Timing: The Means to Improved Exercise Performance, Recovery, and Training Adaptation
John L. Ivy, PhD, Lisa M. Ferguson-Stegall, PhD
American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, First Published October 7, 2013
Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men
Daniel R Moore 1, Meghann J Robinson, Jessica L Fry, Jason E Tang, Elisa I Glover, Sarah B Wilkinson, Todd Prior, Mark A Tarnopolsky, Stuart M Phillips
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009 Jan;89(1):161-8. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26401. Epub 2008 Dec 3.
Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation
Eric R Helms,corresponding author Alan A Aragon, and Peter J Fitschen
Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Published online 2014 May 12. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-11-20
Exercise-induced nausea is exaggerated by eating
T Kondo, Y Nakae, T Mitsui, M Kagaya, Y Matsutani, H Horibe, N W Read
Appetite, 2001 Apr;36(2):119-25. doi: 10.1006/appe.2000.0391.
Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?
Alan Albert Aragon and Brad Jon Schoenfeld
Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Published online 2013 Jan 29. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-10-5
Pre- versus post-exercise protein intake has similar effects on muscular adaptations
Brad Jon Schoenfeld,corresponding author Alan Aragon, Colin Wilborn, Stacie L. Urbina, Sara E. Hayward, and James Krieger Academic Editor: Justin Keogh
Peer Life & Environment, Published online 2017 Jan 3. doi: 10.7717/peerj.2825
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