The most important thing you can do after a workout is refuel*. From a physiological perspective, your body has just undergone a bout of physiological stress. After a weight-training session, your muscles are in a catabolic state, which means muscle protein breakdown is occurring. After a cardio or weight-training session your body also has depleted its glycogen stores, which are the body’s key source for energy during exercise.
*For more information on pre-workout fuel, check out The Two Most Important Things You Can Do Before A Workout.
By making an effort to refuel quickly after a workout, you can maximize your body’s ability to build lean muscle mass, prevent muscle breakdown and restore the cell’s energy reserves. The ideal timeframe for refueling is up to 30 minutes after a workout. These 30 minutes, sometimes referred to as the “anabolic window,” optimizes the body’s use of fuel. Although research has yet to narrow this time frame to an exact minute, it is best to think of your window as insurance. It’s easy to get distracted after a workout, but if you go hours without eating you miss out on the opportunity to prevent muscle breakdown and enhance muscle protein synthesis. Therefore, if you make it a priority to consume something within 30 minutes of completing your exercise session, you can avoid the risk of losing all of the benefits of your training session.
It takes some effort and planning to optimize your training through refueling, but it is well worth it. After all, refueling helps the body recover, which will make your subsequent workouts that much more effective. Recommendations for post workout consumption include a carbohydrate-to-protein ratio of 3:1 or 4:1. Essentially, to optimize protein synthesis and restore glycogen, these ratios appear to do the trick. To make your post-workout consumption practical, think about bringing your shake or food with you to the gym or wherever you are training. Whey protein is a great post-workout protein option, as it is rapidly digested and can get into your muscles cells quickly. By keeping it in your gym bag, you can be sure to optimize your training and avoid worrying about when you can get access to food.