One of the most common questions I get asked is what the best thing is to eat after a lift or practice.
I too have wondered the same thing. In fact, for a while, I tried to consume a 3:1 or 4:1 carb to protein ratio beverage after any workout.
And why not? There’s a ton of research and a few books on the idea of “nutrient timing” (eating around your workouts to maximize recovery, fat loss, muscle gain, etc.).
But a review published earlier this year in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition has me thinking it may be time to change things up.
About The Review
“The purpose of this paper will be twofold: 1) to review the existing literature on the effects of nutrient timing with respect to post-exercise muscular adaptations, and, 2) to draw relevant conclusions that allow practical, evidence-based nutritional recommendations to be made for maximizing the anabolic response to exercise.”
What The Review Found
“Despite claims that immediate post-exercise nutritional intake is essential to maximize hypertrophic gains, evidence-based support for such an “anabolic window of opportunity” is far from definitive. The hypothesis is based largely on the pre-supposition that training is carried out in a fasted state.”
Essentially what the researchers are saying is that in order to maximize muscle gains, having a meal/taking in calories immediately after your workout will produce the most desired results. However, these studies were primarily performed on individuals who lifted in a fasted state.
Additional Problems Identified With Nutrient Timing Research
1. No long-term studies have been performed which compare the effects of various pre/post-exercise meal/beverage consumption. Long-term studies that have been performed do not compare pre and post-exercise against each other.
2. The majority of long-term studies don’t match the total protein consumed to the compared conditions. Therefore, you can’t be sure if it’s the total amount of protein being consumed or the timing of it.
3. Protein dosages in nutrient-timing studies are typically 10-20 grams. More research is needed to measure the anabolic response from the ingestion of 20-40 gram dosages.
4. The majority of studies are performed on untrained individuals. Gains/improvements made by untrained (beginner) lifters are typically much more drastic than those made by experienced lifters.
5. The tools used to measure muscle gain in the studies were not as precise when compared to other means. Immeasurable (height, weight, skinfold and diameter measurements) differences may not mean a difference in performance for the layperson. However, for a higher level athlete, small improvements often mean the difference between winning and losing.
The researchers performing this review then go on to propose a very relevant question. They propose that if you’re not lifting in a fasted state, then the nutrition you take in before lifting has to have some impact on your performance and recovery.
In fact, 2 studies that were cited in this review concluded the following:
“…a relatively small dose of essential amino acids (6 grams) taken immediately pre-exercise was able to elevate blood and muscle amino acid levels by roughly 130%, and these levels remained elevated for 2 hours after the exercise.”
“…the ingestion of 20 grams of whey taken immediately pre-exercise elevated muscular uptake of amino acids to 4.4 times pre-exercise resting levels during exercise, and did not return to baseline levels until 3 hours post-exercise.”
Additional research reviewed that the levels of muscle protein synthesis after solid meals showed an elevation of between 3-5 hours.
This led the researchers to conclude if you’re lifting 4-6 hours after your last solid meal and don’t consume a protein-rich beverage before, then a post-workout meal/drink should be consumed.
Two other studies cited in the review showed that the addition of carbohydrate to protein beverages after resistance training workouts did not increase muscle protein balance.
These 2 studies led the researchers to conclude that meeting your daily carbohydrate needs are more important than if you’re ingesting them specifically around a workout. This is the same conclusion that I discuss in Wrestling Nutrition.
“Distilling the data into firm, specific recommendations is difficult due to the inconsistency of findings and scarcity of systematic investigations seeking to optimize pre and/or post- exercise protein dosage and timing.”
Despite this conclusion, the researchers do have some decent suggestions based on all of the studies (85) they reviewed:
1. Specifically, they suggest a pre and post-exercise beverage containing .4-.5 g/kg of lean body weight in high quality protein.
Don’t know what high quality protein is? Read this post.
Don’t know what your lean body weight is?
Just shoot for between 20-40 grams per beverage. The research they reviewed suggests lower amounts for younger people and upwards to 40 grams for an older population. Nothing was mentioned about the bodyweights of the individuals of this study.
2. Pre and post-exercise beverages should not be separated by more than 3-4 hours assuming the lifting lasts between 45-90 minutes. If you’re eating meals, this may be increased to 5-6 hours.
3. Keep in mind these recommendations are for lifting. “Carbohydrate availability during and after exercise is of greater concern for endurance as opposed to strength or hypertophy goals.”
If you’re looking for what to consume after practice, I’d go with a 3:1 or 4:1 carb to protein ratio beverage. 16 or so ounces of chocolate milk is a great, convenient option.
I can imagine that sometimes when I review a study things can get confusing. I try to be as concise about it as possible. However, I also try to highlight some of the most important points that will best be applied to your training.
Here are my recommendations for pre and post-workout nutrition. These are based on the research review as well as the suggestions presented in Nutrient Timing.
1. Pre-workout beverage/meal- within 1.5 hours of starting workout. It should contain 20-40 grams timed released/slower digesting protein.
2. Post-workout beverage- within 45 minutes of finishing workout. It should contain 20-40 grams of fast acting protein (whey). Feel free to add 20-40 grams of fast acting carbohydrate to the equation just to be safe. A simple way to do this would be to add some whey (until you get to 20-40 grams including the protein from the milk) to 12 oz of chocolate milk. 12 oz of chocolate milk provides, on average, 35 grams of fast digesting carbs.
**Additionally, I would say a meal or beverage is fine pre-workout. However, for the sake of faster digestion, absorption, and utilization, go with a beverage post-workout.
Listen, my goal here isn’t to make it sound like protein supplementation is an absolute must. Drinking a fancy blend of specific protein is not going to get you the strength, power, and/or body you want in 4 weeks.
You know as well as I do that putting on size and/or strength takes hard work, dedication, and regimented eating. It’s definitely not some secret post-workout shake or pill.
But, if you are already busting your ass in the gym (following programs like these) and you want to ensure you’re getting the most out of it, then consider implementing the suggestions above. How can you go wrong with putting a couple decades worth of hard research to use?
Aragon, A., B. Schoenfeld. Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 10:5. 2013.
Great stuff like always. Just a couple of things
To clear things up, it says Specifically, “they suggest a pre and post-exercise beverage containing .4-.5 g/kg of lean body weight in high quality protein”…soo for example I weigh 142 so I need around 55g of protein before AND after my workout?? Sounds weird considering for my weight and strength training/size building workout I calculate to need 116g based on .8g per body weight.
What do you consider is a “slower dugesting protein”, would that incude animal meats such as fish, chicken, or turkey; or like plant based proteins like beans, legumes, etc.
Hey Oliver, thanks for the feedback and for another great comment.
After you brought it up, I double checked the research paper and I did copy that formula correctly. Are you converting your 142lbs to kgs before doing the .4-.5g/kg formula? Even assuming you have no fat at 142, when I calculate it using .5g/kg I get about 32 grams for your pre and post-workout meals. Additionally, without a DEXA scan, I think it’s pretty difficult to accurately measure your lean body weight (primarily due to the visceral fat that cannot be measured via a skinfold test).
I would assume, because of the fat content in beef as opposed to chicken or turkey that that would make it a slower digesting protein. Althoug I’m not sure about the rates of digestion with solid animal proteins, I think it’s safe to assume that they would digest slower (based on the evidence presented that I summarize above- Additional research reviewed on the levels of muscle protein synthesis after solid meals which showed an elevation of between 3-5 hours).
Additionally, the fiber in any kind of plant based protein would probably do the same as far as slowing digestion; I’m assuming. However, one thing to keep in mind is how much the protein is digested and utilized in your body. Here’s a link to a wikipedia page that details the percentage of a few protein sources that are actually used in your body. As far as protein powders go- casein digests slowly, whey digests a lot faster.
Anyway, hope this is helpful. Thanks again for the questions and talk to you soon man.
Fat content would slow it down a bit, also the fiber would too.
Your right I did not convert my weight to kg.
But for strength training athletes I hear recommendations of .7g to .9g for fueling muscle recovery and building muscle(Nancy Clark, RD, CSSD, Sports Nutrition),and (Lee Kemp).
Have you checked out Lee Kemps website and recent posting on protein intake for strength training athletes?
According to to Kemp’s research he recommends .77 for strength training athletes and to take no more than .9g.
What are your thoughts on this?
Hey man, thanks for the link to Kemp’s latest post; I thought it was a good read. You’re right, in it he cites research that suggests highly trained athletes thrive (not quite sure how it was determined that they were thriving at this level, or what their training regimen was like; I’d like to see the research, but it’s not cited…I’ll do some digging) at .77 grams/pound of bodyweight.
I think this is a fine recommendation and fits in the range of most other recommendations I’ve read by Clark (who I also had the pleasure of seeing present and meet at the 2011 Boston Marathon), Kleiner (Power Eating), and Ivy and Portman (Nutrient Timing) and still works in with the .4-.5 grams/kg of lean bodyweight strength training refueling recommendations made by the two researchers in the meta-analysis above.
Obviously adjustments need to be made for someone like an Olympic lifter training twice a day, but for a wrestler who’s lifting 3-4 times a week in addition to practicing, I think the ranges you mention above and Kemps citation all seem to be feasible; especially when the nutritional requirements after a practice or cardio focused workout change the scope of the .4-.5 grams/kg LBM recommendations to a 3:1 or 4:1 carb to protein ratio (with the protein being about 13-15 grams for an athlete under 170 and 20-23 grams for one over during the “Anabolic Phase” as suggested by Ivy/Portman).
In a nutshell, I think those are fine recommendations to follow. But do I think they need to be super precise and followed strictly? Not necessarily. Everything above and in the comments you and I have exchanged are good guidelines and are definitely worth striving towards, but, as you know, it’s not like your body is going to refuse to recover because you did not follow XYZ recommendation perfectly within the given amount of time following a workout.
…so I guess those are my thoughts. What do you think? Do you follow a regimented protein intake and what has your experience been with it?
I am a little confused, if I need 32g of protein before AND after a workout/practice then what is my total protein requirement?
I am attempting to follow one now, just need to get specifics down. Over the past 3-4 months of lifting using some of your workout plans and recommendations that I gained a solid 3 or 4 pounds of muscle, but when i began to cut weight for vegas two weeks ago i began by cutting down on my caloric intake by around 500 calories. I was able to lose weight rather easily by proper nutrition and increasing my running/decreasing my lifting. I did cut weight the correct way but it just seemed to me that I lost that muscle that I had supposedly gained.
On the plus side tho I did feel much stronger even if i did seem undersized for 60kg.
This time around I beleive i need to follow a stricter protein intake regime by consuming X# of proteins before my workouts not just after. And to increase my caloric intake by 500 calories a day.
Got ya, alright this is what I would do:
Based on the .4-.5 grams/kg of lean body weight recommendation above I’d figure out what you’d need before and after a workout. Here’s a formula I found for calculating lean body weight- Lean Body Weight = Body Weight – (Body Weight x Body Fat %). Do you have a way to at least get an estimate on your body fat %? The 32g suggestion I made in the previous comment was assuming you were fat free at 142; so that’s not actually the number you want to shoot for, I was just using it as an example to show why you may have missed the mark with your original thought that 55g before and after were needed (because you forgot to convert your weight to kilograms).
After that, assume after each cardio focused and/or wrestling workout you’ll be ingesting about 50 grams of fast acting carbs in addition to 13-15 grams of whey protein (as suggested by Ivy and Portman of Nutrient Timing).
Finally, feel free to use the research Kemp references in his post of the .77 grams/pounds of bodyweight to determine a total number to shoot for each day (if you’re using this formula 110 grams/day). If you’re looking to put on some muscle, I’d suggest increasing this though to at least a gram/pound of bodyweight. What’s my reasoning behind this? Pretty much every large and strong strength athlete in the world makes this recommendation.
Use these numbers in conjunction with your workout schedule to plan meals and build your plan.
You have a lift and wrestling practice scheduled. So you know the lift you’ll need somewhere around 25 grams before and after and 15 grams after the wrestling practice. That’s 65 grams of the X amount you choose for your daily intake. From there just plan the rest of your meals to contain the remainder you need to meet your daily intake goal.
When are you competing next? If it’s not for a while, consider switching to the 4x/wk program I made available with the “Pay with a Tweet” program I used. I’m sending the next one out in about a week. That more closely resembles the total volume I have a few D1 guys I work with using right now who are moving up in weight next year and have consistently been putting on 1-2 pounds/week for the last 5 weeks. It’s a stupid amount of volume, but it’s getting the job done consistently thus far.
One other thing to consider the next time you start to lean out for a competition is supplementing with Beta-alanine. If you haven’t yet, check out the post I wrote about it- https://www.wrestler-power.com/how-to-maintain-muscle-when-making-weight/
Hope this is a bit more helpful. Talk to you soon, Oliver.
I’m wrestling in the northeastern regionals this sanday, so I’ll take a day or two off and start a new lifting program the following week(the one you recently sent out, 4xday).
So just to clear things up I multiple my weight(142) by 1g of protein to get my total protein intake for one day. Do I need to change pounds to kg for this?
So 142g of protein daily with around 25g before and after a lift, and around 15g after cardio or wrestling practices with 5 around 50g of carbs as well.
I have an athletic trainer in my college that (if I’m nice to her) will do a fat body % for me. But I’m still a little confused about the lean body mass thing.
With the lean body weight formula, that is to determine the amount of protein I need pre and post lifting workouts?
And I’ll try for the beta alanine, gotta try different things and see what works best right.
And thank you this is all very helpful, and continues to build upon my knowledge of sports nutrition, which is what I want to do with my eventual MS in Nutrition
Good luck at the NE regionals today man; let me know how you do. Where are they held now? For basically every year but my 9th grade year they were held at SUNY Brockport.
Yeah, I would say a good total number to shoot for is 110-142 (which is between .77 grams/pound and 1 gram/pound of body weight).
The body fat percentage is used in this formula:
Lean Body Weight = Body Weight – (Body Weight x Body Fat %)
So, for example, let’s assume you’re at 8% body fat:
Your lean body weight = 142 – (142 x 8%)
Because the pre and post-workout recommendations are in kilograms you’ll need to convert the number you get after that. That will give you you’re lean body weight which you then take .4-.5 of to give you an idea of the grams in protein to consume before and after a lift (according to the suggestion above).
So, staying with the 8% above:
Bodyweight in Kg = 131/2.2
Pre/Post-workout protein = .4 x 59
= 23-24 grams of protein before and after
It gets a little confusing because the total protein/day recommendation is based on pounds while the pre and post-workout recommendations are based on kilograms.
Does this make more sense?
Makes complete sense thank you.
I lost a best 2 out of 3 for a qualifying spot in the world team trials. It was in East Strasburg PA
Great to hear that everything makes sense. Sorry to hear about the loss in the finals, but congrats on being right there. You sir, are the real deal, and fortunately you’re still young.