The Post-Workout Meal, Redefined
Like some of you, I’ve been intently following the #pfx12 Twitter thread and the various discussions going on at the 2012 PaleoFX Conference, featuring dignitaries like Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf, and Chris Kresser. One of the topics that sparked my interest was the idea of what to eat after a workout, especially if you have some hard-earned strength and muscle mass like yours truly.
Background: you work out. You might deplete some muscle glycogen. Cortisol (which decreases muscle mass and increases fat) increases the longer you exercise. This may be neglible if the workout is under 60 minutes. Growth hormone (which increases muscle mass and decreases fat) goes up the longer you wait to eat after a workout. Testosterone (which does the same, essentially, as GH) peaks about an hour after you start lifting. Glycogen draws water into the muscles and makes them larger, but may not do a whole lot for strength overall. Those are the facts, more or less.
Options: There are three directions to go in regarding post-workout meals, and each of them has their place in certain situations. They have their positives and their negatives, and it all depends on your goal. I’ve scoured a handful of website to put together this “meta-analysis”:
|Feeding||High-to-moderate carb (>50g) plus whey protein (25-50g)||Zero-to-low carb (<5g) plus whey protein (50g), a bit of fat (5g)||Nothing (for about an hour)|
|Encouraged by:||Most people||Charles Poliquin, Robb Wolf||Mark Sisson, Richard Nikoley|
|Cortisol||down||a bit up||way up|
|Insulin||way up||stays low||stays low|
|Fat burning||suppressed||up||way up, if done right|
|Conditioning||improved, if not too much weight gain||same-to-decreased||same(?)-to-decreased|
|Best for||Bulking up; long conditioning and cardio work like jujitsu practice||Maintaining muscle mass/strength while losing fat.||Fast fat loss, if done right. Short workouts.|
|Worst for||Leaning out.||CF games conditioning.||Highly-stressed and already-lean people; CF games conditioning.|
(I like when my food tells me I’m pretty.)
The post-workout whey protein shake seems like an ideal compromise for people who aren’t overly serious about supreme conditioning or fast strength gains. The recommendation from Robb Wolf is to add of fat, because 50g of protein alone might stimulate liver release of glucose and sabotage the GH rise and insulin sensitivity that we’re hoping for. GH can shuttle protein into the muscle *without* the aid of insulin.
Also according to Wolf, this may take a couple workouts to get used to before you feel comfortable. According to Poliquin (the bodybuilding and overall fitness/wellness guru), carbs after a workout prevent fat loss (and it’s really a ‘luxury’ for those under 10-12% fat). And it’s not like it’s a permanent solution. Only until you get to a desired body fat goal. Then there’s Mark Sisson’s extreme of fasting after a workout, which really stimulates GH, but I worry about wrecking my strength or performance long-term.
With all this carb-restricting, I wonder, when *do* I get to eat my pound of potatoes per day? Not at breakfast. Not right after a lift (which I usually do around 11am). That leaves a late lunch (60-90 minutes post-workout is usually when a second meal with some extra carbs is encouraged). This is how muscle glycogen is slowly repleted without forcing high insulin surges. What matters for maintenance carb grams is not when you eat them, but how many you average in a 24-hour period. Here’s a schematic:
|Workout Days||Non-Workout Days|
|Breakfast, 7-8am||Eggs and nuts (or bacon)||Eggs and nuts (or bacon)|
|Lunch (after lift), 12-1pm||Whey protein shake with bit of cream, then (1h later) Meat, Veg, Starch, Fats||Meat, Veg, Starch, Fats|
|“Old Man Dinner”, 4-5pm||Meat, Veg, Starch, Fats||Meat, Veg, Starch, Fats|
|Dinner, 7-8pm||Meat, Veg, Starch, Fats||Meat, Veg, Fats|
I might start this as early as tomorrow with my deadlift workout. I really have two goals. I want to get through this cycle of the Wendler Program and put on as much muscle/strength as I can, and then start to lean out / do some more sprint intervals around the time that Warrior Dash and my beach vac- er, Highly Productive Pediatric Conference come around (mid-April and early May, respectively.)