You’ve just finished a workout session and are now getting ready to hit the showers. Before you do, make sure you get your post-workout shake in with healthy carbs. Research1has proven that those who combine carbohydrates with protein after an exercise session show faster overall recovery levels than those who either skip eating altogether or only have whey protein alone.
What should you have? Is a shake even necessary? These are the questions that often get asked by many who are looking to optimize their nutrition.
The answer to this question is a bit complex as it’s a combination of factors so it will depend on your current diet goals, your calorie intake, your macro targets, and the workout you just did.
Typically speaking, at minimum you do want some carbs and protein in the equation, preferably at least around 15-20 grams of each (or more).
Choosing the format is the tricky part.
Shake or Whole Foods?
The first question you’ll want to ask yourself is whether you should drink a protein shake or eat whole foods. In most cases, a shake is preferable. It’s simply easier for liquids to get into the muscle tissues as the digestion process isn’t as lengthy.
Breaking down food takes time and energy and that’s something that you don’t have right now. The only time food may be preferable is if you are on a very strict, low calorie diet and find that you are just too hungry if you only consume liquid after the workout.
Preferable Carb Sources
So now let’s get into the ‘what’ part of the equation. While a quality whey protein powder is nearly a must as that is liquid and will get those amino acids into the muscle tissues faster than say chicken or fish would, your carb source could go either way.
Here are some of the top carb options to consider.
Topping the list is Karbolyn. It really won’t get much better than this, so if there is one source of carbs to focus on, let this be it. What’s great about Karbolyn is that it’s a fasting acting carb, meaning the carbs will get into your blood stream very quickly, and at the same time it’s not going to spike insulin levels as much as say glucose would.
This is beneficial especially if your goal is fat loss because high insulin levels turns off fat burning so you’ll essentially halt the fat burning process when consuming too much sugar.
While some degree of insulin spike is okay and even beneficial post workout to help restore muscle glycogen levels, you don’t want to go overboard and have your blood sugar high for hours following the session.
If you have to take in quite a few grams of carbs to restore what was depleted, this becomes very essential.
Likewise, if your goal is mass building, you do want to spike insulin, but if you’re taking in 100-200 grams of carbs post workout as some naturally skinny guys do, that is a lot of sugar to take in if you choose another form of post workout carb powder such as dextrose. Karbolyn really shines in these cases.
Another option is the classic go-to, a banana. The nice thing about bananas is that unlike most fruits that contain primarily glucose and fructose, bananas also contain starch. Fructose is something you don’t want after the workout is over because fructose doesn’t actually get stored in the muscle tissue2, but rather moves into the liver. You can only store so much liver glycogen before it starts turning into body fat, so you need to be very aware of how much you’re eating.
Bananas have less fructose and more starch, which is the perfect form of carb for replenishing muscle glycogen levels.
Bananas still contain enough sugar so that they will help get into your muscles quickly, so you aren’t experiencing any lag time before complete recovery is made.
Another option is to actually blend together some quick oats with your protein shake. You might even use a flavored variety here if you want because some sugar is okay during the post workout period, again you just don’t want to overdo it.
Quick oats still break down more slowly than say steel cut oats do, so they can be a preferable source of carbohydrates. This said, they aren’t as fast as pure sugar so help control your blood glucose levels.
Whether you choose to blend them with protein powder or just cook them and eat them on their own is purely your choice.
Another option that is quite popular for many bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts is simply going for some white bread. White bread is cheap, easy, and can be eaten with a little jam if desired. Or, if you need more carbs, you could go for a bagel.
Because it isn’t whole grain, it will again break down faster in the body than a bread variety with more fiber would and will help you get the muscle glycogen replenishment that you need.
As many people find they crave bread in their diet but aren’t able to eat it during the day as part of their diet if they are focusing on fat loss, therefore it helps combat those cravings quite nicely.
Another good go-to option you might turn to is a sugary variety of cereal. Now, the key here is to look for one that is also low in fat. Some granola cereals can be high in both sugar and fat, which is not really ideal at any time.
Think back to when you were younger and had your favorite cereal. Be it fruit loops, corn pops, or another similar variety, this can actually be an okay choice for a post workout carb because it’s fast to digest and contains some sugar. It’s also easy to serve with whey protein powder because you can just mix the whey protein powder in with water and then pour it over the cereal.
It gives you a nice little meal that will contain some solid food but is still fast enough that it’ll help deliver great recovery results after your hard training session.
There you have it, some of the best carb sources to consider after you finish your workout session. Generally speaking, Karbolyn is going to be the superior carb of choice provided you’re okay with using a powdered form of carbohydrate. Beyond that, the other food-based sources of carbohydrates are acceptable as well.
Remember that you will need to scale your carbohydrate to match your overall dietary needs and energy expenditure during the workout session. Carbohydrate requirements can vary considerably3 for this reason so don’t adopt a cookie cutter recommendation but instead figure it out for your own unique situation and body.
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- Ivy, John L., et al. “Early postexercise muscle glycogen recovery is enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement.” Journal of Applied Physiology 93.4 (2002): 1337-1344.
- Conlee, Robert K., Russell M. Lawler, and Patrick E. Ross. “Effects of glucose or fructose feeding on glycogen repletion in muscle and liver after exercise or fasting.” Annals of nutrition and metabolism 31.2 (1987): 126-132.
- Jeukendrup, Asker. “A step towards personalized sports nutrition: carbohydrate intake during exercise.” Sports Medicine 44.1 (2014): 25-33.