What should I eat as a post-workout snack?
Snacks should be part of our diet, especially for those doing high-intensity physical activity or elite athletes.
Below you can find information on what the right snack should include and the timing of consumption for athletes after training to recover faster and improve muscle building.
When should I eat?
In general, athletes have higher protein requirements (1 to 2g/kg body weight) than the average population (0.75 to 1g/kg body weight). Because of this they will need to use their snacks as an opportunity to meet their protein requirements. Protein timing is key to allow protein synthesis.
The best time is right after training,up to two hours later. The reason is that in this time frame muscle proteins are ready to rebuild through protein synthesis, especially after endurance training rather than strength.
Okay, but should you eat just protein? No! Protein and carbohydrates work together in a synergic way and, therefore, it is crucial to include them both in your snack. The reason is that carbs (and in particular simple sources of carbs) stimulate insulin, which is the hormone that transports amino acids into the cell, to be used for the protein turn-over.
How to build your snack
Your snack should include:
- High biological proteins - those proteins that are a source of essential amino acids such as Leucine.
- Source of carbohydrates - fruit, oats, bread etc.
- "Natural" sources of protein - meat, fish, eggs, cheese, dairy products (such as milk or yoghurt), alternative dairy products (soy milk or soy yoghurt). I personally like to suggest milk, yoghurt or hard-boiled eggs for my clients' post-workouts snacks.
- Powder protein - might be a handy option for some athletes.
How much protein and carbs do I need?
The amount of protein needed will depend on the type of physical activity in which you are involved and your personal requirements. It is fundamental to highlight the carbohydrates-protein ratio - crucial in post-recovery nutrition.
- Strength sports (sprint, jumping, weight lifting, swimming, etc.) = 2:1
- Endurance sports (endurance running, swimming > 400m, canoeing, cycling) = 4:1
- Mixed sports (martial art, football, rugby, hockey, basket, tennis) = 3:1
It is important to understand that the protein requirements depend on your personal needs and a sports nutritionist/dietitian can help you figure out how much you need based on your lifestyle.
The general guidelines say that our body is able to effectively use, every three hours (roughly), between 20 to 40g of protein per meal. The excess will be used as a source of energy and not for muscle building.
Practical example: semi-skimmed milk (300ml) + 1 portion of fruit (150g) will provide you 28g carb and 13g protein (ratio 2:1).
The key in terms of muscle building is not to increase the daily protein intake or to choose only protein powders, but to spread your protein throughout the day, between your three principal meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and your snacks.
Having the right protein intake based on gender, age, physical activity and spreading this quantity over five or more meals throughout the day and considering the timing of nutrients is crucial to achieving your goals.