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When you put the hard work in at the gym – hitting the weights with maximum intensity, day after day, week in week out, you need your nutrition to be spot on. Poor nutrition in general will mean that not only will you fail to build muscle, but you could actually lose it. Plus you’ll feel constantly sore and run down and could be more susceptible to injury.
Move over breakfast, there’s a new most important meal of the day – post workout.
There are several factors which you need to consider for your PWO nutrition, but two of these – protein and carbohydrate are by far the biggest and it’s these two that you need to concentrate on.
The Importance of Protein
During a workout, your muscle tissue breaks down. As crazy as it sounds, seeing that the objective of lifting weights is to build your muscles up, this process is entirely normal and is actually essential for muscle growth. The heavy weight training causes tiny micro tears in the muscle fibers. In the 24 to 72 hours following your session, your body works hard to rebuild this damaged muscle. Scar tissue forms over the tears and interlinks with the rest of your muscle tissue. As this scar tissue builds up it gradually starts to increase the size of your muscles making you look bigger.
While in theory this should always happen, you could get the opposite if you don’t take care of your nutrition. In order for this process to occur you need to be consuming enough calories for your body to have the energy and resources to form the scar tissue. If you’re eating too few calories, your muscles will remain damaged and won’t build at all, hence why you can’t lose fat and gain muscle at the same time.
The other main player here is protein.
Muscles are made from protein and the collagen used to form scar tissue is protein-based too. Just on that basis alone, you can see why protein is so important for building muscle.
While the overall protein content of your diet is the main aspect you need to get right, post workout protein is vitally important too.
Ideally you should be aiming to consume around two grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight with around 20 to 30 grams of this coming immediately post workout.
You don’t need to slam a protein shake as soon as you complete your last rep, but try to get this serving in a 30 minute window after your session.
The best source here is a fast digesting protein, such as whey protein. Whey protein comes in powder form and can be mixed with water or milk. It’s actually a by-product of the cheese making process. Curds from milk go to make cheese while the whey part can be used for protein powder. As whey is already partially digested and in powder form your body processes it faster and it gets to the muscles sooner, meaning that the post workout muscle building process starts straight away.
If you don’t have access to whey, any other type of protein powder such as pea, rice or egg protein will do. Alternatively a branched chain amino acid (BCAA) supplement will do the job. BCAAs are the building blocks of protein and are also extremely fast-digesting. If you’d rather forego the supplement route altogether though, then a glass or two of low fat milk will do the job too.
One to two hours after your workout eat a whole food meal with another 20 to 30 grams of protein from meat, fish, cottage cheese, Greek yoghurt or eggs.