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The other key component to weight lifting post workout nutrition is carbohydrates.
While protein is often considered the daddy when it comes to post training fuel, carbs are just as important.
During a hard weights session your body uses up its stores of glycogen. Glycogen is derived from the carbs that you eat and helps fuel your muscles and aerobic system so replenishing your stores of it is essential.
The other way in which carbs help muscle growth is by speeding up the delivery of protein and nutrients to the muscles. Protein on its own isn’t very good at getting round the body quickly – it needs a carrier, and this is where carbs come in. A hefty dose of carbohydrates shuttles protein and amino acids to the muscle cells and kick starts the recovery process.
Carbs also stimulate secretion of the hormone insulin. Insulin is often viewed as bad, as chronically high levels of insulin lead to raised blood sugar which in turn can lead to diabetes and obesity. However, high insulin levels post training not only aid in the delivery of protein around the body but also tops up glycogen stores faster.
The structure of your post workout carbohydrate intake is pretty similar to the guidelines for protein. Just after training you need a source of fast digesting carbs. Sports drinks or carbohydrate powders mixed in water are ideal for this as they’re rapidly absorbed. For sake of convenience you could even purchase a protein/carb all in one recovery powder. Most of these have a ratio of between 2:1 and 3:1 carbs to protein, which appears to be optimal for recovery. Just like protein though, there are other options if you’d rather not use supplements. Fruit is nature’s solution for the perfect post workout carbs. A portion of high sugar fruit such as bananas, raisins, mango or pineapple is a fantastic choice.
The amount of carbs you take in post training will vary depending on a number of factors – how long you’ve trained for, what type of weight training you were doing, and most importantly – how many carbs you’re aiming to eat over the whole day.
The best approach is to eat roughly one quarter of your daily carb allowance in the 30 minute post workout window along with your 20 to 30 grams of protein.
When you eat your protein meal a couple of hours later, you should include carbs with this too. As with the above recommendations, the amount of carbs you need will vary from person to person, but another quarter of your daily allowance is a good guide to stick to.
In this meal you don’t necessarily need faster digesting carbs either, as your body is already in recovery mode, so some slower-digesting, more nutrient-dense carbs is a better route to take. Go for white or sweet potatoes, squash, brown rice, oats, pasta or bread. If possible aim to use higher fiber sources, as an increased fiber intake can be beneficial in the prevention of illness and disease. Don’t forget to add some extra carbs in the form of veggies as well – those vitamins and minerals can further bolster your recovery and muscle building gains.