You’ve just done an awesome CrossFit workout! What and when should you eat to make sure you see the best results possible from your workout? Your post workout nutrition helps with a few different things. First, you need to recover and rehydrate. You also want to make sure you build muscle and improve your performance in the future.
First let’s talk about what to eat after your workout. Eating protein after your workout will help prevent protein breakdown and increase protein synthesis, helping you build muscle. In the past, many experts have recommended having some sort of fast acting protein immediately after your workout. You may have seen people chugging down protein shakes immediately following their workout, or you may have even done this yourself. However, more recent research indicates that this is really not necessary and it’s possible that in some cases fast acting proteins powders may move through our systems too quickly for us to get the maximum benefits. Overall, the benefits and negatives of fast acting protein versus regular whole food proteins seems to be way less important than we once thought. So, pick what works for you! If you’re in a hurry and need to have a quick shake, go for it. Or you want to make an awesome meal with plenty of protein, that’s fine too.
It is also very important to get carbohydrates after your workout to help you recover. However, it is still recommended to get quality, minimally processed carbs such as whole grains, fruits, and veggies. Unless you are a serious endurance athlete, performing two long sessions within a short period of time, you do not need to load up on refined carbs and sugars post workout (and even for them in some cases it may not be necessary). This is especially true if you are participating in a high intensity, shorter workout like CrossFit.
Lastly, we have fats. In the past it was sometimes recommended that we avoid fats post-workout since they slow digestion. However, as I mentioned above, the speed of digestion really isn’t as big of a deal as was previously thought. Therefore, getting some healthy fats will not detract from your recovery and provides you with important vitamins and minerals for your overall health.
Now let’s talk about when we should eat after our workout. As I mentioned above, contrary to what was thought in the past, you do not need to chug down a protein shake or eat immediately after working out, however, you don’t want to take forever to get some food in you either. In general, if you eat a balanced meal of carbs, protein and fat within two hours of your workout, you will recover properly. There is one caveat to this. It is dependent on what you ate prior to your workout. If you ate a good meal about 2-3 hours before your workout, then you have plenty of time so go ahead and make yourself a nice meal. However, if you workout in a fasted state (say first thing in the morning), it is more important to eat quickly to maximize your recovery. In this case, you could make something quick like a shake, or just a regular meal that doesn’t take you a hour to prepare ;)
Overall, for most of us just working out to be healthy, workout nutrition is really not any different than regular good nutrition. We just need to provide our bodies with the healthy foods that we need to recover and allow us to perform well during our workouts. If we’re eating well on a daily basis we really shouldn’t even need to make many changes when we workout!