Educating clients on the importance of post-workout nutrition

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By Mark Fox, Health and Fitness Tutor for The Training Room

As Personal Trainers, we’re always looking for ways to help our clients perform better and reach their goals. The trouble is, even the best-designed exercise programmes can go to waste if unsupported by the right nutrition. 

Chances are your clients will have given much more thought to their pre-workout meals than their post-workout meals – which could mean saying “goodbye gains” while experiencing a longer road to recovery. 

Therefore, it’s absolutely vital to educate clients on what to (and what not to) eat both before and after their sessions. Here’s the skinny on what optimal nutrition should look like after exercise to help boost client results…

Why is post-workout nutrition so important?

For clients to understand how the right foods can help post-exercise, they first need to understand how the body is affected by physical activity. 

When working out, our muscles use up their glycogen stores for fuel, leading to a partial depletion. Some of the proteins in our muscles also get broken down and damaged.

After exercise, our bodies try to rebuild their glycogen stores and repair and regrow those muscle proteins. Consuming the right nutrients soon after a training session can help our bodies to get the job done faster. Carbs and proteins are particularly important to eat because they help the body in the following four ways:

  1. Decrease muscle protein breakdown 
  2. Increase muscle protein synthesis (growth) 
  3. Restore glycogen levels
  4. Enhance recovery

The power trio: protein, carbs and fat

Once clients understand why they must focus on their post-workout nutrition, they then need to know how each macronutrient – protein, carbs and fat – is involved in the recovery equation. Here goes…

Protein for repairing and building muscle 

The rate at which a client’s muscle protein breaks down will depend on the types of exercises/activities they are performing and the level/intensity of training. Even well-trained athletes experience muscle protein breakdown.

Making sure each client consumes an adequate amount of protein post-session will give their bodies the amino acids they need to repair and rebuild those proteins. This will also provide the building blocks required to build new muscle tissue. 

Research recommends that a person consumes 0.14–0.23 grams of protein per pound of body weight (0.3–0.5 grams/kg) very soon after exercise. Studies also show that ingesting 20–40 grams of protein seems to maximise the body’s ability to recover following a workout.

Carbs for recovery

Consuming carbs after a workout will help your clients to replenish the glycogen that is used as fuel during exercise. 

Again, the rate at which a client’s glycogen stores are tapped into will depend on the activity they are doing. For example, endurance sports, like running, swimming or cycling, cause the body to use more glycogen than resistance training. 

For this reason, if a client has a more endurance-focused programme, or is an endurance athlete, they will likely need a higher carb intake than a bodybuilder or strength/power athlete. 

As a guide, research found that eating 0.5–0.7 grams of carbs per pound (1.1–1.5 grams/kg) of body weight within 30 minutes after training results in proper glycogen resynthesis.

For avid exercisers, such as those who train twice in the same day, gobbling up enough carbs to rebuild their glycogen stores is crucial. If a client has one or two days of rest between sessions, then this becomes less important. 

Mastering the protein-carb combo

Multiple studies (1, 2, 3, 4) have shown that insulin secretion, which encourages glycogen synthesis, is more effectively stimulated when carbs and proteins are consumed in combo. 

The ideal ratio of carbs to protein is between 2:1 to 4:1. A study which gave nine male cyclists 112.0 g carbohydrate and 40.7 g protein immediately and two hours after exercise found that this significantly increased the rate of muscle glycogen storage post-workout. Your clients could try a 3:1 (carbs to protein) ratio, for example, 40 grams of protein and 120 grams of carbs, which is similar to the cyclists studied.

That said, it’s important to consider the quantity, structure and timing of food in relation to the individual, especially if they are a serious or professional athlete. Consuming more protein slows rehydration and glycogen replenishment, so the 4:1 ratio seems ideal for endurance athletes who train daily.

Fat isn’t all bad

It’s a common misconception that eating fats after exercise slows down digestion and impedes nutrient absorption. 

It’s true that fat might slow down the absorption of a post-workout meal, but it won’t reduce its benefits. 

The results of one study showed that whole milk was more effective at increasing the utilisation of available amino acids for protein synthesis (muscle growth) after a workout than skimmed milk. 

What’s more, another study found that adding fat calories to meals after exercise does not alter glucose tolerance. Even when ingesting a high-fat meal (45% energy from fat) after a workout, muscle glycogen synthesis was not affected. 

Despite the fact that having some fat in a post-exercise meal won’t derail your clients recovery, if they smash through a tub of Ben and Jerry’s at the end of every workout, it’s not going to help them achieve the desired outcomes. Depending on their programme and goals, it still might be a good idea for them to limit the amount of fat they are eating after exercise. 

The bottom line

Post-workout nutrition is just as important as pre-workout nutrition. If your clients aren’t already paying attention to what they’re eating after sessions, make sure they flip the script as soon as possible and turn up the dial on the nutrition side of their training. It could be the 10% difference that enables them to achieve the results they’ve always wanted but have yet to reach. 

Become a Certified Nutrition Coach! 

Check out The Training Room’s Level 4 Certificate in Nutrition for Weight Management and Athletic Performance qualification. It provides learners with the evidence-based skills, knowledge and competence to provide nutritional support, either as a nutrition coach or as part of their offering as a PT, with the potential to increase your salary by 20%!* To find out more, click here:

*Based on research by Payscale

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