• Paleo Post-Workout Nutrition

    399324_4948644754772_413597402_nYou want to eat clean for maximum performance, but are you getting the right nutrition at the right time?

    Figuring out when, what and how much to eat post-workout can get pretty confusing to say the least. Let’s talk timing first.

    You should consume your post-workout (PWO) meal as soon as physically possible after you’ve finished training. Make sure you high five the rest of your workout crew and let your heart rate come down a bit first, but get your PWO nutrition going as soon as you can.

    Bottom line: for best results, get your PWO meal in your belly no later than 15-30 minutes after your training’s done. Sure, you can lag and eat it later, but you won’t be taking advantage of that much talked about “window” when you’re most insulin-sensitive.

    Now, what to eat.

    Your PWO is best centered around protein and with carbs added in for high-intensity athletes (like CrossFitters) and endurance athletes. For power athletes, it may vary daily depending upon whether you’re cycling your carbs or not, and that’s something you’ll need to play with. Fat doesn’t belong in the PWO meal because it slows digestion which is counterproductive right after training.

    Whole, lean sources of protein – think meat, fish and egg whites – are always better than protein supplements because they represent a more complete, nutrient-dense source. However, whey or egg white protein may be useful because of convenience. Test it out to see what you can tolerate or not.

    For carbs, you’ll want to think about starchy veggies such as sweet potato or hard squash as your go-to source with fruit and other starches (think white rice, white potato or tapioca) as alternatives. Just a note: fruit contains the sugar fructose which preferentially replaces glycogen in the liver, NOT the muscles. Your muscle glycogen tank is empty after hard training. Fill it up! As far as other starches, my personal preference is to usually avoid them because they just aren’t as nutrient dense, but if you’ve got good body composition and are insulin-sensitive, they may be worth experimenting with.

    And now how much. Quantities will vary depending on your size but a general recommendation is 50-100 grams of carbs and 30-60 grams of protein (~4-8 oz of lean meat).

    To recap:

    • Eat your PWO no later than 15-30 min after your training session.
    • PWO should contain protein and carbs (unless you’re a power athlete who is cycling carbs).
    • General guidelines are 50-100 grams of carbs; 30-60 grams of protein.

    And one last thing, your post-workout meal is not a substitute for the next meal of the day!

    NEW! Print out this handy PDF summary to hang on your fridge or post up in your gym.

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    References: Robb Wolf, It Starts With Food

    Questions? Hit me up in the comments below.

    Steph Gaudreau is a certified holistic nutrition practitioner, weightlifting and mindset coach, and the author of the best-selling Performance Paleo Cookbook. Her recipes and expert advice have been featured in SELF, Outside Magazine, Elle, and Greatist. Steph loves barbells, cats, and anything Lord of the Rings. She lives in San Diego, CA.

    38 thoughts on “Paleo Post-Workout Nutrition

    1. Where can I find out more about the “window” when you’re most insulin-sensitive? I don’t really know much about it and quite what it means.

    2. Great info! I assume fat should be consumed pre workout? Do you have any suggestions for someone who’s trying to add muscle/improve strength while trying to lose some fat?

      1. Hi there! If you’re going to do a pre-workout snack, it’s best for it to be protein/fat. Keep in mind that it’s a common misconception that fat makes us fat. Many people see good success with a sensible Paleo diet (not calorie restricting), a simple strength building program and a little bit of high-intensity exercise mixed in. If you’ve eaten a meal relatively soon compared to your workout (say 2-3 hours prior) and are not super hungry, you may not even need a pre-workout meal. For example, I eat a normal lunch around noon and train at 3:30. By the time I get to the gym, I’m fully digested and not at all hungry, so I don’t usually eat anything else pre-workout. Hope this helps.

        1. Steph,

          Thank you so much for your time and info. Yes, it was super helpful. Being paleo I’m not afraid of fat but I was starting to notice that I wasn’t looking as lean as I used to be so I dialed back the fat just a tad and increased my carbs (plantains, squash, sweet potato, etc) and have noticed I actually feel less “puffy” and getting more muscle definition. I have a small frame so maybe I was consuming too much fat for my body? Who knows but I will continue to experiment. I’ve also taken your advice and having my carbs after I workout. Do you consume your carbs solely after your workout or throughout the day? I realize this might be on an individual basis but just curious. Thanks again!!

          1. Hey there! You’re welcome! That seems like a pretty common observation from what I’ve noticed.

            I usually cluster a big hit of them right after my workout but some days I’ll have a little in the morning or at lunch.

      1. Hi JW…I would play around with some of the options. If I were you, I’d probably stick to meat as my PWO source of protein just because the plant sources can be pretty dodgy.

    3. I have been using fruit and protein supplements right after my workout lately, just because it’s so easy to grab and go. For carbs, what do you like to use post workout? You mentioned sweet potato and squash.. any other suggestions? I’m going to keep this in mind for my next grocery shopping trip:) thanks again for another great post!

      1. I tend to stick to starchy veggies. Sometimes I’ll do plantains or other hard squash like kabocha. Sometimes you can find canned, pureed sweet potato too if you don’t have time to cook them (or even canned pumpkin). Those little squeeze pouches for babies sometimes have good options (usually you can find sweet potato/fruit combos)!

    4. I use about two cups of cooked rice (and/or three white potatoes) and 10 oz of chicken breast post crossfit WODs and I feel amazing! I recover so much quicker. I feel like Im actually getting leaner and Im always on top on my game the next day! Doing Crossfit or any high intensity workout without any starchy carbs and protein afterwards will have a huge negative impact on your performance. Tried it for the longest and was almost ready to give up paleo altogether due to poor performance and losing muscle mass, but this is definitely the missing puzzle piece of paleo! Thank you so much for your article and nutrition guide!

      1. Definitely agree with you, Shareef! It’s especially critical when we are pushing ourselves as hard as we are. Really appreciate you checking in and keep up the great work!!

    5. Hi Steph –
      a few questions (and i know i’m late to this post but I was just googling options for PWO meal).
      1) Is eating the entire hard boiled egg bad PWO? It satisfies me so much more than eating just the white and I hate throwing away the yolks of my eggs! I typically do sweet potato and 2 hardboiled eggs about 20 – 30 mins after my strength workouts (and dont eat dinner for another 3 – 4 hours later). I find myself starving if i dont include fat PWO – would this negatively affect my glycogen refill? What do you suggest?
      2) I do sweet potatoes because I find i would have to eat a MASSIVE amt of hard squash to get the equivalent 50g carbs i get from the sweet potato. Do you find it difficult to eat 3+ cups of squash? Is that how much of the hard squash you are consuming?

      Thank you!

      1. Hi Danielle…

        1) Eating the whole egg post-WO isn’t bad. What we want to steer away from, though, is taking in a LOT of fat in the post-WO period because it slows digestion.

        2) Definitely not eating that much hard squash. I like to mix things up and sometimes use different squash for flavor mixed in with sweet potato OR mix the squash with something like apples.

        Hope that helps!

    6. This may be out of place, but do you know if feeding kids is like feeding athletes? Are PWO snacks good snacks for kids? Like after playing on the monkeybars? Or would you add more fat? Just wondering…
      Thanks.

    7. I am never hungry post workout and like you I train around 3:00 so dinner isn’t until about seven. Is it bad not to have a post workout snack? Plus I’ve got about 10 pounds to lose so I’m not looking to add unnecessary calories but rather listen to my hunger cues? Thanks!

        1. I usually do a short period of cardio maybe 20-30 minutes then another 20-30 minutes of weight lifting. I’m doing this about 4 times per week plus I’m always on my feet at work walking around so I feel like i get some good movement on an everyday basis. I’m pretty strict paleo as well, I would say maybe 90/10 but probably more like 95/5 because it seems the “cheat” food makes me feel like a nightmare! Thanks!

    8. I do both sprint intervals/rowing intervals and then some days I run for 3-4 miles at a steady pace. But not anything over 4 miles.

    9. This was really helpful. I always thought of my post workout meal as my “next meal.” I going to stop doing that now!

    10. Does this advice also apply to those of us that are overweight? I am 6’3″, 280 lbs (and losing) and just started CrossFit. If not, what do you recommend?

      1. Hi Adam! Whether or not people need to refuel really has a lot to do with the frequency and relative intensity at which they’re training. If you’re working out a few times a week, say 3, at a moderate intensity and trying to lose significant fat mass, I think you can get away with skipping the post-workout as long as you’re eating normally the rest of the day. A little bit of caloric restriction is fine but what we want to avoid is you getting too hypocaloric for an extended period of days and days, weeks, etc. due to the hormonal dysregulation that can accompany aggressively hypocaloric approaches.

        I would still keep some starchy, nutrient-dense veggies like sweet potatoes in the mix at meal time on a pretty regular basis to make sure you’re getting a good glycogen refeed.

        Hope this helps!

      1. I’ve seen it work successfully in power athletes but endurance and high-intensity athletes need to keep up with energy demands on a daily basis. For them, I don’t recommend it.

    11. Hi Steph! Love your site! Quick question for you, for the most part my workouts, both weight and cardio are in the evening after work. What is recommended for PWO? Or is it better to eat my evening meal?
      Thanks!

      1. Hi Stacey…if you’re working out late (around dinner time), you can try doing a quick bite right as you leave the gym, then eat dinner as normal. Or, you can try eating a slightly larger dinner than normal…adding a bit more protein and some starchy carbs to your plate. It’s really personal preference, and for some people, eating a large dinner isn’t really comfortable.

    12. Hi steph! I was looking for some info on whats the best pwo snacks and this was so helpful! I m working out 4 times a week 2 days are weights qnd strenght training and the rest are speed training sprints etc i usually go from 630 to 730 but dont get to hve dinner until like 830 or even 9! ( i have two boys that i hve to drag to bed before i can go cook 😉 ) !! Is there something i could bke like a protein bar or something that could hve both protein and carbs so i could make a batch and take each time i go? Also i was drinking RAW Fit from garden of life is it a good choice? I decided to change from my bad habits like 3 months ago, did i cleanse ( food based) started eatig paleo and hitting the gym! Best decision ever but i still have a long way to go i need to lower my fat percentage ( it was over 28% my weight was 128pounds almost 28 year old) i managed to get it to 26% quit dieting started eating healthy fats and nutrient dense foods but now i feel i got stuck and cant seem to see any progress , so im looking for things i can so to improve! Thank you ao much! You have become such and inspiration! 🙂

      1. Hi there!

        It’s really hard to find a protein bar that doesn’t contain fruit and many of them are very sweet and sugary. Something like baked potato or plantain that you cook ahead of time and bring with you would be a good option for carbohydrate. For protein, leftover meat or canned fish make convenient options. Hard boiled eggs are also easy to take along.

        I really don’t like vegan protein powders like Garden of Life. If you’re looking for a protein powder that’s dairy free, maybe try egg white protein.

        With training 4 times a week: If you have a rest day in between, don’t really stress about eating something post-workout because you have the whole next day to replenish your fuel sources. In your case, though, because you’re trying to get your kids to sleep, etc. I might try to eat something as soon as possible because going to sleep on a full stomach can make sleep restless.

        Keep up the good work!

    13. Love this site! I have it bookmarked and go to it for quite a few things. I read through the comment and your answers but I don’t quite see the answer I’m looking for.

      I have a condition called poly-cystic ovarian syndrome. (Basically, excess testosterone, insulin resistance, weight gain that is MUCH harder to lose than most people, difficult to have children etc.)

      My husband and I go 3 times a week to the gym. I don’t do super intense workouts, but I do power walking, some jogging, and weights/circuit. I try to do interval type training. That said, we aren’t able to go until after work (7pm) so that means we get out from the gym around 8:30 and have dinner afterwards. Ideally, I know dinner is earlier but obviously eating before working out isn’t good either. Due to the condition, I have to be careful with starches and carbs due to how my body processes it.

      Any suggestions or particular recipes for after workouts that are fast but satisfy the body with enough nutrients? (I realize this is long, but would appreciate any input!)

      1. Hi JD! Thanks for the very kind words.

        I think the answers to your inquiries are summed up quite well in a very recent post I wrote: http://stupideasypaleo.com/2014/09/05/do-i-need-to-eat-post-workout-meal-ask-steph/.

        In short, because it sounds like performance is not your #1 priority (I’m assuming managing your PCOS is probably #1) I don’t think you need to place a high priority on refueling immediately post-workout. Also, it sounds like you aren’t doing a lot of back-to-back sessions. If you’re thinking of eating a starch a few times a week, I’d probably recommend something like sweet potato. It’s going to be the most nutrient-dense. Protein is also an important component of a post-workout meal, but since you’re working out late and eating dinner after that, I’d stick to a normal dinner. Of course, if you find that you aren’t feeling well with this protocol after a few weeks, trying switching things up a bit.

        Hope that helps!

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