Featured Weight Training Equipment: dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, free weight

If you train hard as hell, what you eat or drink after your workout becomes important. Those of us that engage in body-crushing weight training sessions can improve the results derived from training sessions by replenishing immediately afterwards. Once the supposition is accepted, i.e. workout results are improved by post-workout replenishment, the premise raises a logical series of subsequent questions…

  • Why replenish?
  • What is the ‘window of opportunity’ and how long is the window open?
  • What is the ideal nutrient breakdown for replenishment?
  • Is there a benefit to solid food as opposed to liquid replenishment?
  • Should post-workout supplementation be adjusted for bodyweight?
  • Is there an ideal post-workout meal and/or replenishment supplement?
  • What about a second ‘recovery meal?’
  • Do we need to replenish after cardio?

Replenish after a hardcore training session: When progressive resistance training, i.e. dumbbells, barbells or kettlebells, is sufficient to induce hypertrophy, any nutrients ingested post-workout are broken down and distributed at triple the normal speed. Muscles shattered in a high-intensity progressive resistance workout have an ability to soak up nutrients like a dry sponge thrust into a pail of hot water. This muscle-sponge sensitivity has a finite shelf life. The ideal time to replenish is upon completion of an intense training session. There is no need to replenish after a mild or moderate training session because nothing of any physiological significance has occurred.

What is the “window” and how long is it open? A “window of opportunity” opens at the end of a sufficiently intense free weight workout. Most experts agree that the window stays open for 45-90 minutes. While the window is “open” nutrients are processed and distributed much faster than under normal metabolic circumstance. An exhausted muscle intakes healing, regenerative nutrients at an amplified rate. Muscle growth will be greater than if the identical workout were done without the post-workout replenishment. That is a powerful statement and provides all the rationale needed to begin systematically replenishing post-workout.

What is the ideal nutrient breakdown for replenishment? Most experts agree that the ideal post-workout replenishment meal or shake must provide a balanced delivery of quality nutrients. High BV protein provides muscle building blocks that shock-blasted muscles need to rebuild and to grow new muscle. Carbohydrates refill glycogen stores depleted by the session and provides a perfect post-workout growth-inducing insulin surge: not too much, not too fast. Quality fat provides caloric density and suppresses cravings. Sugar, trans-fats, high fructose corn syrup and refined carbs are to be completely avoided.

Practice well balanced nutrition including protein, carbohydrates and vegetables for maximum training results.
Well balanced nutrition for maximum training results.

Liquid or solid? A bodybuilder-style post-workout replenishment food meal is completely acceptable and would consist of a portion of protein, a starch carb (dry rice or potato) and a portion of fibrous vegetable. This combination makes for a perfect recovery meal. You need consider “digestive lead time.” Don’t wait too long to eat a food meal post workout or by the time the nutrients are digested and distributed, the window will have snapped shut. A liquid post-workout shake is predigested and far less hassle. If a post-workout liquified shake is used (called a “smart-bomb”) great care must be taken that the nutrients are potent and pure. Be aware that most commercial post-workout replenishment drinks are loaded with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Read labels carefully.

Should post-workout supplementation be adjusted for bodyweight? Absolutely. A 300-pound football player needs triple the amount of post-workout nourishment that a 100-pound female bodybuilder or gymnast requires. How much post-workout protein and carbohydrate you need depends on how big or small you are and on how hard you train. Rough estimates are difficult because of variances in training intensities, athlete to athlete. Here are some post-workout nutrient goals, rough calculations, minimum amounts, based on bodyweight…

Bodyweight protein carbohydrates
100-pounds 15 grams 15-30 grams
200 30 grams 30-60 grams
300 45 grams 45-70 grams

Most elite athletes will intake more than listed: these are bare minimum amounts.

Post-workout Smart Bombing: Place a serving or two (or three) of dry protein/carb powder in a Tupperware container with a screw-on top. Throw the container in your gym bag. When the workout is winding down, retrieve the container from the gym bag, walk to the water fountain, fill with cold water and shake to mix and activate. You have created a potent, regenerative shake. Drink it slowly. The shake needs to be sugar free and contain no high fructose corn syrup. Chemical and impurities cause blood sugar to act inappropriately.

The “second” recovery meal: most elite bodybuilders and power trainers will consume a liquid recovery shake towards the end of the workout or immediately afterwards. Then, after packing their stuff and driving home, they will eat a food meal. This is known as the second recovery meal. Most athletes swear by this approach: the post-workout smart bomb is battlefield staunching of the trauma. The “real food” meal amps the metabolism and provides the perfect ending to the growth cycle: train the muscle, feed the muscle, rest the muscle, grow the muscle.

Replenish after cardio? You sure could. Again, it all depends if the cardio is demanding, intense and body-shattering. A mild jog that is done without breaking a sweat doesn’t require a post-run smart bomb. On the other hand, if you have subjected yourself to a limit-exceeding cardio session and are feeling decimated – why not fire down a power-packed liquid shake and provide a shaky body with a fill-up of quality nutrients? No need to dose as heavy as you would after a weightlifting session, but smart-bombing after killer cardio training makes sense.

Post workout supplements I use: I write articles for the Ferrari of nutritional supplement makers, John Parrillo of Parrillo Performance Products. Known for their no compromise quality, I have used several Parrillo products as post-workout replenishment and have for decades….

Post workout smart bomb packed with muscle building amino acids and carbs.
Post workout “smart bomb” packed with muscle building amino acids and carbs.

50-50 Plus: A Parrillo powdered supplement designed specifically as a post-workout smart bomb. When activated with cold water, each serving provides 20 + grams of high BV protein and 20 + grams of slow-release carbohydrate. Most large athletes will double the serving size.

Parrillo performance protein bars for on-the-go nutrition.
Protein bars for on-the-go nutrition.

Parrillo Protein bar: a meal in a wrapper, this 66-gram bar delivers 20 + grams of protein and 40 grams of quality carbs. This powerhouse contains 220 calories and eating a single bar makes for a terrific smart bomb. Though I often drink a shake and eat a Parrillo bar.

Parillo performance protein chew bars are a convenient post-workout replenishment and aid in muscle recovery and growth.
Protein chew bars are a convenient post-workout replenishment.

Parrillo Soft Chew bar: each bar is a powerhouse: 21 grams of protein, 17 grams of fiber carbs, no sugar or HF corn syrup and only 120 calories. Since they are delicious, I eat two bars post-workout.

Tip of the trade: elite athletes will start consuming their replenishment shake before the end of the workout. Ever notice how the final exercises done at the end of a long tough workout always seem to suffer, in terms of poundage and reps? Some of this is attributable to exhaustion and fatigue and can be partially avoided by ingesting the quality smart bomb 2/3rd of the way through the workout.” Don’t wait until the session is done. Start sipping early and avoid end of workout energy nosedives.

About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of numerous books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.