The Post-Workout Meal: Revisited and Simplified

This week’s post topic in my partnership with Whole Foods and Garmin: “Easy weeknight meals to complement any workout.” But I’ve decided to focus strictly on the post-workout meal. Why?

Because although what you eat before and during your workout is important, I don’t think of those as “meals” — for most workouts they should instead be liquid, or quick-digesting foods like dates, fruits, smoothies, etc.

When it comes to post-workout refueling, I do still eat the high-carbohydrate, fast-assimilating food, but only immediately following the activity. An hour or two later — and for a lot of people who work out after work, this means dinnertime — it’s a meal. A big meal, a higher-protein meal. A “meal” meal.

Simplifying Nutrition Around Workouts

You can get as specific as you want with before, during, and post-workout nutrition, and I’ve written about these plenty: check out our Workout Nutrition 101 page if you’re interested in the details.

But recently I’ve been more interested in practical nutrition — an approach that’s easy to remember, one that represents 80 or 90 percent of the benefits of the perfect-but-cumbersome approach, only with 10 or 20 percent of the stress.

And for that, I just remember 3-4-5. What this means is:

  • Before your workout, aim for a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein.
  • During your workout, aim for a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein.
  • After your workout, aim for a 5:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein (4:1 is okay too).

Even this may sound overly specific to some, and truthfully, I never actually look at exact numbers nowadays. But they’re guidelines, and if you’ve never done this before, it’s a useful exercise to put together a few “perfect” meals, just to get a sense for what they look like. For example, you might want to figure out exactly how many scoops of protein powder or how many nuts and seeds to put in a pre-workout smoothie to hit 3:1 carbohydrate-to-protein.

Post-workout is a little different than the others, for one big reason: it’s better known as “dinner.” And that’s for the family, not just me, so hitting exactly 5:1 isn’t as important to me as making something that my kids will actually eat. But given that the typical macronutrient mix I aim for throughout the day is 65-15-20 (65 percent carbohydrate, 15 percent protein, 20 percent fat), this meal ends up being between 4:1 and 5:1 most nights even without much conscious effort to make it that way.

And don’t forget — even though dinner will be a meal with a lot of complex carbohydrate, you don’t want to skip that simpler-carbohydrate snack immediately after your workout to jump-start recovery. Right after you finish your workout is the best time of day to take in sugar or even “white” carbohydrates that you otherwise avoid. I usually let this immediate snack be very high in carbohydrate (a glass of tart cherry juice, for example) to balance out a higher-protein dinner, so that between the two meals, you end up near 4:1 or 5:1.

3 Simple Weeknight Post-Workout Meals

Since most post-workout feasting happens on weeknight evenings, it comes with the added condition of having to be quick to prepare. Here are a few of my favorite go-to meals when I’m looking to refuel without spending more than 30 minutes in the kitchen:

  • Just about any pasta dish. There’s nothing I crave more after a tough run than a big plate of pasta, and usually, pasta meals are fast. As for nutrition, I wrote in a recent post about my seven favorite weeknight pasta recipes that whole wheat pasta is about 15 percent protein. That’s more than most people expect, but not enough to hit 4:1 or 5:1 since the almost all of the other 85 percent is carbohydrate. Luckily, a lot of great pasta dishes incorporate beans, and these help to boost the protein content of the meal. Sprinkle some ground walnuts on top to get even more.
  • Maggie’s Conscious Vegan Cuisine frozen meals. I wrote about these in my post on cheap vegan meals, and I’ve since realized that they’re not just vegan and whole-food based, they’re also gluten-free, low in sodium, and free of added oils. Most are too high in protein to hit 4:1 or 5:1 on their own, but you can add the necessary amount of rice to get right in that range. I wouldn’t quite call these meals delicious, but they’re decent, and considering they’re cheap and quick too, they’re my favorite new Whole Foods find.
  • Giant salad with beans and a smoothie. Not exactly a crowd-pleaser (except for the smoothie, which my kids will drink any time of day or night), and not something I’m usually in the mood for on a cold winter evening either. But in the summer, a meal like this hits the spot after a run, and combines the the two healthiest meals you can eat into one perfectly clean, high-nutrient dinner. Plus, you can adjust the proportions of beans on the salad and protein in the smoothie (powder or nuts) to hit exactly within 4:1 to 5:1 if you wish.

Step Count Update!

I’m still wearing the Garmin vívofit that Garmin supplied for this series, and clocking ever-higher numbers thanks to my commitment during #writeandrun31 to add five minutes each week to my daily run. (Read my last post about counting your steps to see the huge impact that even a short run has on your daily total.) Here’s my celebratory photo the first time I hit 15K:

IMG_5719

If you participated in #writeandrun31, then you know it came to a close over the weekend — and if you made it the whole way, congratulations! And if you didn’t but want to join in next time, we’ll be starting a new round in March (the next month that has 31 days).

I enjoyed a day off of both running and writing yesterday, but the challenge did exactly what I had hoped: it inspired me to get back into running. I’ve picked out a marathon to run this spring, my first in over three years, and I’m this close to signing up. I’ll let you know when I do. 🙂

 

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Comments

  1. Hello Matt,

    nice to read you! Could you please implement blog dates so it’s easier to find the new stuff? Thanks!

  2. Love that you’re ok with healthy carbs & fat. Keep up the good work of inspiring people. I’ll be joining the March run 31.

  3. Oda Inanna Stene says:

    Hi Matt. I’m on the bus home from a hard workout, drinking unsweetened soy milk and wondering what I really should be consuming right now. Thanks for keeping it simple.

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