Post-Workout Nutrition

Many of  us wonder what to eat after a workout, and the answer is: It depends! It depends on what kind of workout you are doing, and what your goal is – fat loss, performance improvements, mass gain, etc. There’s a lot of information floating around about what is “best”, but most of it comes from either the body-building or the  endurance sport community, and little of it has a Paleo orientation. So here’s the scoop from two people who have been training top-level athletes and working with nutrition for years.

Robb Wolf’s recommendations:

For those interested in what to eat after a workout, here’s some insight taken straight from the Paleolithic Solutions seminar:

“After exercise we have a phenomenon called ‘non insulin mediated glucose transport”. It’s a period of time in which we can fly glucose and amino acids into the muscle without much insulin AND we improve recovery. For large WODs we can shift upwards of 50% of the day’s carbs into the Post Workout (PWO) period. The optimum time for this is less than 15 minutes PWO, it’s still good at 30 min, and almost back to baseline by an hour. Timing is critical if you want the most from this!

Might help with fat loss… might not. Be clear about GOALS!

  1. Athletic maintenance at 14-17 cals/lb
  2. Strength WOD: 25-50 g Protein & Fat or Carb (need to lean? gain?)
  3. “Big” WOD: 25-50 g Protein, 50-75g Carbs
  4. “Little” WOD: 25-50g Protein & Carb
  5. Multiple sessions? Throw some in after both WODS.”

Obviously it is up to you to experiment with different PWO options to find what works best for you, to meet your specific goals. Here is more detail from Robb.

OPT’s recommendations:

James Fitzgerald  (OPT – of Optimum Performance Training in Calgary, winner of the 2007 CrossFit Games) provides Pre- and Post-Workout recommendations based on the volume and intensity of the workout and your bodyfat percentage; OPT’s FAQ is a great read, but if you don’t want to read the whole thing, here are the sections on Pre- and Post-Workout  Nutrition:

8. Pre-WOD Fueling rx’d.
This is VERY individualized, VERY. Depends on your schedule, your digestion ability, the WOD, etc. But, for “general” purposes, I will give some scenarios.
A – your WOD is Fran (or any high power output/gassy WOD), and you are doing it at 5 pm. I would suggest eating your last meal around 1 pm to 2 pm at latest. Between this time, you only consume fluids (caffeine anyone?), and supplements if you so choose. You get to the gym at 4-4:30 pm, begin warm-up and anticipate the oncoming pain. The empty gut will benefit you immensely for these high power output WOD’s. Pretty much if the WOD is going to kick your ass, then you had better make sure that you are running light on the food (3hr+ post)and heavy on the motivation.

B – if you are doing the same WOD at 6 am. Wake-up, warm-up, and get’er done. Fluids, such as Ultima, or some kind of electrolyte may be beneficial to YOU. If you are eating, make sure it is not much more than what you could pick from your teeth following a handful of cashews, as it will only be coming right back up – if the WOD is done correctly. At this time, warm-up is even more important.

C – your WOD is Deadlift, 1-1-1-1-1-1-1. Bring your lunch pale and do as you please. Whether done in the AM/PM, eating food will not affect your performance, as this is a CNS WOD.

D – if the WOD is A1/A2/B1/B2 style, with short rest times, moderate (or more) amount of sets and reps, then you would want to follow the advice from Scenario’s A & B (shown above).

9. Post-WOD Fueling rx’d.

The sooner the better, in most cases. The rx’d numbers are based on everyone’s BF% b/c its all I know about those who post…outside of that there are WAY too many factors for determining EXACTLY what you need post WOD except to say “experiment” and play with it…but i would be happy to answer questions regarding this on the daily posts about your own situation the best I can…

I’d suggest for those that are “blocking” to experiment as I’ve done with a lot of folks and do not count your post workout fuel in the day allotment for a few reasons, one of which is that this is the time to play with that…and secondly…I’ve found it a little better for recovery with the various exposures you’ll get here…that is different that other recommendations simply b/c it is different training…that’s all.

As for fat, the research shows that it might help in post WOD nutrition…Di Pasquale tried hard to tell Charles that but I’m in Poliquin’s camp that the leaner the person is, you basically load them up with as much sugar as they can handle without fucking up the daily insulin rhythm post WOD…as it yields so many good results…for example, I Rx up to 80-100 g carbs post WOD for an 8% athlete being trained for their sport under CF methodology…and they STILL take on 12-15 carb blocks per day…so yes, that is 10 blocks post WOD plus 12-15 in day…and they gain mass and have better 5K runs, DL x 1, 2K rows and max chin ups…and I think it is due to the leanness and the uptake ability..this changes of course the fatter you get…BIG TIME… so stay lean…as nothing tastes as good as being lean feels!

Options – If you can handle dairy protein post workout, then that is likely you best option, in powder form. This is depending on the workout. If the workout is not a gasser (i.e. Deadlift, 5-5-5-5-5, 180 sec + some other strength work) then eating a balanced PFC meal of whole food will be fine. If it is a sweaty WOD, then follow the rx’d post WOD fueling, trying to hit the number of rx’d protein and carbs, with minimal fat (Refuel + Jarrow or Dream Whey – from OPT Store is a great combo to meet the requirements).

Best Protein Options – Hormone free whey (dairy) protein isolate, goat protein isolate, leaner cuts of meat (chicken, turkey, deer, elk, beef, etc.), organic yogurt + whey protein. There are lots of options (especially in the OPT Logbook). As long as the source is CLEAN, and the protein is COMPLETE (i.e. not vege based), then you will be fine – just select the right amount.

Best Carb Options – some kind of sugar (i.e. Maltodextrin – Refuel) works well for the harder WOD’s, organic Yam/Sweet potatoes are fine too. Apple sauce, pineapple, pretty much any fruit/high starch vege will be fine. Just pay attention to how you feel an hour or two later (energy, cognitive ability, digestion issues?, etc. – be aware). If you do experience any negative effects from your food choice – protein or carb, then it would be wise to find out what caused it, and avoid it for the time being because it is impeding your recovery – which is most important. Again, whatever you choose, keep it clean – just select the correct amount.”

7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Theo Paat on March 13, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    Hey Cynthia!

    High Five on another Excellent Post! I know people will eat this up now that they know how and what to eat before and after their workout.


    T H E O


  2. Posted by Mariko on March 16, 2010 at 4:51 am

    I’m a bit on the anemic side and bruise really easily. Some of the WODs leave me looking like I got beat up! What are some iron rich foods besides spinach and red meat that I can incorporate into my diet? Thanks for your pointers in the post.


  3. Hi Mariko!

    There are a couple other things that might be contributing to the bruising in addition to being low in iron: Nutritional deficiencies, such as deficiency in vitamins C, K, B12, or folic acid, or blood thinners (which would include Fish Oil if you take that), and even allergies. There are other more serious reasons for more bruising, including leukemia, lymphoma and liver disease, so if this is a new or serious problem you might want to check with your doctor (not trying to scare you, just want to make sure you know).

    On to the subject of Iron:
    There are two types of Iron: Heme Iron, found in animal sources, is highly available for absorption; Non-heme iron, found in vegetable sources, is less available.

    Excellent Sources of Iron Rich Foods containing Heme Iron:
    Pork Liver
    Chicken Liver
    Beef Liver

    Good Sources:

    Most of the source of Iron Rich Foods containing Non-Heme Iron are not Paleo, but there are a couple:
    Pumpkin seeds
    Blackstrap Molasses
    Dried prunes
    Dried raisins
    Dried apricots
    Brazil nuts
    dandelion greens

    Some foods help the absorption of Iron, and some can hinder it:

    Fruits: Orange, Orange Juice, cantaloupe, strawberries, grapefruit etc
    Vegetables: Broccoli, brussels sprouts, tomato, tomato juice, potato, green & red peppers
    White wine

    Red Wine, Coffee & Tea
    Vegetables: Spinach, chard, beet greens, rhubarb and sweet potato
    NON-PALEO: Whole grains and bran, Soy products

    I found a wonderful Iron supplement back in my pregnancy days; it’s a liquid called FloraDix. ( One of the big advantages of this supplement is that it doesn’t make you constipated, which other iron products can. I find mine at Whole Foods.

    Hope this info helps!


  4. Posted by Mariko on March 17, 2010 at 4:11 am

    I’ve always been like this as long as I can remember. I’ve even been rejected from donating blood before because I didn’t have enough iron and the drop didn’t sink! Sooooo, I’ll give Floradix a try and see how it goes. Thanks again for the detailed feedback. This is VERY HELPFUL :).


  5. Hi Cynthia,
    Fantastic post! I love it! I was just looking into getting my post-workout nutrition in line and this is a great reference. I have a couple of questions:
    1. Could one substitute egg protein as full eggs or as powdered egg protein if one is off the dairy-based whey? Would a whole egg also count towards fat?
    2. Do you have any suggestions for post-wod refueling for someone who wants to lean out? From Robb’s discussion, it looks like low-carb post workout is best unless you are already lean and can benefit from the high-carb post workout. Let me know if you have anything to add to this.

    Thank you in advance for your help! I’ll add you as a reference in my latest blog post on Stress ( the part about the post-wod nutrition reducing cortisol). Thanks!


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