“What should I have for a post-workout shake?”
“Food. You mean post-workout food.”
“I thought shakes were best.”
“The Native Americans didn’t make a smoothie out of the buffalo; they ate it.”
You’ve got your nutrition dialed in, you prepare your meals ahead of time to stay on track, but you think there could be a bit more to your metabolism than “pick it or kick it.”
Eating After a Big Workout
In addition to what we eat, when to eat can also make a difference. Post-workout meals (sometimes smoothies or shakes) can be an important part of your nutritional plan for better health and wellness. I’ve found that the harder your workout, the more important your post-workout nutrition is. If your workout is watching an episode of Dancing with the Stars while walking on the treadmill, just be sure you’re re-hydrated after your miles are finished. If you’re fortunate enough to be a regular at a local CrossFit gym, or if you regularly finish your workout on your back from exhaustion, then getting something more substantial into your system will make a big difference in how your body recovers from that workout and prepares for the next.
The good news is that you can crank up the carbs (sweet potatoes, etc.) a bit for this meal, since your glucose levels will most likely be depleted. The bad news is that you have to get it in quick. The key is timing. You have about 30 minutes, or on the very outside edge, 45 minutes to get something into your belly. During this time, your body is primed to take in quality calories. For example, your cells are more sensitive to insulin, enabling the movement of what you eat, good or bad, into the muscles & other cells for refueling and rebuilding. Upping your carbs is fine for this meal, only if you get enough protein. Eating a huge bowl of fruit isn’t going to refuel and rebuild you nearly as much as adding in a good dose of grass fed.
I find that if I get in something at around the twenty-minute mark, not only do I not feel hungry later, but I feel amazing and energized for hours afterward. From a Paleo perspective, this makes logical sense: The only time we would have worked ourselves into an exhausted pool of hard pounding sweat as hunter-gatherers would have been just after we chased down something big to eat (raw bison liver anyone?).
For those post-workout calories, real food is always a superior choice over a protein shake. Planning ahead will make it easier to have real food available. On Sundays, I like to make a batch of Paleo Chicken Fajita Salad to last all week. I pack it in a lunch bag to bring to the gym. Yeah, I’m that guy.
Protein powders aren’t the best, but…
Of course, for some people, getting in those calories in the best time frame can be really tricky. You might need that option of a protein, or meal replacement shake. Finding a ready-made mix that is truly still Paleo can be near impossible, since whey (dairy) is the most common form of powdered protein. Even if you make that one dairy exception for your beloved protein shake, it’s likely that whey came from a factory farmed cow. And it’s extremely hard to track down where other potentially Paleo friendly sources, like egg, originated (most of those eggs are factory farmed in China).
If we now know that companies were putting melamine in baby formula, we need to ask and find out what they may be putting in that “pure” protein. I’ve seen some products that I thought looked very promising only to turn them over and see something like aspartame on the ingredients list. (Don’t know why you shouldn’t be eating aspartame? Watch this.
What to Look for in A Protein Powder
If you have to have a meal replacement, try to buy the protein with the least amount of ingredients, sticking to those which have just protein, i.e. just powdered egg whites—no flavorings, no additives. If you’re feeling hardcore, you can even make your own mayonnaise with egg yolks, and save the whites for your shakes (so much for convenience). There’s a couple good recipes out there involving sweet potatoes, coconut milk, egg whites and a few other ingredients that are pretty darn tasty. If you are using egg whites, it may be smart to pop a digestive enzyme beforehand, due to the active anti-nutrients (trypsin inhibitors and avidin) in the egg white that are present to protect anything evil from getting to the yolk (these are otherwise neutralized by cooking). It’s also not the smartest thing to eat conventionally raised eggs raw, since they can have really high levels of harmful bacteria on the shells and in the eggs themselves. Opt for pasture raised eggs from a small farm if you can.
If you’re surfing this blog, and taking advantage of this incredible resource, you’re already on your way to greater health and longevity. Add to that a goal of three intense workouts a week (more on that in a future post) with proper post-workout nutrition, and your co-workers will start to ask, “No really, what are you doing?” You might even catch your spouse straining his neck to get a little look before you step in the shower. ;)
More About Max:
Max Shippee grew up in a very small town in northern Maine, minutes from the Canadian border. Growing up in the woods, and being the son of a dance teacher, he’s been physically active his entire life. He has embraced health & fitness philosophies ranging from body building to endurance training, before finding CrossFit and its performance-based approach to lifelong fitness. Before finding a fit with the Paleo approach to nutrition, Max had also tried numerous nutritional practices, including raw flood, veganism, and Atkins. A father of three, he’s as proud of his family as he is of his business, CrossFit HAX in suburban Los Angeles. Max has Level 1, Kids, and Mobility Certifications from CrossFit. He likes the geeky things in life, including Legos, lasers, and computer operating systems named after cats.