If you enjoy eating, and specifically eating right, it’s natural to assume you’d exercise. I joke that I only exercise so I can eat more. But in reality, I know that exercise is great for my body. It improves my heart health, lowers my blood pressure, and helps me build LEAN muscles.
Today’s post isn’t some juice-head, crossfit-induced statement about the importance of post-workout nutrition and how you need to chug protein shakes on the daily. Instead, I’m going to give you some information about the importance of eating right after you hit the gym and some tips to make meal planning fool-proof.
The Basics of Protein
I’m no scientist, but it’s fairly easy to understand why you need protein post-workout. When exercising and lifting weights, you’re actually making tiny little tears all throughout the muscle. Once you stop working out and say go home, shower, and check your email, these tears repair themselves. The repairing process leads to the creation of new muscle mass, making the muscles bigger and stronger. So basically, we’re looking at a ‘tear and repair’ model.
Protein facilitates the ‘repair’ process of working out. It’s the ideal macronutrient muscles want to repair most efficiently. There are a ton of other theories out there, theories about eating carbs before you workout and carbs and protein after you work out. I could go on and on with all these theories that frankly I don’t completely understand myself. You’re free to do whatever research you like, just know this: after working out, you need some kind of protein to repair your muscles, promote muscle recovery, and get you that gain or tone you’ve been wanting.
Simple Tips for Eating Protein Post-Workout
Now that we understand the importance of protein, I’m going to give you some simple tips to make protein consumption super simple. Most of us are either off to work or off to bed following a workout, making it difficult to get adequate post-workout nutrition. Try these techniques for meeting your daily protein quota.
- Try to schedule workouts around meals–Believe it or not, I’m not a fan of protein powders and haven’t consumed them in years. I wrote a while ago about my problem with protein shakes, but just to restate, I personally feel that protein shakes and powders are entering a potential danger zone. First of all, they’re not regulated at all. You have no idea if you’re paying for protein or sawdust. Second, I just don’t like the idea of mixing powder with water to create a ‘meal.’ Coming from a background in eating whole, unprocessed foods, protein powders are technically processed. In my opinion, you’re better off just eating some real food that’s protein rich instead of downing a shake. That’s why I recommend planing workouts around meals. If you workout in the mornings, you can easily eat eggs for breakfast after your gym sesh. If you’re more of a night owl, make sure your dinner after the gym is loaded with protein.
- Plan ahead–This is a tip I’ve given numerous times for many different scenarios. But I say it so often because most of the time planning can fix a lot of the food problems you battle. If you enjoy going for a morning run, make sure you know what protein-rich meal you’re going to make when you get back. Better yet, hard boil some eggs the night before that you can easily eat with some toast and head out the door. If lunch and dinner are your problems, try making meals ahead of time and storing them in plastic containers. Do you really think all bodybuilders do is work out? As great as that would be, the answer is no. Many of them have real jobs and careers, and they definitely understand that if you fail to plan you’re planning to fail.
- Go for animal protein–If you’re not a vegetarian, I highly recommend eating animal products that are rich in protein after working out. And if you are a vegetarian, what I’m about to say might make you reconsider your entire diet. Sure there’s protein in black beans and tofu and other plant sources. The problem with plant sourced protein, however, is plant proteins might not be bio-available. That is, your body needs to work much harder to get protein from legumes or beans than it does from a chicken breast or steak, making it a not ideal source or protein. Of course, every one is different and if being a vegan or vegetarian works for you by all means continue that eating regiment. I just personally think from my own experience that I perform better when eating animals proteins and notice better results when consuming them after a workout.
- Eat protein after weight routines AND cardio–Think because you went to a spin class instead of Body Pump that you don’t need to eat protein? Think again. When you’re doing cardio, you’re using muscles just like you would when lifting weights. Of course, your leg muscles will definitely work differently for a run than for the leg press. But regardless you’re still creating little tears that need protein to repair and recovery.
9 Easy Protein-Based Meals for Breakfast, Lunch, or Dinner
Do you wish you could get more protein in your diet, but don’t know where to start? Try these simple meal ideas that are protein-packed and easy to prepare.
- Top 1 slice of toast with 2 hard boiled eggs. Serve with 1 cup of fresh fruit (or a large piece of fruit).
- Mix 1/2 cup cottage cheese with a handful of frozen berries, a handful of raw almonds, and a drizzle of honey.
- Cook a 2 egg + 2 egg white omelet with vegetables of your choice. Don’t be afraid to get creative!
- Grill or bake plain chicken breasts. Serve with sauteed broccoli and mushrooms that have been cooked in a little olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.
- Mixed canned tuna (in water) with plain greek yogurt, celery, and a little mustard. Serve with whole grain crackers and a side salad (preferably a dark, leafy green like spinach or arugula).
- Wrap turkey/lean ground beef burger in lettuce instead of a traditional bun. Serve with your favorite condiments. Instead of fries, eat your burger with bell peppers and carrots that have been cut into long strips.
- Bake tilapia (or any other white fish) in the oven with lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic, and a little turmeric. Serve with asparagus that has been roasted in the oven with olive oil, salt, and pepper on a baking sheet.
- Use ground lamb instead of beef for meatballs. Let the meatballs simmer in a low sodium jarred tomato sauce. This is a great meal for your crock-pot!
- Grill flank steak (it’s a cheap, yet tender cut of meat) to your preferred taste. Season with salt, pepper, garlic, lemon juice, and a little cayenne pepper (optional). Serve with a giant salad and some grilled peppers that are cooked alongside the steak.
Bottom line, getting your protein in for isn’t as difficult as you would presume. These nine meals aren’t fancy or crazy, but they taste good and get the job done. Feel free to add other whole grain, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats to keep hunger at bay and create a more complete meal. And if you have specific questions about how any of these dishes are prepared, don’t hesitate to comment below or contact us. WTAF wants to hear from you and all your food endeavors!
Photo Courtesy: Digital Cups