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Post Work Out Nutrition

Racking the weights for the last time after finishing a grueling leg workout, you feel like you made progress in the gym today. Your pump is great and you start to leave the gym. Wait! Remember that what you do in the next hour is just as important as that last set of squats you did that made you feel like puking. I am sure you know by now or have heard that there is a window after working out that you are anabolic and later turn catabolic.(more on this later) I am going to map out what you should eat to maximize this window for maximum muscle building and minimal fat gain. We are also going to explore why you are eating what you are eating and what reactions it causes in the body.

In this window there are certain macro nutrients that we need and some that we do not need. This article will lay out which ones to eat which one to avoid and why. I have no doubt that you will not only understand what you have to consume after a workout but how much of it and why when you are finished reading.

Anabolic vs. Catabolic

First off let me explain the importance of the whole anabolic/catabolic term. These are both ways to categorizing the metabolic processes. In an anabolic state the body experiences muscle maintenance or growth, normal metabolic rates, and weight loss in the form of fat. The anabolic state can be characterized by low cortisol levels (a catabolic stress hormone) and higher testosterone (an anabolic hormone) levels. The use of anabolic steroids puts the body into a somewhat constant anabolic state. This is revealed in their drastic effect on muscle. It is like walking around constantly in a building phase, but it does come with consequences.

On the other hand catabolism is the part of your metabolism that breaks molecules into smaller units to produce energy and also takes measures to conserve energy. Stress, mental or physical, can put the body into the catabolic state. In this state the body can experience muscle loss, slowing in metabolic rate, lower perceived energy levels, and weight gain in the form of fat. The catabolic state can be characterized as having high cortisol levels and low testosterone levels.

If you intake more nutrients in an anabolic state, wouldn’t it make the most sense to feed your body the nutrients at that time. This takes care of the need for nutrients in this window of anabolic state, now we should move to what nutrients we need in this state for maximum benefit.

What Do I Need?

We will look at this one macro nutrient at a time. We will establish what you should eat, why you should eat it, and how much of it to eat. The amounts will vary due to size, and whether you are in a cutting or a bulking cycle, but remember this is for maximum uptake and does not take in account the added intake of steroids or what other performance enhancers will produce.


Yes, everybody runs to the supplement stores to buy protein for their post workout shake, but the main ingredient, in my opinion is not protein at all. Proteins maybe the building block of muscle for your body, but the carbohydrates are what gives the body the ability to utilize the protein more efficiently.

Foods higher is sugar or high in carbohydrates cause higher blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels lead to the release high amounts of the hormone insulin from the pancreas. When this high sugar food is eaten throughout the day in abundance it leads to insulin resistance, obesity, and diabetes. If we pick and choose when we want to utilize the flood of insulin it can be our ally, if we let open the flood gates all day, it can defiantly be our enemy.

So now you know that carb ingestion causes higher blood sugar levels and in turn insulin release, but why does that matter? It matters because insulin is a very powerful hormone that binds to muscle cells and helps force glucose into the muscle cells. This allows the muscles to replenish and repair at a higher rate of speed due to the availability of the nutrients. The intake of carbs also keeps the body out of ketosis and spares protein from being used as a fuel instead of a building block for you muscle. Low carb dieter should still eat no less than 75 carbs per day to keep the body out of ketosis.

What Kind of Carbs?

Now that we have established a reason for the carbohydrates lets talk about what kind we there are and what kind we need.

Simple Sugars

There are two main types of simple sugars and each type has two different forms.
A.    Monosaccharide - single sugar molecule.
1.    Fructose - Fruit sugar. Does not digested quickly and does not raise insulin levels to a great degree. So this means is that fruit sources are not a good source of carbs for the post-workout.
2.    Dextrose – Corn sugar. Also called glucose and is a very popular post-workout carb. Highest of the sugar carbs on the glycemic index which rates affect on blood sugar. The number one pick of this group of four. Absorbed through gut.

B.    Disaccharide - double sugar molecule.
1.    Lactose – This is milk sugar and it also doesn’t increase the insulin levels to a great degree. It is also a larger molecule and has to be broken apart.
2.    Sucrose – Is no other than common table sugar made up of a molecule of glucose (dextrose) and a molecule of fructose. Also not the greatest choice for post workout nutrition due to the paired molecules.

Complex Carbs
Complex carbs are a bodybuilder’s friend the rest of the day, but post-workout they are worthless in whole food form. The fiber from the complex carbs become a hindrance due to its slow absorption rate. What makes the complex carbs good for you throughout the day (sustained energy release) is what makes them bad for you after a workout.

Maltodextrin is actually a complex carbohydrate made from corn, rice or potato starch. Its molecular chain is shorter than other complex carbs due to processing. It has loosely bonded glucose molecules and like dextrose, maltodextrin is absorbed directly through the gut. This allows it to raise blood sugar and insulin levels just as much as dextrose does.

Waxy Maize
Waxy maize is made from corn starch and is absorbed very quickly by the body. The majority of carbs are passed to the intestinal tract and then broken down for digestion where as waxy maize passes through the gastric lining with no need for gastric emptying other carbs require. If there is a hands down winner in post-workout carb use, Waxy Maize takes the prize.

What is the Verdict?
With all these choices I would stay with dextrose, maltodextrin, or the new comer waxy maize. You could play around see what is best for you. A cocktail of each could be effective if done correctly.

Protein takes a back seat to carbohydrates in the post workout importance race, but give him a break he can’t be the most important nutrient all day. Protein is needed in the post workout nutrition to begin repairing the muscle tissue that were torn down by your previous workout. Remember that the quickness of the delivery is important in protein as well as the carbs. This factor makes the right protein an easy choice.
What Kind of Protein?

Whole food protein is out due to the body having to break it down before utilizing it. This leaves protein powder as the number one option. The choice it still not made due to the many different protein powders available. Different types of protein powders are digested at different rates. Casein is digested at a very slow rate, while egg and soy proteins are digested at a moderate rate. So none of these would be ideal. Whey protein is digested at a very fast rate making it the ideal protein to be used post-workout.

Whey comes in concentrate, isolate, and hydrolyzed versions with each being more quickly absorbed than the previous one in this list. All are ok choices but a mixture of hydrolyzed with concentrate may be the best way to go. That will give you the quickest and the slowest of the three for a sustained release early in the anabolic window though the end. This can be shown by the digestion times of the different whey protein. Hydrolyzed whey is digested within 10-40 minutes, whey isolates are digested within about 30-50 minutes, and whey concentrate in about 40-80 minutes.

What is the Verdict?

With all these choices I would stay with concentrate whey and hydrolyzed whey mix of 1:1. This will give you the best of both worlds.


Run away from fats during post-workout nutrition. Fats slow down the gastric emptying (act of stomach emptying into intestines). This can cause a hindrance in every nutrients absorption rate and make nutrients compete for uptake. If competing for uptake some delicate protein molecules could be destroyed by stomach acid.

Now How Much?
Now that we have what nutrients give us the optimal impact lets look at the portions to put in your protein/carbohydrate shake. Carbohydrates and protein should be in a ratio of 2:1, so if you have 50 grams of carbs you would have 25 grams of protein. I suggest .20 (cutting) to .45 (bulking) per pound of lean body mass.

With a lean body mass of 200 lb, this would mean 40 grams of carbs and 20 grams of protein if you are cutting and 80 grams of carbs and 40 grams of protein if you are in a bulking mode.

Get to Mixing
Now that you know the perfect ingredients for your post workout shake, get that blender running. Remember that most bodybuilders value their meals more than their workouts. It is the key to their success and the post workout meal is the most important meal of the day. This alone should pump you up to maximize each and every drive home from the gym with a perfect shake.

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