Thursday, November 25, 2010

The BEST Options for Post Workout Carbs

You just finished a hard workout.  You're sweaty, tired and all you can think about is a hot shower and the couch.  Wait a minute!!  There is one thing that you should be thinking about before almost anything else... the post workout meal.

The post workout (PWO) meal is vital if performance is your main concern.  This meal, when eaten 5-20 minutes following exercise, works to restore muscle glycogen and put a halt on muscle catabolism (breakdown).  In order to take advantage of increased insulin sensitivity and efficient shuttling of carbs and amino acids into the muscles, timing is essential.  The longer you wait to refuel - the longer it will take to recover.

So, what should the PWO meal look like?  That really depends on your workout and your goals.  If performance is your game you're definitely going to need high quality carbs for glycogen replenishment along with animal sourced protein to stop muscle breakdown and provide Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA's) to promote speedy muscle recovery.  The carb:protein ratio will depend highly upon the mode, intensity and duration of the activity.  It's an individualized formula - I like to work with each of my clients one-on-one to determine the best breakdown for them.  Let me know and I would be happy to help you find your groove!

As far as carbs go - some choices are FAR better than others!!  Starchy is preferable to simple, that's how carb loading got its place...  Pasta, bagels, bread - are what most tend to think of.  Unfortunately these are NOT the best choices - in fact they may be some of the worst due to the negative effects grains have on the body.  How about fruit?  Fruit is an okay choice...  although not the best either.  Fruit sugar (fructose) is a simple carbohydrate.  This means that it requires little breakdown once in the body.  Additionally, it causes a rapid insulin response and fructose has been found to increase risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc...

So, what's left??  Here's a list of the 'good guys'.  Low fructose, optimal carbs, high nutrients!!

What They Are - Yellow-orange fleshed potatoes.  Yams tend to be drier and starchier than sweet potatoes.  Sweet potatoes are often referred to as yams, although they are not the same botanically or nutritionally.
Nutrition: (1 medium yam)
Calories:  135
Carbs:  32 grams
Sugar:  2.38 grams
Fructose:  .36 grams
Fiber:  4.7 grams

Sweet Potatoes:
What They Are - Yellow-orange fleshed, moist potatoes.  Less starchy, moister and sweeter than yams.  Sweet Potatoes are sometimes called yams (but they aren't)...
Nutrition: (1 medium sweet potato)
Calories: 103
Carbs:  24 grams
Sugar:  7.39 grams
Fructose:  .57 grams
Fiber: 3.8 grams

Acorn and Butternut Squash:
What They Are - Two varieties of squash with yellow/orange and deep orange flesh respectively.  Although different, they are nutritionally similar with the exception of Vitamin A.  (Butternut squash has 11 times the Vitamin A of Acorn squash.)  Also falling into this category are Buttercup Squash and Delicata Squash.
Nutrition: (1 cup cooked)
Calories:  83
Carbs:  22
Sugar:  4
Fructose:  NA
Fiber:  6.6 grams

There you have it!  The BEST post workout carb choices.  Stock up, cook them ahead of time, pair them with some lean animal sourced protein and reap the benefits of rapid recovery and an AWESOME next workout!!



  1. Amy,
    I'm thankful for all you posts. Have a butternut squash here to eat.
    Dana Law
    San Diego

  2. This post is inspiring me to come back to your site.

  3. I'm kind of ashamed to admit that I had no idea that there were nutritional differences between a sweet potato and a yam.

  4. Nice post, where do you feel turnips, rutabegas, and the ilk fit into that hierarchy?

  5. Thanks Dana and Full...

    Richard - don't be ashamed, you were not alone and now you know!! Who knows this knowledge may come in handy next time you're playing Trivial Pursuit...

    PJ - This is what they look like!
    Rutabaga (1 cup cooked) -
    Calories - 66
    Carbs - 15g
    Sugar - 0.2
    Fructose - na
    Fiber - 3.1

    Turnip - (1 cup cooked/mashed) -
    Calories - 48
    Carbs - 11g
    Sugar - 0.1
    Fructose - na
    Fiber - 4.6

    Keep the great comments and questions coming!!

  6. This is exactly the information I was looking for! I'm so excited! I've felt better in the last 2months eating Paleo and working out than I have EVER! It's the little details that get confusing sometimes though. There's no-one in my region that eats like this, so your blog is invaluable to me!

  7. but since your body is absorbing everything so quickly after working out, why would you take a slow digesting carb like a sweet potato rather than just protein, since your body makes it a carb anyway, and fat which will fuel the energy you just wasted on the workout, fat, rather than adding more unnecessary carbs to your diet?? Isn't there already an insulin spike after working that will just take all the nutrients without adding the carbs??? Since your burning fat, wouldn't you rather fuel the fat on top of protein???

  8. Thanks for your valuable information. It really gives me an insight on this topic. I'll visit here again for more information.
    post workout nutrition