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Protein, Carbs, and Crossfit: When to Eat What

Like politics, everyone has an opinion about workout procedures. Good carbs, bad carbs, everywhere a carb carb. The type of question I hear being tossed around most often is, “Why do I need to ingest protein after a workout?” or “When is the best time to consume protein?” I want to look at that a little today, but before we get started talking about protein, carbohydrates and nutrient timing, I need to point out that I am not a doctor or nutritionist … I’m not even a coach. I’m just sharing my personal experience and what I have been taught. Got it? Good. Let’s get to it.

To start, it helps to break things down into more easily digested chunks. When we talk about working out, there are 3 optimal times to consume a combination of protein and carbs:

  1. Immediately prior to and during exercise;
  2. An hour (give or take) post exercise; and
  3. The stretch between the post-exercise to the start of your next workout.

This is according to Nutrient Timing: The Future of Sports Nutrition by Dr. John Ivy, Ph.D. and Dr. Robert Portman, Ph.D. to shed light on this topic. For this post, I’m specifically going to look at the first two items.

NTS Energy Phase

When you work out, your body pulls from stored nutrients and new nutrients (from that day), converting it all to energy as your body needs it. Maintaining blood glucose levels help delay fatigue, and that in turn helps extend endurance (which we all know is important). Glucose–sugar, basically–gets stored in the muscle cells and liver; when the stores are depleted, the body can more or less create glucose from non-carbohydrate things like fats and muscle tissue. Fat is fine, of course, but none of us want to lose muscle mass; that’s why high-glycemic fruit like bananas or peaches are the best things to consume prior to or during your workout. To keep it light, down a high-protein drink at the same time.

NTS Anabolic Phase

When you work out, your cells become more sensitive to insulin, making it easier to access energy for metabolic processes and repair. Give it 45 minutes to an hour or so, however, and that sensitivity begins to drop quickly … that’s the “Golden Window” you may’ve heard of, the best time post-workout to be scarfing carbohydrates and protein. And why is this combo important? Several reasons:

  • It helps shift the metabolic process from catabolic to anabolic state;
  • It increases blood flow, which speeds the elimination of metabolic waste;
  • It replenishes muscle glycogen (glucose) reserves;
  • It initiates tissue repair, which aids muscle growth;
  • It limits muscle damage and charges your immune system.

So, bypassing all the technical scientific stuff, it essentially breaks down to this: consume light protein and fruit before and during your workout, and maybe more complex proteins and carbs in the Golden Window afterwards. If you actually want to know more about the techno/science stuff, pick up the book. It’s a lot of information to process, but it’s good stuff.