Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Post Workout Nutrition

So you're hooked. "Tabata," "AMRAP" and "Fran" all mean something to you and you can thank (or blame) it on CrossFit. You live for refreshing your internet browser at 10pm just so you can see the WOD for the next day. You are a CrossFit addict. Hopefully a CrossFit KoP addict.
So how do you make the most of your time and energy so you can PR like crazy (as a newbie) or reach a new plateau (as a veteran)?  One of the many (overlooked) ways is paying attention to post workout nutrition.

The body has several energy systems it uses to get work done. I won't get nerdy on you, but basically there are three:
1. Creatine phosphate/ATP - think 1 rep max effor lifts, like a deadlift. You are using explosive energy for a very short period of time.
2. Anaerobic/glycolysis - think metcon. Most would take anywhere from 5-20 minutes and you are burning muscle glycogen while doing it.
3. Aerobic/oxidative - think endurance athlete. They can burn energy at low efforts for hours on end. If I asked you to run for 2 hours straight, you would hate me, but you could most likely do it. 

Your body will generally use these energy systems in this order, often overlapping. For example, if I asked you to go on an all-out run for 30 min., you will generally use your ATP first, then kick into glycolysis once the ATP is used up, then over to oxidative. If you've ever felt a "wall" during a wod, it is probably because you are at the crossover of one of these stages. You can also switch back from an oxidative state to the ATP, for example: a marathoner who decides to sprint the last half mile.

All pathways are hit in CrossFit, but the second (anaerobic) is an important one and let's be honest, most popular. How many times do you find yourself in a love/hate relationship with the WOD? Think Fran, Helen, Elizabeth, and all of those other fun girls. Anyway, this is the one where we want to refuel as soon as we can after a WOD. Why? To replace that muscle glycogen that was burned during the WOD. Your body is screaming for fuel and you do NOT want to piss off the angry glycogen gods.  By feeding your muscles what they want, they will get stronger and recover QUICKER.  Who wants to be sore for days on end? I know I don't. I want to get back in that box and kill those WODs. Quicker recovery means more consistent training which means being stronger and faster.

So what should you be eating? The simple (and frustrating) answer is that it depends on the person! You need to assess your goals and figure out what is going to work best for you. Do you want to lean out? Do you want to gain mass? What kind of WOD was it? You also need to look at other factors such as lifestyle, cost, and transport. Will you have time to create a post wod shake or will you have to buy something from Wawa? How much are you willing to spend? Are you able to keep things refrigerated? Below are some very general guidelines to help you figure things out.

Post WOD fuel is most useful after a metcon. Strength days are fine to have some protein, but not completely necessary, especially if you are having a regular meal afterwards. It's after that sweaty metcon where you are panting and lying on the floor that you want to get something in your system ASAP. (think 45 minutes at the most) If it's Fran and it took you 4 minutes, your stores of glycogen get depleted faster than someone who does it in 15 minutes. In other words, intensity matters! The harder you go, the quicker your ATP and then glycogen stores get used up.  It's possible to go into an aerobic/oxidative state during Fran if the first two stages are hit hard and used up. If, however, you use the example of the 400m run, you can imagine that jogging will not hit your ATP and glycogen that hard, therefore, not requiring as much refueling.

Those looking to lean out should have less carbohydrates post WOD. Those looking to maintain leanness or gain mass should have higher amounts of carbohydrates. Also consider how long the WOD was or how hard you worked. Harder, sweatier work = more carbohydates.

Protein and carbohydrates, maybe a little fat. Typically fat slows down the digestion process, but here you WANT fast digestion. Shakes and liquid food are not the best during a regular meal because they have more surface area and thus get absorbed quicker. Post WOD a shake or liquid is perfect to get that in your system as fast as possible. More protein is needed if you lifted weights or used more muscles in a WOD. More carbs are needed the longer or harder you go in a WOD.

-For someone looking to lean out, they might have about 10-30g protein/10-20g carbs post WOD
-For someone looking to gain mass, or a lean person looking to maintain glycogen stores, they might have 10-30g protein/30-50g carbs post WOD
James "OPT" Fitzgerald (2007 Crossfit Games Winner) actually suggests ratios based off body fat for specific WODs on his blog here. He's a numbers guy and I've learned a lot about Crossfit and post WOD fueling from him. Check out his FAQs for really great info. 
Robb Wolf is another great resource for all things nutrition. Seriously, download his podcasts and listen to them in the car on the way to work. The guy knows an incredible amount of information. He recommends that you get about 50% of your carbs in during the post WOD nutrition. Why? Because your body can "sneak" these carbs in without causing a big insulin response. After about an hour though, you're back to pretty much normal.

-Some people are huge fans of chocolate milk!* It has a great ratio of protein/carbs and even though it has a little fat, it also has other great nutrients for muscle recovery and growth. Plus, it's so easy to obtain and keep. No preparation, just need to keep it refrigerate
-Sweet potato/whey protein - Most folks would recommend something like this. OPT is a fan of whey protein from pastured cows. I personally just get the whey protein from Costco due to cost. Sometimes I will also poke holes in a sweet potato and microwave it for 6-8 minutes and it's ready to eat after a workout.
-some fruit** with deli meat or jerky. 
-applesauce and a cheese stick
-ready-made drinks like MuscleMilk or bars like Power Bars (not ideal because of quality, but convenient)
-water or milk mixed with whey protein and a powdered carbohydrate like maltodextrin

*Amongst many, Dallas Hartwig of Whole9 is not a fan of milk post WOD. Mostly because milk in general is an unhealthy food and having it at any point can mess with your immune system. But for some people it works, plus milk is convenient and easy to go down after a hard workout. My take on it is like fruit. If you have another option like sweet potatoes or squash, go for it.
**some folks are against having fruit post WOD. The reason is that the fructose in fruit will replace liver (hepatic) glycogen first, not the muscle glycogen you are looking to replace. Personally I don't think it's a terrible choice especially for the ease of having fruit on hand, but if you have the freedom, go with the sweet potato option. If you are an endurance athlete or doing a really long WOD, fruit is a good choice because the liver glycogen will get used up. (think mile 20 on a marathon)

All in all, you need to find what works for you and your lifestyle. If you can carry around a cup of sweet potato/protein mix, good for you. If you need to stop at the Wawa on the way home from the box to have some chocolate milk, that's ok too. It's going to depend. But make sure you are refueling after those sweaty (sexy) metcons!

ADDITION: from Jason W. - Also important is sugar content as we all know. And not to mention all important calories of intake per body mass to lean out, gain, or maintain.


Chris P.'s Post WOD fuel
4 cups sweet potato, peeled and sliced*
1 cup apple sauce* - I use Mott's from Costco
~120g whey protein*
1 Tbsp. cinnamon (if unflavored protein. I have chocolate protein so I don't need cinnamon for taste)
*this is a lot of protein as a personal preference. This recipe will make about 4 cups of mixture and for someone my size (150 lbs., ~13% bf) I personally want 30g protein/50-60g carbs per mixture. You can play around with the numbers assuming that 1 cup sweet potato or applesauce has about 60g carbs.
1. After peeling and cutting the sweet potatoes, put them in a microwaveable container and add about 1 Tbsp. water. Cover (allowing venting) and put in microwave on HIGH for 4 minutes. This will soften the sweet potato. 
2. Add sweet potato, apple sauce, protein, and cinnamon in blender or food processor. 
3. Blend until desired consistency. 
4. Store in refrigerator. I've kept containers for a couple of weeks at a time without the mix going bad, but try to eat it sooner than later.


  1. Hey Chris, this is a great write up and very well put together and researched. James Fitzgerald is a friend of mine and visits my box each year for about 10 days while on vacation. Myself and the competitors from my box run Big Dawg WODs for games prep. You're doing a great job with this blog man...keep it up.

    Anthony DiSarro
    Crossfit Redline
    Naples, Fl.

  2. wow, that's great stuff Anthony! Those Big Dawg wods are no joke, but they must be effective as a few Big Dawgs ripped it up at Rob Orlando's Winter Hybrid Challenge a few weeks ago. It was humbling to be amongst their performances.

  3. No joke is right...but unbelievably effective. Trying to keep up James during a WOD is ridiculous and probably dangerous. Our guys have their post WOD refuel down to a science and it shows. Most of them have some variation of the sweet potato, protein powder thing going and I'm playing around with OPT's Refuel product mixed with other proteins.


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