By Ken "Skip" Hill
Having been in this game for almost thirty years, I always get a kick out of people who try to figure out on paper the best nutritional regimen for getting big or ripped. They’ll work at it until they find the option that is one-thousandth of a percent better than all others and then go with it. One of the things I have figured out over the years is that just because something looks good on paper, it doesn’t mean much of anything until you apply it and see how it works in a real-world setting. This becomes very apparent when it comes to post-workout carbohydrate sources.
Before I get going on what I think are the best options, let’s do a quick overview of what post-workout carbs actually do. Here is the Skip’s Notes version (hey, branding is everything):
After a weight training session, our bodies need carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores and proteins/amino acids to speed recovery and growth.
It has been shown that uptake of carbohydrates is enhanced during the post-workout window so this is the optimal time for ingesting an easy-to-digest form of carbohydrate. Because we want post-workout carb sources to hit the bloodstream very quickly, low fiber and low fat options are a necessity.
Post-workout carbs arguably flip the switch from a catabolic state to an anabolic one. I say “arguably” because being catabolic during training is misleading, but that’s for another article altogether.
See how I tend to keep things very simple? Part of the problem today with nutrition is that things end up being made far too complicated. Very often this is done just to make the person describing the nutritional concepts sound that much more intelligent. Me? I’m not terribly bright so I tend to want to keep things simple. That way, I can see if they work or not and why.
The supplement industry is all over post-workout carbs. Because I am old as hell, I remember back in the mid-80s when syrupy carb drinks like Carbo Force first came on the scene. The industry knew even thirty years ago that this was a hot market and many a supplement company has made a killing since then on post-workout drinks, powders, etc. Since then, I have tried a ton of different post-workout carb sources and finally decided that I wasn’t too sure if they were working any better than solid foods. Plus, they really didn’t taste that great. I mean, if given the option of dextrose powder or a non-fat or low-fat cookie, who in the hell would want to drink dextrose powder?
Some of you might being thinking, “I’m way too hardcore to settle for a second rate option and if something like dextrose powder will give me the edge, I am definitely going to do that instead.” I laugh at this type of thinking because if you were to measure the difference in muscle mass after a year of training with one supplement versus the other, it would surprise you at how little it matters. Still, if you feel that it does matter and an extra 300 grams of muscle a year is worth choking down dextrose powder, then go for it. Below I have listed six of my favorite, tasty and highly effective, post-workout carb sources.
1. Non-fat or low fat cookies
Snackwells makes a pretty tasty cookie that is very low fat and I have even made my own homemade version for after my own workouts. The carbs are basically sugar and flour so they are great for refueling after workout. You can always replace the fat in a normal cookie recipe with applesauce to further lower the fat content.
2. Pop Tarts or Cereal Bars
These are very practical when on the run or when ingesting your post-workout carbs in your car after a gym session. I think we have all seen the inside of a meathead’s 96 Camry (with only one hubcap and two separate cracks in the windshield that run the full width of the car). More often than not, it is spackled with carb powder from either spilling while driving or not having the top secured completely before shaking.
These carb sources are high in carbohydrates and low in fiber and fat (if you get the low fat versions) so they hit your blood stream quickly which, of course, is what you want from a post-workout carbohydrate.
3. Full sugar soda
This source is very convenient and easy to ingest after a workout. It is also far cheaper and just as effective as the powders you can buy with the fancy names and fancy claims. An ice cold Code Red Mountain Dew can really hit the spot after you’ve killed your legs on a hot summer day.
4. Pretzels or Pringles
Pretzels are always low in fat and Pringles makes a non-fat version these days as well. Just baked dough and dehydrated potatoes, both options are nothing but carbs and therefore hit your bloodstream very quickly. With both these foods you also get the added bonus of more sodium. I am a big fan of getting more sodium with my post-workout carbs as I feel it helps to replenish glycogen much more efficiently. I personally prefer flat pretzels after a workout.
5. Frozen yogurt
This is probably the tastiest of the options but not as practical because it is easier to use at home than it is on the run. I prefer mixing frozen yogurt with protein powder in a blender and adding some water to thin it out slightly. With frozen yogurt you get a lower fat intake than you would with something like ice cream. Aside from the carbs, you also get a little added protein.
6. Kid’s cereal
This is easily the most popular option on the list because of taste and practicality. If you are at home you can just put any kid’s cereal in a bowl and pour your protein drink over it like you would pour milk over your cereal. There are a ton of different flavors so it offers the most variety as well. All kid cereal is roughly one half sugar and one half fast acting carbohydrates like rice, wheat, etc, so it is low in fiber and low in fat. On the go, you can simply put the cereal in a Ziploc bag and eat it like a snack, too.
If you are one of those people that stand by the supplement industry’s claims and “research”, then you will likely scoff at a lot of my ideas and the foods that I listed above. That’s ok because I can’t convince everyone that nutrition is far simpler than most think it is. If you are one of those people that insist on keeping things complicated then go for it. The rest of us will go on getting ripped while finishing our workouts with post-workout carbs that both taste great and actually provide the body with what it needs. When your way fails and your results are lackluster, remember me and this article. Hopefully by then you will have realized that what looks good on paper doesn’t always play out as well when applied.
Ken "Skip" Hill has spent 30 years in the trenches of bodybuilding. He owns TEAM SKIP Nutritional Consulting, where he specializes in conditioning for bodybuilders and high-level athletes. You can reach Skip through his website, TEAMSKIP.net and follow him on Twitter (@IntenseMuscle).