When it comes to building muscle, post workout nutrition plays a key role and can make or break results. This post-workout period of eating, the 3-5 hours immediately following your workout, is without a doubt the most important time to eat properly to build muscle.
After intense weight training your body loses vital nutrients and will act like a sponge and soak up whatever you eat quite quickly. So what you eat during this time is very important and if you eat the right foods you can greatly increase your muscle building potential and speed up your recovery.
Ok, so now you understand the importance of your post workout nutrition. Let's take a look at what you need to accomplish after your intense workout for the best muscle building results:
All this can be done by consuming two post workout meals. One protein shake taken immediately after your workout, and another whole-food meal soon after.
Post Workout Shake
The reason you should drink a protein shake straight after your workout is because your body is in a lot of stress and is starving for nutrients. You need to quickly replenish your body with the right nutrients, and a liquid meal will do this best.
Your post workout shake should contain these ingredients for the best results:
1 - 30-40 grams of whey protein.
2 - 5 grams of creatine if you are taking creatine.
3 - 5 grams of glutamine.
4 - 70-80 grams of simple sugar, eg dextrose.
All this should be mixed in water and taken as soon as possible after completing your workout (no longer than 20 minutes after). Mixing it with milk won't be as effective because it will take a little longer to digest. At any other time of the day milk would be fine for a protein shake, but during post workout nutrition you need to recover as fast as you can, so use water.
Taking a high-potency multivitamin supplement with the protein shake is also recommended.
Post Workout Meal
After taking your post workout protein shake, you should eat your second post-workout meal which will be made up of whole foods. Aim to eat this meal 45 minutes to an hour after finishing your workout.
This meal needs to contain some high quality protein and high glycemiccarbohydrates. Any quality protein source will do, so long as its a whole food. Eg: steak, chicken, tuna, fish, or eggs.
High glycemic carbohydrates are the types of carbs that break down quickly into your bloodstream. This is what you need for your second post workout meal. Some good sources for this would be potatoes, white rice, or rice cakes.
Here is an example of what your second post-workout meal could look like:
- 6oz of steak
- 1 potato
- Glass of orange juice
This meal will continue to provide your starving muscles with the nutrients they require in order to synthesize new muscle tissue and restore glycogen levels. After this second meal there is still about 2 hours or so to take advantage of as best you can.Your goal in this 3-hour window is to consume as much high quality protein and high glycemic carbohydrates as you can.
The goal of this meal is to give your body the nutrients it needs to start the muscle growth and repair process. The more quality protein and high glycemic carbohydrates you eat at this meal, the better.
The majority of guys out there trying to build muscle don't realize the importance of post workout nutrition. It can greatly accelerate your results if you do it right. But if you ignore this critical feeding time, your gains will suffer.
So to sum it all up, after your intense weight training session you should consume 2 meals. One protein shake taken immediately, and one whole food meal taken within 45-60 minutes. Following this routine will give you all the more chance to pack on massive amounts of muscle as fast as possible.
Hopefully this article helped, but always remember to never get stuck in research land. Information is great, but what's infinitely more important and the only thing that actually matters to get results and change your life is to be hitting the gym week in week out, with a properly-structured, intelligently-crafted and well-balanced strength training and nutrition plan that's based on actual scientific principles of building muscle mass (not bro science like you'll see practically everywhere you look online).
But here's the thing:
You don't just randomly stumble upon a highly-effective program that's designed specifically for hardgainers by simply browsing a popular mainstream bodybuilding/fitness magazine, site, or forum (or asking your average run of the mill trainer at a local gym who is highly likely to be just repeating the same old ineffective, incomplete mainstream advice they learned in a classroom).
To truly build that strong, ripped, lean muscular body that you want - and to not just leave it to chance and hope/pray that you'll get results - your training and eating program needs to be solid. Otherwise, you'll be wasting a ton of time in the gym for little return, which is unfortunately what happens to most guys who start hitting the gym as they eventually start spinning their wheels and getting nowhere due to a lack of knowledge and awareness of what actually works most effectively.
So the question remains, how do you ensure you're implementing an effective bulking program that will 100% get you the results you seek? You basically have three paths to take here, so choose whichever fits your situation best.
Path A: Design Your Own Effective Bulking Program (Recommended for Some Beginners & Intermediates)
If you're the patient type who also likes to know how every little detail works, and are willing to spend the time and effort necessary to study the most effective muscle building training and nutrition strategies out there right now to strategically piece together the best information that you find from credible sources to sculpt your own custom bulking program, consider the DIY path of creating your own program from scratch.
However, if you're a beginner, or intermediate lifter who hasn't been getting the results you want, you'll want to make sure that you get your advice from sources and people who understand what it's like to gain muscle starting out as a skinny hardgainer, which is a different beast compared to building muscle as a more naturally bigger guy with more favourable genetics. You also ideally want someone more experienced to look over your program just in case, because there are various things you could miss or do wrong, such as creating an imbalanced program that will lead to posture issues, muscular imbalances, or worse (injuries).
Up for the challenge? To get started planning your own muscle building program from scratch check out our full introduction to building muscle mass as a hardgainer which covers some important basic principles, strategies, and tips.
Path B: Follow A Proven Time-Tested Bulking Program (Recommended for Most Beginners)
If instead of creating your own program from scratch you'd rather follow an already-made complete program that has been proven to work for others in your shoes (ie skinny hardgainers) this is the path for you. Spending the few bucks to get your hands on a well-crafted, respected program that's specifically been designed with hardgainers in mind can really save you time and effort having to design your own program, and it ensures you don't miss out on the various important details that makes a good program.
This is what I'd recommend if you're just starting out or quite inexperienced in the gym, as you'll get off on the right foot to kick-start great results. Although this is also a smart path for intermediates, because if you've been training for a while and not getting great results, getting your hands on a fresh new program created by a natural bodybuilding expert could be the game-changer you need to spark the best results of your life. Sean Nal's Body Transformation Blueprint Program is currently the most comprehensive, polished bulking program for beginners on the market, and is the program that actually helped me the most when I first started out as a newbie so I can't recommend it highly enough if you're new and wanting to all but guarantee great results over the next few months and beyond.
There are other good premade mass gain programs out there that were created specifically (and scientifically) for hardgainers, but there's also a lot of overpriced, overly-marketed and low-quality programs that you should avoid out there so be on your toes when looking for the right program to follow to avoid wasting your money. I've personally used a ton of different programs and I compiled the best, highest-quality ones that I can comfortably recommend in my list of the best comprehensive bulking programs for hardgainers here.
Path C: Find a (Good) In-Person Trainer
This isn't going to be for everyone as a quality trainer who knows what they're doing, and most importantly has got great results themselves (ideally starting out in similar shoes to you) can be quite costly. This is the path you should probably consider if you have any type of injury or health problem, or obviously if you have the money to burn and want someone to carefully monitor what you're doing in the gym and be able to give you specific feedback.
Whichever path you choose, never forget the single most important thing: never give up, and your success in transforming your body, strength, health, posture, and self-confidence will simply be a matter of when, not if. I'd say good luck, but if you really understand that last sentence, you're not gonna need it, friend. I wish you nothing but success.
Mad-Scientist of Hardgainer-to-Hero Transformations for 12+ Years
Last and Definitely Least: Certified Fitness Instructor (real-world experience > school)