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The important lesson I learned while prioritizing post-workout nutrition

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As gym owners, a question we get asked a lot is “what should I eat after a workout?”

It makes perfect sense why this is a common question. You’d hate for all your hard work in the gym to go to waste by an ill-conceived meal afterwards.

In fact, we’ve also actively encouraged our athletes to think about what a post-workout meal should consist of, oft-noting after a tough workout how important it is to replenish glycogen stores and repair muscle after a workout through adequate carbohydrate and protein consumption. You might hear one of us say, “don’t skip that rice tonight!” after a particularly grueling workout.

I must confess though, this advice is predicated on the assumption that every other meal is on point, which includes rest day meals, pre-workout meals, intra-workout nutrition, and any other eating, snacking, or meal throughout the day. In fact, it’s a necessary precondition: post-workout nutrition is only effective if the environment is already primed and ready for it.

We must master the basics before we focus on the details. I’m putting “post-workout nutrition” in the ‘Details’ category.

Suppose you work out three times a week. Suppose you also eat three meals in any given day. That means you’re eating 21 meals per week (not including snacks), and three of those would be considered “post-workout” meals.

There’s no denying that post-workout meals are important. But I would argue that the other 18 meals in your week are far more critical to your health and to reaching your health and fitness goals.

Another issue with putting too much emphasis on post-workout meals is that “post-workout nutrition” often gets misinterpreted to mean “I can eat whatever I want after the workout because I worked really hard tonight.” Cue the fried rice and cream cheese wontons, the cheese curds and beer, or whatever else someone may think they ‘earned.’

But even when it doesn’t get misinterpreted that way, that is, even when post-workout nutrition is on point, the primary focus should still remain on the other 18+ meals throughout the week. Let’s not mistake the forest for the trees! However stellar your “post-workout nutrition” is, it still won’t be enough to move the needle without addressing all the other variables that go into a more comprehensive approach, such as:

  1. How many meals are you eating in a day?
  2. Do you know how much you’re eating in a day?
  3. Do you know if your protein intake is optimal?
  4. Do your meals always contain a lean protein, vegetables, a healthy fat, and if they contain a carbohydrate, a minimally processed one?
  5. Are you eating slowly?
  6. Are you eating to 80% full?
  7. How is your sleep quality?
  8. What is the overall volume of your sleep?
  9. What are you doing for exercise?
  10. What else are you doing to fit movement into your day?
  11. How is your movement quality?
  12. What measurable steps are you taking to manage your stress?
  13. How supportive are the people and things around you of you and your goals?
  14. Do you feel in control of the food choices you make, or do you feel turmoil, anxiety, and feelings of restriction, guilt, pressure, or obligation around food?
  15. …And how consistent are you with all of these measures?

When you consider the above 15 variables, it’s easy to see how “I’m working out three times a week and I’m having my post-workout shake with my post-workout meal of white rice and chicken; why am I not seeing progress?” is a common question we get asked. Well, we can start by looking at what the other 165 hours in the week look like outside of your workout, as well as what the other 18 meals in your week consist of.

As you can see, what you eat after a workout is one small piece of the puzzle. Heck, what you eat in general is only part of the equation!

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WODBLOG

The secret guide to gain muscle and burn fat

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Today we are going to talk about a very specific goal: body composition goals. I want to be very careful in limiting the scope of this blog post to this one very specific goal. I understand that not everyone will have aesthetic goals, and that’s okay! This blog post only applies and makes sense within the context of an aesthetic goal. Got it?! Got it!
I recently came across an ad that said:
“Cardio Monday! HIIT Tuesday! Yoga Wednesday! Barre Thursday! Recovery Friday! Never get bored of your fitness routine!”
Hey, I don’t think your fitness routine should be boring either. I also think it’s great to try new things. But there does come a point where you must ask if your fitness routine makes sense with what your goal is. When selecting workouts, I prefer to opt for the most efficient way to reach my goal.
If the goal is an aesthetic one, that is, you want your body to look a certain way, and you’d like your exercise selection to help you get there, then an exercise lineup like the one above is not going to help you reach your goal in a time-efficient way.
Think of it this way: if your goal was to make $100k/year, you wouldn’t accept a job that paid $20/hour. It would make a lot more sense to take a job that paid $100/hour.
Same goes for fitness. I already know the resistance I’ll hear. “But Caitlin….my goal is not to look like the Incredible Hulk. I just want to look fit/toned/healthy.” Understand that when you say you want to look toned, what you are really saying is that you want to build muscle. There is no magical adaptation that occurs between building muscle and not building muscle. If you are changing the tone, look, and feel of your arms/butt/legs/belly…you are building muscle. You are not toning. “Toning” is not actually a thing.
There is also no accidental Hulking that happens. I can promise you with 100% certainty that you will not accidentally grow grotesquely large muscles by resistance training.
About 3% of women do have the genetics to put on some serious muscle without much effort. If you’re in that 3%, first of all, I’m jealous of you. I have been strength training for five years; I can squat 2.5 times my bodyweight and deadlift over 3 times my bodyweight, which exceed the standing Minnesota state records in powerlifting, and I still get told quite frequently that I am “skinny.” Now, most people cannot imagine someone training 5-6 times a week for 1-3 hours a day for several years would be considered “skinny.” But the truth is that muscle takes a long time to grow, and the way your muscles look largely depends on your genetics. I am proof you can also get very strong without looking extremely muscular.
So, if you are one of the 3% of women who can put on muscle without dedicating your life to it, then consider yourself very lucky! You can probably do minimal exercising with mostly your own bodyweight a couple times a week and maintain the physique you want. But for the rest of us, we’ll have to pursue the most efficient route, because none of us has 40 hours a week to devote to exercise, which is probably what it would take to meet your aesthetic goal following a calendar of “cardio Monday, HIIT Tuesday, yoga Wednesday, & barre Thursday.”
So, for the rest of us, a standard resistance training program will be the single best use of our time. You can use light weights and high reps, or heavier weights and low reps, as long as the effort on each set is there. If we changed our exercise program dramatically every single day, we wouldn’t make much progress. Too much randomization and lack of structure can make accomplishing a goal very difficult and time-consuming. Training with purpose, effort, and more rigidity will allow you to reach your goal in a fraction of the time. Boring? Depends on the program. Effective? You bet.
The only reason we as females are being endlessly supplied with the false dilemma of  fun cardio/yoga/barre/pilates and boring, bulk-producing resistance training is because fitness marketers realized that the former simply sells better. But instead of dispelling the myth that weight training a few times a week won’t actually make your muscles bust out of your clothes, fitness marketers decided it’s better to market yoga, cardio, and other forms of exercise that, while they are all fantastic, aren’t efficient in meeting an aesthetic goal. We’re being sold unobtainable bodies by way of fantastical, pie-in-the-sky exercise programs. We’re being told that not only will resistance training make you bulky, it is also boring, so you’re better off avoiding it altogether. I would say it’s anything but boring, but that’s a blog post for a different day! In sum, here’s what I’ve found to actually be true: Nothing is more boring than not seeing results.
– Coach Caitlin
Thank you Bret Contreras, PhD, (www.bretcontreras.com) for the inspiration for this post, and for providing the excellent analogy about wages and salary goals!