A reader wrote to me because he heard eating fat in a post workout meal was bad and wondered if the post-workout meal should be fat-free.
This is a great question because it’s something that’s been talked about for years and for the longest time, the suggestion was to limit fat intake post training to allow for a quicker absorption of nutrients.
While this advice is not necessarily bad, it’s not the most up-to-date, and it might not be that practical for some people who can’t eat as frequently or make a quick low-fat meal after their training sessions.
To better understand this idea, let’s look at digestion.
The rate at which we digest food is based on many variables. Some of those are:
- How much fiber is in the food (more fiber can slow digestion)
- How many calories in the meal (more calories take longer to digest)
- If the meal is mixed (containing protein, carbohydrate, and fat)
- The type of protein (some digests faster than others)
- The type of carbohydrate (simple sugars digest more easily than complex sources)
As you see above, the rate of digestion is going to vary wildly depending on how much food you eat, how much fiber’s in the meal, and whether or not you have a mixed meal.
So should you limit your fat intake post workout? Should you eat any fat in the meal right after training?
The short answer is it doesn’t matter much either way.
Fat Slows Digestion, But…
Eating fat post workout will slow the digestion of the meal, but it doesn’t mean you won’t see any benefits in muscle growth or glycogen replenishment. The reason for this is because what you eat post workout isn’t immediately shuttled into your muscles for use.
The body has to break down the carbohydrates into glucose to be utilized and stored. The same goes for protein in that it has to be broken down into amino acids.
In fact, the meal you have before training is likely more important for making sure your body is supplied with fuel it needs from carbs and amino acids for repairing the muscles during breakdown from exercise. Check out my pre-workout meal guide to make sure you’re eating properly before training.
And look, it’s even backed by science:
These results indicate that the response of net muscle protein synthesis to consumption of an EAC (essential amino acid-carbohydrate supplement) solution immediately before resistance exercise is greater than that when the solution is consumed after exercise, primarily because of an increase in muscle protein synthesis as a result of increased delivery of amino acids to the leg.
The Anabolic Window Doesn’t Seem To Matter Much When You’re Well Fed
Another idea is that if you eat fat post workout, you miss out on the anabolic window (due to how long it takes fat to break down), which has been touted as this sacred, limited window for maximizing your muscle and strength gains through precise nutritional protocols (read: making a whey shake and mixing in some waxy maize).
However, a meta-analysis that looked at protein timing and its effects on strength and hypertrophy seem to show us that as long as you’re getting enough protein throughout the day, you’re not going to see much benefit from a perfectly-timed post workout meal.
Here’s what the study had to say:
In conclusion, current evidence does not appear to support the claim that immediate (≤ 1 hour) consumption of protein pre- and/or post-workout significantly enhances strength- or hypertrophic-related adaptations to resistance exercise. The results of this meta-analysis indicate that if a peri-workout anabolic window of opportunity does in fact exist, the window for protein consumption would appear to be greater than one-hour before and after a resistance training session. Any positive effects noted in timing studies were found to be due to an increased protein intake rather than the temporal aspects of consumption, but a lack of matched studies makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions in this regard.
So here’s the good news. You don’t have to suck down that whey protein shake immediately after your training session. Instead, you could have a snack or a regular meal before training and then enjoy a full meal post workout when you get back from the gym.
Need to know more about protein intake? Read this: how much protein do I need to build muscle and lose fat?
Instead of worrying about how much fat is in your post workout meal, focus on your total daily intake of calories and your overall fitness goal.
Here’s a good checklist:
- Aim to hit your total goal macronutrient intake by the end of the day. I prefer 3-4 meals, but the meal timing is likely not anything to worry about unless you’re eating 1-2 meals per day and/or doing some intense intermittent fasting.
- Try to have a meal before your training session, even if it’s something small like a glass of juice and some yogurt. See my pre-workout meal guides for more ideas.
- Don’t worry about the fat intake post workout. Only worry about hitting your desired total fat intake for the day. Fat is 1 of 3 macronutrients. Read my article on how to track macros if you’re unfamiliar with this.
- Only use whey protein supplements if you have to. Whole food is often a better choice and much tastier at that.
 Tipton, KD, et al. “Timing of Amino Acid-carbohydrate Ingestion Alters Anabolic Response of Muscle to Resistance Exercise.” Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Aug;281(2):E197-206., n.d. Web.
 Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA, Krieger JW., “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.” The Effect of Protein Timing on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy: A Meta-analysis. N.p., n.d. Web.