Do You Need Carbs Post Workout?
The post workout hype is real- some people seem to think that unless they slam 75g of dextrose and creatine immediately post-workout they will- literally- "waste their gains."
While there is a lot of science that backs the importance of post workout carbs the bottom line is that an immediate shake and fast digesting carb source isn't always necessary, and certainly isn't necessary for everyone. Like everything in fitness it depends on the individual and the context.
For starters the magical post workout window isn't some blink-and-miss-it 15 minute time frame. The research as to length is conflicting- anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours. This means that for most people, as long as you eat a good meal somewhere in the vicinity of 1-2 hours following your training you will be fine. And quite a few studies have supported that total caloric intake across the day matters most.
For example, if you are supposed to eat 200g protein, 200g carbs and 100g fat during the day, as long as you meet those goals, your results will be very similar if not the same as if you slammed a post workout shake and carbs.
Secondly the type of training you do as well as the duration of your workout needs to be factored in. For example the average 45-60 minute strength training session likely doesn't warrant some massive post workout carb bomb. As long as you meet your macro requirements across the day you'll be fine. But if you are going through a rigorous 2 hour training session then likely your risk of catabolism is high and the sooner you get some protein and carbs into you the better.
It's also worth mentioning that one study found that EAAS or protein pre-workout is capable of sustaining amino acid delivery well into the post-workout window. This means that the immediate slamming of a shake and carbs to prevent losing your "gains" is a mute point. So long as you eat a good meal 1-2 hours before you train, your next scheduled protein-rich meal (so long as it's about 1–2 hours post-exercise) is likely sufficient for maximizing recovery and anabolism.
And another study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sport Nutrition showed that protein alone is as effective as protein with carbs following a workout when it comes to repairing or building muscle.
So now what?
For starters I do believe that for most people, how you eat across the span of the day is more important then what you do in the first 15 minutes following your workout.
Rather than worrying about the post workout window, eat protein dense foods at every meal and eat the majority of your carbs to the meals closest to the time of day you train. It doesn't need to be much more complicated than that. If your goal is maximizing rates of muscle gain, then the current findings seem to support the broad objective of meeting total daily protein and carb needs (assuming you're not training in a fasted state).
If, however, you DO train fasted (say at 5am on an empty stomach) then you definitely want to consume 20-40g of protein immediately after your workout to help reverse the catabolic state in your body and maximize muscle growth. Because fasting itself will put your body at an increased risk of muscle loss, eating immediately after a workout is crucial for promoting muscle protein synthesis and glycogen storage. If your goal is to sustain or gain lean muscle add some carbs as well. Then have a nutrient dense whole food meal about 1.5-2 hours later.
As long as you don't 1) train fasted 2) start your training more then 3 hours after your last meal or 3) strength train for 90+ minutes there really is no need for big post workout.
It certainly doesn't hurt to throw back a protein shake immediately after you train, but you can still gain a substantial amount of strength and size even when delaying post-workout nutrition. As long as your macro requirements are met throughout the day you'll be just fine.