In Nutrition

March 11, 2010

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CrossFitters know all about controlling insulin levels, and Chris Mason believes you can use that knowledge to produce big gains via a carefully planned post-workout insulin spike.

CrossFit athletes subject their bodies to a tremendous workload comprising high-intensity effort and significant training volume. The CrossFit way is incredibly taxing to the body—hence the great results—and places a huge strain on one’s recovery ability.

After an intense session in the gym, the body is in a very unique physiological state, and it’s this state that has generated the onslaught of PWO hype that’s been touted in muscle magazines and supplement-company ads for years. All hype aside, the PWO nutrition window is real and should be taken advantage of by any athlete looking to optimize performance.

CrossFit practitioners are an educated lot and don’t want to be fed hype or misinformation, and many might be thinking the requisite amounts of nutrients needed for recovery will be available so long as a meal is consumed within a few hours of training. However, the immense number of real-world variables involved with digestion, absorption, exact timing and composition of meals makes this approach hit-or-miss unless you incorporate PWO nutrition.



91 Comments on “Optimized Post-Workout Nutrition for the CrossFit Athlete”


wrote …

As an Ironman triathlete, I have been aware of the benefits of post workout nutrition. Recovery begins right after your workout and there is a tremendous benefit to eating right after your workout. Current studies have found that a 4 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein may be ideal. If you dont have time to make a protein fruit smooothie, chocolate milk might be an option.


wrote …

The duration of the window after physical activity was not mentioned. I have read, and experienced, that a shake is best taken within 45 minutes of a workout.

I'm quite surprised it has taken this long for a concise article on the subject to appear.


wrote …

James, I didn't the duration of the window because it is variable. I think your number of 45 minutes or less is a good rule of thumb.

Casey, the ratio you mention is targeted at the further end of the endurance athlete spectrum. The more traditional CF athlete wants more protein relative to carbs.



replied to comment from Chris Mason


I'm really interested by your approach to POW. I've been wading through as much review papers and primary research on this kind of stuff as I have time for, and I haven't been able to come to the neat conclusions as you have. On one hand, insulin is a powerful anabolic hormone and it makes sense to include insulin spikes right after workouts. For a while I did 16 oz chocolate milk + whey protein for this reason. On the other hand, I think arguments that the glucose spike shortly after a workout could abrogate the post workout growth hormone secretion, thus limiting growth, have merit too. So for a while I have been doing post work out fasts occasionally. Are there any particular research papers that settled your mind on one side of the controversy? I find it challenging to find research that is widely applicable as most sports science is conducted using biking or running and the lifting that is studied is rarely squats, dead lifts, cleans, etc.


wrote …

So Chris, I haven't done a lot of reading on PWO workouts. I'm still working on fine tuning the Zone Diet for myself to. I've been at it a couple months. And I have found that I'm sensitive to that carb to protein ratio. I'm just wondering if there is a range (carb to protein) I should be considering for PWO Workout. I imagine everyone might be a little different here.


wrote …


I have been following a 4 to 1 carb/protein ratio as well. Do you recommend a specific ratio of carb to protein for crossfitters?


replied to comment from Chris Mason

Great article, good info. Curious, what ratio of protein to carb for a crossfiter would be best? 2:1? 3:1? How about fat? Also, as far as the simple carb source goes, should we stick with fruits, fruit juices, or just good old whole milk? I understand that these variables will probably vary greatly depending upon the athlete, but what's a good rule of thumb? Thanks.


wrote …

Great article. The CFJ rocks.


Damon Stewart wrote …

Anyone else out there trying Progenex? I skeptically tried it after our Sectionals but have been a faithful user since then with great results. So far their claims of increased recovery have held true for me.


wrote …

i have a number of questions. As a self aspiring, self taught, and new to the nutrition world. Only a couple of books, a lot of crossfit stuff, and a lot of other seminars given by doctors, so im not super knowledgable.

1: What kind of protein powder are you using? Or what r u using for protein?

I havent researched protein powders but i used to use them and came across research stating that whey protein consumption in powder form can hinder the neorpaths to the brain. I beleive it was Dr. Barry Sears who mentioned that in one of his other vidoes

2: This next question has to do with if you're using a protein powder. Where does this powder come from? How does it get from "protein" to powedered protein? I know that in order for them to get the protein in oil out of a soy bean they use hexan(a bi product of making gasoline). it's a chemical and is shown to be 21ppm when in soy bean oil. The FDA approves it only because there hasnt been any clinical testing on the effects of hexan and human consumption.

Thank you i hope i get an answer!


wrote …

it would be nice if we could see a comparison between a supplement and a simple PWO "meal" of a glass of milk with some fruit and nuts.


wrote …

Is there any hard evidence for this?

Couldn't you argue that inducing a PWO insulin spike causes the glucose to go to the wrong tissues?? Insulin causes the uptake of glucose in liver, fat and muscle. Why would a crossfitter....or anyone...want to increase the uptake of glucose into their liver and fat cells? Exercise "empties" your muscles of glucose. The body "refills" the muscles by subsequently "emptying" your liver of it's glucose. Unless you're a tiny (and looking to gain weight) or malnourished, why do you even need the PWO meal?

Intuitively, I could see the benefit of having a PWO meal when the workout/event has significant length (more than an 45-60mins), but if you're doing workouts like the CFT, Fran, Cindy, Diane etc. I find it hard to believe that your body is running on empty.

If you're going to claim to be a better source of information than just 'hype', I would like to know why I should believe you.


wrote …

I agree with a lot of the points above. It would be great if the article concluded with some advice for make up of such PW shakes as its left most people with still a lot of questions!


wrote …

Nice article. The 4:1 ration comes from research done on bike racers done in Wisconsin in the early 00's. The strict application of this research is therefore logical in LSD training. The replenishment of muscle-stored glycogen by utilizing the post-workout window in which the neuro-endocrine system preferentially stores glucose as glycogen, and in which a 4:1 ratio of carb to protein is most effective, is pretty much standard fare in the distance/endurance programs of many (most?) world-class LSD training regimens. The original literature, and everything else I've read about this since, makes no differentiation between sources of the 4:1. You re on your own regarding how to get it in.

Could/should Crossfitters adapt this? Yes and no I would say. I've scoured the sources I've used and I've yet to find anything that is as solidly evidence-based as the 4:1 stuff in the strength world. Everything seems to come from the supplement manufacturers and feels so much more like marketing ("Take this; it really worked for me" from some very large, very cut, fake-baked man). By the same token, there really is nothing out there that looks at a program that lives primarily in the phoshpagen pathway. Pound the protein like "Muscle Mag" ads? 4:1 like an ultra guy? I dunno. Do you? The 4:1 research was done on workouts >40 minutes at >moderate intensity, so it probably applies to "Murph". "Helen", "Fran", and all of our AMRAP 20:00? Your guess is as good as mine.

In the end, until we have a controlled study of work in the Phosphagen time frame and until we get a study of pure strength programs that is as good as the one that resulted in the 4:1 ratio we're on our own. Crossfit "black box" research is all we have. Start today. Pick a PWO program. Observe. Measure. Rinse and repeat. Get your Affiliate to do a study. This is a cool topic, one we should all be genuinely interested in.

Thanks for a good read.



wrote …

Speaking of quality content, when can we expect more from you, Sherwood?


wrote …

I would find it pretty difficult to zone and do a POW with simple carbs and whey protein. For example, if you have 28g of whey protein in 1 cup of choclate milk/ almond milk/ etc, that is about 4 blocks of protein and 4 blocks of carbs. It is basically a meal. For someone on a 16 or 17 block diet, you would be starving in about 1 hr.

Also, what happenes if you are doing 3 wods a day? Going for the qualifiers is an example. You don't want to go all day on whey and sugar.

I'm not sure where to stand on this?


wrote …

Bingo brings up some good points, but they only lead to more questions not conclusive answers.

For example, the research is from people training LSD who probably think that running long and slow is the best way to get good at running long and slow. You know, opposite one of the core ideas in the CF theory. I'm not saying they should be automatically discounted because one thing they say is wrong, but it's hard to know when to believe. Is CF telling me to believe this, or just presenting an opinion on the matter?

(Sorry, I should clarify, or Tony B will roast me: This article is presented by the CF Journal. However, the CFJ is believed by many as the word of CF, whether it is or not, is another matter.)

Other questions I have relate to the practical application of the carb-loaded PWO meal. Do I incorporate into my zone plan? If so, how? Do I take the carbs from the PWO meal out of other meals? Do I just add it on to my current diet? Does consuming a PWO meal 3 days on, 1 day off (if you follow the Mainsite) reduce the efficacy of the zone?

Bingo, does the human body preferentially store glucose as glycogen in the post workout phase because of a neuroendocrine response? Really? I find it hard to believe that the body stores glucose as glycogen more effectively in a post workout window vs eating anytime after that window. Your liver has a specific capacity, as do your muscles. When those resevoirs are full, your body will store all excess glucose as fat. If you eat 3 hours after a workout, your liver might not be maxed out in the liver glycogen department, therefore it would store glycogen.

I know I am playing devil's advocate here, but I would love convinced of either side.


Frank DiMeo wrote …

Great article!


replied to comment from Matt Solomon

Matt, that's a very nice comment. A quibble, if I may, to start. The 4:1 research was done on very high caliber bike racers working at moderately high intensity for them. NOT truly LSD. My bad in my first comment. The study looked at OUTPUT. In other words, did the athletes recover better with a particular post-workout meal than another. I don't have it in front of me so I can't tell you exactly what "recover" consists of at the moment.

The authors/investigators infer increased muscle uptake of glycogen in a window that extends optimally on average 45 minutes after "vigorous aerobic exercise". They do so based on recovery times and recovery quality in measures that would evaluate energy stores. I don't recall if muscle biopsies were performed, but I doubt it. It was a performance-based study.

As I clearly said above there is no data to allow us to project results from a PWO in the aerobic realm to results in the strength or Phosphagen pathway realm. We're on our own, but the data shared in the CFJ article is good data for the purpose for which it was studied.



wrote …

I read an article recently, "Recovery 101: Nutrition" that addresses the 4:1 Carb/Protein ratio. Dave Tate's Elite FTS.
the link is WFS


wrote …

Why a shake and not a meal? Because the author is a co-owner of AtLarge Nutrition...


replied to comment from Mike H

Convenience? I sometimes go directly to my office from the gym. I strongly prefer a real meal with real food, but sometimes life intervenes :=).

I have no proprietary interest in any supplement company.



Richard Meurk wrote …

If you need a workout meal/shake depends on when and how much you are eating and what times relative to the workout.


replied to comment from Matt Solomon

Glycogen depletion in muscle cells causes those cells to upregulate GLUT4 receptors. Insulin binds to GLUT4 receptors, facilitating uptake of glucose AND protein. So increased insulin sensitivity in muscle cells + increased insulin levels = greater cellular uptake of carb and protein by muscle cells. Which is "good" from a recovery and adaptation standpoint.

If you don't provide the external carbs PWO (consuming say PRO and FAT only), then liver glycogen gets broken down and transported to muscle cells instead. Which might be a good strategy if you are trying to lean out. If you are already fairly lean and are looking for the recovery, then PWO carbs + protein is the way to go.

As always, this has to be framed in the context of goals, current physical status, and conditioning program to determine your optimal PWO needs.


replied to comment from Darrell White

I had the same thought. Also, aside from his years of experience, and ownership of a supplement company, I would like to see the credentials of our esteemed author. I enjoy knowing the academic, as well as experiential areas my advice is coming from!


replied to comment from Joe England

Off the top of my head, no, but I can search my archives and find them. In terms of PWO growth hormone and any mitigation via insulin, that is of zero concern to me as any spike in GH PWO is not integral to the training response. The idea kind of sounds like those who advocate select aminos for GH production, or the presumed GH production from squats. The spike is simply not sufficient to make any real difference.


replied to comment from Peter Haas

Excellent comment Peter. I think too many people are looking for the one size fits all approach, and there isn't one! Like you said, goals, current body comp & WOD must be taken into consideration in regards to PWO nutrition. I think guys like OPT have done a great job addressing this by providing PWO nutrition recommendations in relation to bodyfat % and the WOD.


replied to comment from Trevor Frayne

Yeah, it really depends what you are doing on a given day, but generally speaking for CF practitioners I would go with a minimum of 20g of protein and 30g of carbs (not a ratio, I know, but I prefer to look at it from a minimum cusp perspective). You certainly want to increase the carbs the more total work you do in a given session, but the amounts provided should be sufficient to elicit the response we are looking for.


replied to comment from Chris Mason

Sounds like a glass of chocolate milk and a scoop of protein powder to me ;-)

That's about all I have time for after a workout anyway.


Amber, any recommendations on an RTD that's out there since you're familiar? I use Muscle Milk Light and Myoplex sometimes as well as chocolate milk. I'm always on the go and need something right there, ready for me. Thank you!


replied to comment from Blue Jones

Any of the above would work. I make a product specifically for the need which is what I use, but certainly any quality protein blend (as referenced in the article) and a simple carb source will do.


replied to comment from Sam Ser

Eithwer will work, and while I have not done or read a study which directly compared the two (there would be simply too many variables), my educated guess is you will get very similar results. The supplement, to me, simply provides a quick and easy solution.


wrote …

Awesome article CHRIS. Im 6'0 190lb 28yrs. I have been doing a 16ish block zone, where my workout (200p - 300p) falls between my lunch (12p) and afternoon snack(430p). Is the PWO nutrition recomended in addition to my prescribed blocks? Looks like that would be an additional ~3sblocks per workout. So lets sat I knock out Fran by 330p... would I consume my PWO immediately then continue with my regularly scheduled snack (2blocks) at 430p and dinner (4blocks) at 700pm...etc? I do a 3:1 crossfit regimen weekly. I have lost alot of body fat with this (im about 8%) but I fell like I wanna add about 10lbs of muscle to my frame and that just is not happening with my 16blocks alone. Thanks, any responce is appreciated. CFJ Rocks, your darn right Sheerwood!


wrote …

Should we consider what kind of Carbs we are getting? Lactose versus Fructose versus glucose. I have been trying to get it in the form of glucose (less hard on the liver, faster uptake) but juice or milk are so much easier to find.


The book, Nutrient Timing by John Ivy, Robert Portman is an excellent read on this. I read the book while deployed in 2005. I recommend anyone interested in this topic read this book. It is FREE in Google books. After this book was written, the supplement industry seemed to jump on this bandwagon and "PWO" found its way into the bodybuilding/endurance athletes' magazines.

Peter points out, using the stategy is only appropriate for people either seeking to gain weight (both fat and muscle), or athletes doing multiple high intense sessions in the same day. I believe the information presented in the book Nutrient Timing was based on trials done with the University of Texas Football team during summer conditioning, doing 2-3 workouts a day.

After reading this book in 2005, I came up with my own "shake". I used Orange Gatorade (primary CHO source sucrose, next glucose-fructose combo) and cheap Vanilla Whey Pro. I controlled the ratio of CHO:PRO by adding more gatorade or less Gatorade. This is a very easy recipe and probably the cheapest PWO shake out there. I would also bet it works at well as anything else out there and until I see reasonable study, will conclude it is just as effective as anything else out there.

The whole Whey vs Casien, seems like supplement industry sales pitch. The whole point of the PWO is to maximize nutrient availability within the PWO. Faster is better, that is why a shake is used, that is why sucrose, glucose or maltodextrin is used and that is why whey should be used.


replied to comment from Mike H

Did you read the article? I actually stated the reasoning and I have further stated here either will work fine. In the end, you could certainly liquify a meal with a blender as well to reap the potential benefits of the liquid meal.


replied to comment from Cedric Fierro

Yes, I would treat the PWO meal as separate from your normal prescribed blocks. As already stated, the physiology of the body is different in the PWO state thus the rules need to be changed a bit. If you try what I am suggesting I can almost guarantee some additional lean muscle mass.


replied to comment from Cedric Fierro


Take half your days carbs and use put them in your PWO window. So if you are running on 16 blocks then 8 blocks of carbs in your PWO meal. Use this with longer met-con workouts only.


replied to comment from Patrick Mcelhone

Thanks for the reference, I'll check that book out.

Just to nitpick though, I would recommend PWO carb+protein to ANYBODY who is at their desired level of leanness, regardless of # per day or type of WODs. I would just tweak the amount of carbs and protein based on the activity. On the strength end of the spectrum, more protein and less carbs. On the extreme endurance end, more carbs and less protein. CF falls in a spectrum in the middle, anywhere from Fran to Filthy Fifty to Murph. The shorter the metcon the less carbs.

OPT and He Who Cannot Be Named have a lot of good info on this. While biased towards endurance athletes, Cordain's Paleo Diet for Athletes is a good resource too (the principles are the same). I took their stuff and experimented on myself and my athletes, which gave me my current working theory.



Please look the book over. I read it in 2005 and I believe everyone is basing their recommendations on this book whether or not they realize it. By reading the book, we can understand the source of the "experts" opinion. Every please note, most likely there are zero studies of the PWO that would ever appear in a peer reviewed scientific journal. We are all making assumptions and extrapolations.

I am interested in whether or not utilizing the PWO is appropriate for the athlete who is at their desired level of leanness, but is not doing multiple day events or looking to gain mass. Let's say the CF athlete doing 1 WOD a day on a 3on, 1 off cycle. Should they do this on days 1, 2 but not 3? What about if they eat a Zone diet? They are already getting CHO throughout the day; do they need more in the PWO? Why is the PWO appropriate? What is the effect of post workout CHO intake on fat gain? Will this immediate deluge of CHO prevent future beta-oxidation, gluconeogenesis and result in lipogenesis? If this intake of CHO shuts down beta oxidation, does this affect respiratory conditioning effects training? What about post workout catabolism, is it bad? Does affecting post workout lipolysis (which is an aerobic activity) and preventing post workout catabolism interfere with hormesis?

Does this all change when the athlete is on a lower CHO diet? Is PWO absolutely necessary here?

A defining point of the PWO is time. If you believe it to be benefit, then sooner is better. Within 15min it is closing, 45min mostly closed, 2 hours completely shut. Again if you believe in it, wouldn't the only choice be a shake with quick insulin spiking CHO source (glucose, sucrose, maltodextrin) and whey protein, to quickly provide free amino acids and glucose to be pumped into the cell? This could be done cheapest with a few scoops of Gatorade and whey protein. Why is anything else better? If it is better, it is that much better for that much more money?

I have heard OPT points on CF Radio about not just the need to replenish muscle glycogen but also repair the CNS. Is this based on anything at all beyond his clinical experience? I value OPT's opinions and he has a ton of clinical experience, but did he get the ideal of post workout CHO intake to repair the CNS from anywhere? If so, does anyone know where?


replied to comment from Michelle Barbera

I sadly have no RTD recommendations to make for reasons of allergies. I'm an odd case as I cannot eat whey protein, which is in almost all of the pre-made post workout shakes and things out there. I am also allergic to a lot of the soy fillers that end up in these drinks, and I can't drink milk. I CAN tell you what works for me, but we're all different animals. I usually work out in the early am, to keep my stomach from rebelling I'll have 1 boiled egg or so an hour pre-workout and a bit of coffee with almond milk. I have an insulated container that I bring a smoothie with me made of 3-4 eggs, 1 avocado, 1 tsp honey, 1 cup almond milk, 7 ice cubes. Most people find this a bit heavy post work out, and I do have to wait a few for my stomach to calm down if I've been hitting it hard. With a little prep before I leave the house, I've got my very own RTD Post-Workout shake waiting for me :)

My diet is very carb low and very fat heavy, so I find that the honey in the smoothie helps me bounce back quickly, much like your myoplex, chocolate milk, etc may!


wrote …

These are not studies I have referenced in the past, but they are informative:

Here is a whole study with a ton of references that touch on the subject:


wrote …

I want to say that I appreciate all of the comments (complimentary, critical, and for discussion). One thing that occurs to me as I read them is that I realize I am challenging accepted practices for some and that can make people very uncomfortable. My position is that I am presenting my view based upon review of available research and personal experience with athletes etc. I certainly don't expect everyone to embrace it, but I do challenge you to give it a try. I would love to hear from those who do.



wrote …

Patrick, your comment about zero studies on PWO nutrition in peer reviewed journals is way off? There are actually a TON of studies about PWO nutrition. Check the links I provided above.



Wow, thanks for the last article. I had no ideal that was that much out there. Some actually look pretty good. Thank you and I formally retract that comment.



wrote …

An excellent article and equally good comments surrounding it. I have witnessed incredible success with both bodybuilders (several years ago) and performance athletes through implementing a HIGH glycemic carb/easily digested protein post workout beverage.

1. the large spike in blood sugar and corresponding spike in insulin are certainly something to be taken advantage of in terms of recovery. The GH release involved here is IGF-1 (insulin like growth factor 1), not HGH. HGH is released in greater amounts in response to heavy resistance training and usually occurs during sleep. IGF-1 was not all that well researched last I dug into it in terms of recovery (back in 2003), but it is co-released with insulin. I cannot recall any peer-reviewed literature regarding IGF-1 and exercise/recovery off the top of my head, but I'm sure its out there.

2. there is a huge body of evidence supporting post workout hyperaminoacidemia and hyperinsulinemia supporting skeletal muscle hypertrophy, which many Crossfitters are not concerned with.

There are 2 things that come to my mind, in terms of multiple workouts per day (in light of the typical Games schedule):

A. be careful about the timing here: We've all felt a little sleepy after eating a large meal, too heavy in carbs (think thanksgiving or the like)... with a large spike in insulin, there is often a corresponding "post-prandial (after meal) hypoglycemia" observed, especially in highly insulin sensitive individuals. This can be accounted for by eating a smaller, lower carb, higher protein/fat meal as the athlete feels their energy waning to help re-establish appropriate blood glucose levels without having to rely on glucagon and/or catecholamines to liberate liver glycogen. If you have at least 2 hours between events, this is no problem, but if there is less time between events, it might benefit the athlete to reduce the carb:protein ratio a bit.
B. the amount of carb/protein should be altered to meet the demands of the total WORKLOAD, not necessarily the intensity. (this is anecdotal evidence based on personal experience and that of others I have trained with.) Of course, the intensity is implied in Crossfit... Murph and Fran are different territories in total energy expenditure, but something like the deadlift-burpee workout from the '08 games, or a heavy Grace is comparable in duration for some athletes, but far greater expenditure of energy (based off total work done).

Such a great topic, and worth discussing in greater depth, especially regarding body composition and strength-to-weight-ratio.


wrote …

Thank you Chris for the great article! I try to do paleo and zone nutrition and i really appreciate this approach...i start to try this today and i hope it will helps me because sometimes i feel more fatigue or i say to me things like: i take my 16 block of every nutrients but i want to eat an other snack or meal so if i don't count de PWO meal maybe that my apetite will cause me less stress than before and i will be able to keep the good quality food i ate and don't cheat. Scuse me if i do a couple of error but i'm not totally bilinguish... but i think you will inderstand what i'm saying! Thank a lot



Excellent point about duration vs intensity. I often wonder how much glycogen I chewed up doing a 5-6 min intense session compared to a 40min strength session or a 1hour trail run. Do I really need to worry about the PWO window when I trained for 5min?

When is Murph for Miller? Cheers,



wrote …

just another thought on Milk:

generally a 2:1 ratio of CHO:PRO.
but, the carbohydrate in milk (lactose) is not rapidly digested by most folks, and as result, there is less rapid rise in blood sugar, and less of a corresponding an insulin spike.

try the powdered Gatorade, and protein powder mix.

Orange and vanilla together are quite palletable...

remember the "orange dreamsicle" from when you were a kid...


replied to comment from Jean-François Morneau

De rien :).


replied to comment from Patrick Mcelhone

whether you have to worry about PWO nutrition after a 5 minute workout is a REALLY good question.

I mean, theoretically, a well fed athlete should have nearly enough blood sugar in your circulatory system alone to deal with that right?

It is worth noting though, that the hormonal cascade that liberates stored blood sugar certainly kicks in when working out at such high intensities as seen buy elite Crossfitters. (in fact, the mental preparation alone can instigate a large release of catecholamines). The PWO meal should reverse that catabolic cascade, and perhaps that alone is enough to warrant its utility?



replied to comment from Patrick Mcelhone

Don't forget the point of PWO supplementation also includes spiking protein synthesis for muscular adaptation.


replied to comment from Matt Solomon

I'm jumping on a plane right now, but I'll refer you to the Start Here page to answer your question:

The CrossFit Journal Mission Statement

The CrossFit Journal is a continual-release, advertising-free digital publication dedicated to functional fitness. It is a chronicle of the empirically driven, clinically tested, and community-developed CrossFit program. Our mission is to provide a venue for contributing coaches, trainers, athletes, and researchers to ponder, study, debate, and define fitness, and thus collectively advance the art and science of optimizing human performance.


replied to comment from Patrick Mcelhone

You're welcome :).


replied to comment from Patrick Mcelhone

There is no data to suggest that CHO intake post exercise has any effect whatsoever on CNS recovery. OPT's thoughts are just that...OPT's thoughts based on his experience as an athlete and a trainer. Not that this necessarily discounts his thoughts, just that his contention has yet to reach the level on conjecture, let alone theory.



wrote …

Good Article Chris

In the many years I have been lucky enough to work with athlets from bodybuiling to marathon running, their PWO nutrition is addressed during their first week. It goes well beyond the immediate shake...all the way to 5-6 hours later...but I guess it never really stops because everything is pre-or -post in some respect, and recovery is king, thus the reason each individual always has their very own meal plan, meant to specifically make them reach their goals.

As of late, Chastity and myself have relied heavily on the entire Progenix stack..Growth, SRG, and Recovery...and after many years...and many supplements later, it is hands down the best I have had....jb


wrote …

Wow. Even when I started crossfitting I always kept taking protein shakes post workout. I just did it because I noticed a decrease in soreness if I did so. Glad to know I've been doing something helpful this whole time.


Patrick Mcelhone wrote …


I do not know. I mean for the athlete looking to gain weight or competing multiple times a day or on consecutive days PWO seems like a no brainer. But, what about the rest of us? Those who train 3-4x a week, with at least 24hr between sessions? What about the athlete that can not gain any weight at all? This is the huge grey area for me. Hopefully, the articles passed on by Chris and this discussion will help develop these ideals.


replied to comment from Mark Reinke


Excellent comments. In general I think a case can be made to question the need for ANY post-workout meal other than whatever is planned for that day for the average Crossfitter. If we look carefully we probably discover that the significant majority of people Crossfitting not only scale the WOD's but do fewer than 3-on/1-off, and their recovery is not too terribly affected by PWO.



replied to comment from Darrell White

Are you referring to me? If so, I never stated that PWO nutrition had any effect on the CNS, but the CNS is certainly not the entirety of the equation relative to recovery. I hope you understand that?


replied to comment from Chris Mason

No, Chris, referring to Patrick's comment about OPT!


replied to comment from Darrell White

totally true, the necessity of a PWO drink totally breaks down in the average athlete who is not pushing their limits to the point of actually needing a quick, complete recovery.
Most average athletes probably would yield more desirable results by maintaining a constant state of glycogen deprivation, as they are probably in search of a body composition shift, rather than a high level of performance.

point well taken


replied to comment from Darrell White

Ok, got confused :).


replied to comment from Jordan Derksen

Jordan, the take home message here is NOT that you should have a protein shake after a workout, it is that you should spike your insulin after a workout. simply having a protein shake after a workout is not enough, you must have carbohydrate as well.


replied to comment from Chris Mason

Hey Chris,

thanks for the mins. It's not a ratio but it's certainly a starting point. I appreciate the response.

Thank you,



wrote …

A disappointing article. Long on generalities like protein degradation and short on details and specifics such as how much whey and what exactly is a good source of it. You go the your nearest megamart and ask for the whey--I dare you.


wrote …

Jim, I specifically avoided getting into recommending my products (which I personally feel are superior) as that was not the point of the article. To that end, there are several good whey & casein blends on the market. Some of them are specific PWO products that also include carbs.

Tell me what you want to know and I will answer.



replied to comment from Rob Varley

Rob, I don't think supplemental protein products are for you based upon your questions. You seem to have an aversion to food processing. For you, I would recommend a whole food PWO meal.


wrote …

Are there any studies made concerning PWO and whole milk?

I mean it seems to be pretty anabolic!!



wrote …

Great article! Chris, can you better define the time frame after a workout? I am usually within 30-45 minutes, is that too long? Also, a year or so ago, I decided to move away from all supplements except a daily vitamin and trying to go more natural (non-processed foods). Is it possible to do this and expect superior results or has science taken over and things like protein powder now the norm?


wrote …

Jason, first, thanks for your compliment.

30-45 minutes is fine. I think 45 is about the high end of the amount of time I want someone to wait.

If you eat a balanced diet the daily vitamin is probably not needed. There are a select few vitamins and minerals that many benefit the hard training individual, but most multis on the market don't have enough of them and literally include everything but the kitchen sink.

The answer to your question is yes, you can certainly experience great results without using a supplemental protein and carb PWO product. The supplements really are more of a convenience factor. There may be a small edge in consuming them, but that is not sufficient to say that they will provide vastly superior results to the right foods being consumed during the PWO timeframe. A protein and carb supplement is essentially just a food, it isn't an ergogen like creatine, beta alanine, or Microlactin(R).



wrote …

Crap, I want an edit feature! :)

That would be "may benefit" in the above...


replied to comment from Ulrik Helms

Yes, definitely. Go to and search 'milk post workout' or something similar.


wrote …

I personally am done with my workouts at around 6:30 p.m and always eat dinner right after that workout. I don't want to drink a protein drink and then have to wait 2-3 hours before I eat dinner. After reading this article I will start eating dinner right after i'm done with my workout and add simple carbs to that meal, like potato's or maybe some pasta.


wrote …

Thanks for that info Chris!

Very interesting!



wrote …

Great article! concise and to the point.
I haven't read all the comments but my rule of thumb is get a shake in you ASAP after a wod... and 15 - 50g of carbs depending on metcon intensity!

From Poloquin's... for pwo carb reference.

- 12-72 reps per workout : 0.6 g/Kg/LBM
- 73-200 reps per workout : 0.8 g/kg/LBM
- 200-360 reps per workout : 1.0 g/kg/LBM
- 360-450 reps per workout : 1.2 g/kg/LBM


replied to comment from Robert Odom

That sounds like a good plan. Just an FYI, you could consume the shake and then eat dinner soon afterwards. If you are trying to lose body fat the shake should help to mitigate your appetite and make eating less for dinner easier.


Patrick Mcelhone wrote …

Just a follow-up to my early question about the role PWO CHO intake has on CNS recovery. After giving it much thought, the only role I could come up with was increased CHO metabolism will produce Acetly CoA, which is a precusor to Acetlycholine, the neurotransimitter released by the CNS to stimulate skeletal muscle. Will PWO CHO intake increase Acetylcholine production in pre-synaptic vesicles? I know this is deep and a big part of thinks, sure, let's see the bench study that tracks pre-synaptic acetylcholine production, but again this is the only thing I can think of.

Can anyone think of another reason PWO CHO intake will help the CNS recover? Thanks,


wrote …

Patrick, first, the best of the best physiologists etc. may not be able to answer your question with anything beyond pure conjecture. There are so many variables that to supply a specific answer would be VERY difficult. For example, there could be both direct and indirect effects. If more rapid glycogen recovery reduces the 'load' on the system with respect to generalized recovery perhaps that might aid with CNS recovery (an indirect effect).

In a nutshell, I would not venture to guess.


wrote …

No one has mentioned thus far that fructose preferentially fills liver glycogen, which is important to blood sugar levels, but not important to recovery. You'll want glucose to fill muscle glycogen for that recovery. So don't go eating fruit and thinking that'll deal with your post workout carb needs. Fructose is primarily necessary on multiple wod game days to keep you sharp, in an elevated mood, and not tired for your next gig.

Also, can we get thumbs up / thumbs down buttons for these articles? That'd be good.


wrote …

Erin, while the liver is the primary organ which metabolizes fructose, the idea you have presented that fructose will not replenish muscle glycogen is quite inaccurate. I am not sure where you got that information?



wrote …

Chris and everybody... regarding Fructose, the liver, and Metabolism...

this is the gold standard, as far as I am concerned:

Dr. Robert Lustig, "Sugar: The Bitter Truth" (about 89 minutes, worth every second of your time).

I try to eat Paleo, and I get at least 90% of my calories from unrefined and non-processed foods. And I get about 50% of my calories from fat. (Yes my cholesterol levels rock... 94 HDL, 42 Triglicerides).

I can understand the desire to use the PWO window to make gains as fast as you can, but for athletes looking to long term health and sustainable nutrition, natural, unprocessed foods are the way to go IMO.

Gatorade and vanilla protein powder mixed together sounds pretty evil.

Give me a banana, an apple, an orange, or a date... or two... and eggs, or salmon. If I want a shake I'll blend up unsweetened almond milk, coconut butter or oil, almond butter, raw eggs, a banana, strawberries.

I would rather bet on natural ingredients than processed ingredients any day.

For the record... crossfitting 14 months, M/41/175/13% body fat/310 lb deadlift, 155 lb power clean... and gaining.


wrote …

instead of mixing whey protein with gatorade, you may want to try mixing it with coconut water instead. it's an all-natural electrolyte beverage with a lot more potassium that any sports drink out there (gatorade only has 35mg of potassium, while coconut water has somewhere around 600mg). it contains natural sugars, good for recovery. i can't believe more people don't drink it.


wrote …

Great article!
If I may add something for the smarter people in the thread to discuss: Digestive Enzymes.

Bottom line up front - chewing lets your body know that it is going to be fed; and the lack of chewing does not allow for the total absorption of food consumed.

The process of digestion begins in the mouth. The enzymes amylase and lipase present in saliva start the breakdown of carbohydrates and fats, while the chewing of food stimulates the production of digestive enzymes in the stomach. The stomach produces hydrochloric acid and various digestive enzymes that break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates in preparation for absorption. This is the reason you fart so much after a protein shake. Your body didn't absorb all of the benefits and turned it into waste.

Recommendation - leave one of the pieces of fruit out of the blender to munch on while eating your PWO entree.


Semper -


replied to comment from Matthew Parente

I was in bed reading this morning and pondering getting up to grab some breakfast as I also had the thought of intermittent fasting. Anyways, long story short I was thinking about these awesome protein cookies I made last night and I started to feel the digestive juices in my stomach start up. I haven't taken a bite of anything since about an hour before bed. It's simply the thought of food that prepares the stomach for optimal digestion of calories, no chewing required.

Randy :-)


wrote …

Insulin is like magic if used correctly. This is a natural way to take advantage. Great article. Those of you who try this will put on lean muscle making you a better crossfitter.


wrote …

You said a minimum of whey and casien protein along with simple carbs?

Does that mean there is something else that would be beneficial as well?

Also, how many grams of protein and a simple carb are we talking here?


wrote …

Hey Chris,

I'm an advanced-elite crossfitter with an extensive athletic background. What's awesome is that everything I've learned from outside sources, experimenting, and observing leads me to absolutely agree with every single word you have said in the comments and your article. Forgive us who are closed minded and objective to your words. Fantastic work man!


Paula Jager wrote …

I realize I am about 2 months late in reading this article--but it was excellent!! After struggling with my PWO for the last year and a half, I have finally found what works for me. And Chris, you are spot on. Prior to reading the article I was concerned about the fructose--your explanation makes perfect sense. I personally prefer "whole foods" over processed powders so my "meal" of choice PWO is an 8 oz glass of raw milk and a banana. I sometimes will blend into shake form with a tbs of gelatin (ground animal bones) and vary the fruits I use. Holds me for about 1-1/2 hours depending on the wod and then I will have a meal consisting of protein/veggies/fat. I have noticed a huge difference in the recovery process. I am female, 50, 113 lbs and 13.2% bf. My macronutrient ratios are approx. 25% protein, 20% carbs, 55% fat. Never felt better in my life.


wrote …

Thanks for a great article!
I do however have a question that I hope you might help me with. You mention that consuming whey and casein together doesn't decrease the positive effect of the other. When I was done reading your article I went on and read some more at your homepage. I soon came across Eric Satterwhite's article, Whey Protein VS Casein Protein - The Battle Continues, where he claims that when casein coagulates in the stomach it also decreases the beneficial effect of whey. He actually states "This simple little fact would nullify the biggest and most important attribute of whey." I hope that you will give me your view on this and the reasons why he is mistaken.

CFJ is probably the best thing I've ever paid for. The friendly, respectful and professional people here is a truly great thing. Keep it up everyone =)

Halmstad Sweden


wrote …

The science of nutrition is extremely complicated, especially lipids and the role of insulin. Insulin may very well provide an anabolic effect in post-workout recovery. But so does an anablolic steroid such as testosterone. Insulin is a powerful hormone, and like other hormones, can cause many unintended negative health effects. I am not convinced that causing a post-workout glucose spike is any different in terms of lipid metabolism than a spike unrelated to recovery would be. The theory sounds intiguing, but I'd like to see some research on this.

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