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The Zone Chronicles: Post-Workout Nutrition Part 1 by Pat Sherwood - CrossFit Journal

In Nutrition, Videos

August 03, 2010

Video Article

While experts debate the exact composition of the optimal post-WOD meal, it has at least been established that chugging a beer following a workout tends to be a poor idea, despite the carbs in your preferred barley beverage.

Be that as it may, post-workout nutrition is still a highly contentious topic, with some strongly recommending protein shakes and supplements and others voicing a preference for sweet potatoes and chicken. Some people don’t even bother with post-workout nutrition at all and simply wait for their next meal to roll around.

At a cert in Golden, Colo., Pat Sherwood surveys HQ trainers Miranda Oldroyd, Matt Chan, Chris Spealler and Maggie Dabe to see what these top athletes put in their bodies right after time is called.

While many people swear by Paleo/Zone protocols, others, such as the amazing Spealler, find success with different approaches, proving diet is a very personal thing.

“I don’t Paleo. I don’t Zone,” Speal explains. “I eat whenever I want, as much as I want, and I try to eat clean.”

13min 3sec

Additional reading: Optimized Post-Workout Nutrition for the CrossFit Athlete by Chris Mason, published March 11, 2010.

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58 Comments on “The Zone Chronicles: Post-Workout Nutrition Part 1”


wrote …

great video! More please. Nothing scientific but I love chocolate milk (12oz), protein powder (1 scoop), blueberries (3/4cup frozen) and a bit of peanut butter (1-2 tbsp) for a pwo drink. It has been working great!


Tracy Coughlin wrote …

Pat - love you as always! Chris, Maggie, Miranda and Matt are all already fit and trim and elite CFers. I was wondering what you all would reccomend for someone that still wants to lose weight etc... and isn't an elite athlete. Thanks for all the opinions and I love that everyone finds what works best for them and passes their preference along. :)


wrote …

Awesome, love these videos. I've been using Progenex for PWO and supplementing with creatine and I have definitely seen a difference in recovery and strength gains.


wrote …

Great video! Love it ! For my part i take a protein shake with skim milk so normally it's approximately 40 grams of protein and i don't eat fat and for the carbs i eat fruits like banana, pears, strawberry, blueberry etc and i don't strictly count the carbs block. It depend if i do like a metcon of 20 minutes with 300 400 reps i'll take between 6 to 8 blocks of carbs but if i do a short metcon of 8 minutes with heavy lift or whatever i'll take maybe 4 blocks of carbs. And finally 45 minutes to an hour later i eat a balanced meal with less cars and more fat like 4 blocks protein, 2 block of carbs from vegetables and i don't count fat i just eat some nuts . I feel really good with this type of Post Workout nutrition and i recover better and faster !


wrote …

Pat-Another cool video that gives great insight into nutrition. These videos are always awesome! Experimentation seems to be key. Keep up the good work man.


Yeah, please keep these coming. Navigating he post-WOD nutrition deal is worse than nuclear physics! There are whole webpages dedicated to this stuff. It's killing me. I have to agree completely with the take home message here, however: nutrition is personal. What works for me might not work for you and vice versa. A few weeks/months ago I tried to zone up... It did not work for me. Performance was shite and my wife nearly divorced me because i was the most irritable I'd ever been. Before that'd I'd been Paleo-ing and generally eating whatever the heck I wanted. I started Paleo because of bad knees and family history of arthritis, bad arthritis. My knees cleared up, although i also started loading on fish oil and crossfit.

I get very caught up with this and try to talk with my athletes about this all the time. I've learned, like you present, that what works for some does not work for others. For one athlete, a huge packet of jerky and dried fruit sends him on his way with a smile and recovered and back the next day. Then I've got a vegan athlete who eats some nuts. Others do the muscle milk and coconut water and what seems like every other fad post-WOD idea in the book. I;ve gone back to unrestricted paleo, mainly because I don't like processed foods or dairy and taking a protein shake in water and a high glycemic carb after a WOD. Sometimes the high glycemic carb is sw potato, other times it's dried fruit/raisins. It's what works. I just PR'ed Fran, so even though I felt, mentally like I was not in a good nutritional state, the data are what the data are - i'm getting faster!

Please keep this information coming. It's so informative to hear and see.
Nice job!


wrote …

I really enjoy these videos and the nutritional science behind our elite CrossFitters. Thank you Pat!


wrote …

any non paleo Crossfitters looking for a carbohydrate with extremely fast bio-availability and convenience should definently check out Genr8 Vitargo S2 its a 100% barley isolate from Sweden and has the fastest gut absorbtion available,a little pricey but maybe beneficial to some of you beasts out there


wrote …

There is no doubt that Miranda looks better then most women naked but chocolate milk after a work out? Let's see 1. adult humans lack the enzymes necessary to break down the sugar in milk 2. you can only absorb about 10% of calcium from milk 3. Where did you get that milk from? A feed lot full of sick cows pumped with antibiotics? 4. The metabolic window doesn't fully open till about 30 minutes after a work out and stays open for at least another 60 minutes (90 minutes post work out).

Think about it. Would you drink milk from any other animal? why a cow? and why not monkey?


wrote …

So for those of you who do more than one workout a day; say like a workout in the morning and a workout in the afternoon or evening, do you have a post-workout recovery meal or shake after both workouts?

As for me personally sometimes I will hold off on the PWO meal and just wait until my next meal to eat something. And sometimes I will have a PWO meal directly after both workouts. I just depends on how I feel and how intense each workout is going to be.


wrote …

What does "eat clean" mean to Chris Spealler if it's not paleo? Not saying paleo is the end all and be all of eating clean. Just wondering what his definition is.


wrote …

Oliver, I would venture that most people would say the difference between "eating clean" and "Paleo" would be the addition of beans, milk, corn, potato, etc to the diet... In other words, not necessarily overly processed foods, but off-limits to the Paleo diet...


replied to comment from Ryan Flynn

Because chocolate milk is delicious.


replied to comment from Ryan Flynn

Flynn, are you serious? Have you ever done any research in exercise science or exercise physiology? Have you really never heard of athletes (especially collegiate and professional) taking/drinking chocolate milk as a recovery supplement? Try it before you bash it, or atleast do some research. Also, David is quite right...


wrote …

Personally I'm with Ryan Flynn on this one. Where does that milk come from? Humans are not designed to drink any animals milk but their own when they are breast feeding and when that is finished we should not need milk anymore!

In addition, any protein shake, no matter what kind is a scary prospect! Have you seen the ingredients? Whey? Where does whey originate from............milk! Back to Ryan and paragraph one!

It's all processed CRAP!

What happened to the "Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds etc."....?

One of the main attractions for me to CrossFit was the "clean" living (eating) and amazing exercises and WOD's. I thought I had finally found a programme where people utilized what nature had given them and worked with it. I have recently become disillusioned. What with the supplement article a few weeks ago creating all of that debate and now interviewing "elite" CrossFit athletes (who facilitate certificates and work for HQ) who are drinking chocolate milk and living on protein shakes!

I thought I had left all of that behind when I stopped reading Muscle and Fatness!

I am shocked and surprised!

I have come to respect and admire many of the elite and what they can do blows my mind, but give me a sub standard clean-living person on a "normal" (clean) diet anyday.

I know it is a personal choice what we decide to put in our bodies; but did our ancestors have a Progenix after hunting for dinner? Erm..........I think not!

Maybe the CF in 100 words should start off by saying: "Eat and drink as much processed crap and artifical stimulants as possible to give you the edge!"

What next?....................steroid abuse?


wrote …

Pat WELL DONE SIR!!!! you are great at these videos, funny to say the least,keep em coming, so what does the PAT do Post WOD????

All the best Jeremy


wrote …

CF is a business. CF Journal is the media that sells the dream. Buy your Progenex-shake, wear Body Armour (- the shirt) and row C2 ergo.


wrote …

I agree, Shaw. Crossfit is about natural, raw strength. Let's keep supplements, shakes, and processed food out of it. Stay true to the roots! :)


wrote …

"...but did our ancestors have a Progenix after hunting for dinner?"

No but our ancestors also didn't do any resistance training with barbells, and after they ate their organic wildebeest they didn't log onto the internets and research how to maximize their fitness.

We're still human beings so I'm sure that our behavior is pretty natural. If cavemen had the choice they would probably drink chocolate milk because it tastes awesome.

That being said I do totally respect people who are eating clean to be healthy; I just choose to supplement with protein shakes because I'm an ego maniac and I totally think it improves my performance.


wrote …

I prefer Progenix and Underarmor sandwiches for post-WOD nutrition


Think about it. Would you drink milk from any other animal? why a cow? and why not monkey?

Have you ever tried to milk a monkey? Take it from me, cows are easier. Especially the chocolate ones.


wrote …

"While many people swear by Paleo/Zone protocols, others, such as the amazing Spealler, find success with different approaches, proving diet is a very personal thing."


Just because an elite athlete, who trains constantly and lives in the gym, finds success with a modified Paleo diet (ala "eating clean") does not mean that a good diet is a "very personal thing". While some folks are more sensitive than others to gut irritants like dairy and grains, we can't just say "oh well, diet is personal, you can eat crap if you want (any and all factory-made "supplements", powders, shakes, etc.)".


Certainly everyone gets to choose what they want to eat, but I'd hate for phrases like that to be taken out of context and offer up this idea that nutrition isn't science, or that because one person can eat X and perform well than it's OK for everyone to eat that stuff with abandon. Dialing in your nutrition is critical to our performance. It's great, in a voyeuristic sense, to get a glimpse into what other elite athletes are eating, as it's such a big part of our lives, but I'd hate to see folks make bad nutrition decisions because "Spealler eats it!".


Rob Barrese wrote …

I guess people got bored arguing in SuperTraining so they are coming here now!


wrote …

I think the debate is good, especially since CF is getting so big. We need to stay open minded and use what works, discard what doesn't in both exercise and nutrition. CrossFit is an evidence based fitness methodology, and so should the nutrition. These athletes are using what all science is based on... experimental data. They're experimenting with different PWO theories and finding what works best for their body's.
For instance, there is evidence to support the idea that different blood types break down and absorb different foods better than others. So, for some Paleo may not be the best way to go. In any case optimal diet is a personal thing, but it should be treated scientifically, ie. trial and error.
To Jayson, my main attraction to CF is that its evidence based and doesn't not stick to one ideology. Its a collaboration of all the most effective methods. I would hate to think that CF has become such an arrogant community that they ignore anything else even if its beneficial and effective. I think Nutrition is a harder beast to tame than fitness, and it requires an open mind to differing methods. Confusing the issue even more is the fact that each individual will respond differently to the various nutrition methods, so a closed mind is not very helpful. Personally, I stick pretty close to Paleo/zone and it has definitely helped, but I do add a little protein powder PWO. I suppose you think I should be shot for that, but it works for me. I suggest you have a little fun with your diet and experiment with other methods to see if there is anything that works better for you, don't be so uptight. At the very least you'll confirm that what you're doing is the best for you.
Oh, and remember, science is always evolving and finding conflicting evidence on things you know to be true. So that "research" article you might have read on the internet may have some validity, but things are never that black and white. Before you believe everything you read and think you know everything, try it and see for yourself.


wrote …

I find this topic confusing and would really like to hear from a PHd in cellular biology, biochemistry, physiology or something, who has directly done some experimental research on this. That is an opinion that I would take to heart. Sorry, for the long post before, I tend to ramble on.


wrote …

funny - if people spoke about religion in the same way, some of you speak about nutrition, you would be considered religious fanatics. relax a little

i too, think that chocolate cows are the bomb!


wrote …

To the milk haters.

Faulty logic prevails with these arguments.


Don't ass ume that she is drinking milk from antibiotic injected cows. There are alternatives. I drink milk from cows that are raised naturally... Paleo, plus dairy from naturally raised sources is getting a lot attention. Welbourn recommends this. Wolfe sees the value (dare I speak his name? SHAME!). Others are catching on in different fitness worlds. Yes, there are some outside of CF. EliteFTS just published an article. I think DeFranco is experimenting as well.

Lastly, who decides what animal product that us "humans" are designed to consume? Obviously milk is on the no-no list. What else? Or is it just milk? Wolfe argues that there are some gut irritation issues with dairy consumption. So, those that get the irritation- DON'T DRINK MILK. Those that are in-tolerant- DON'T DRINK MILK. It's that easy... I don't have either and find it to be extremely valuable for recovery, protein, and fats...

Let the haters hate. I'm off to have a chocolate protein shake with MILK!


wrote …

I look forward to my PWO shake with chocolate protein powder, a bananna, and a touch of peanut butter -- it tastes sooo good!!
As much as I would love to eat a meal within 30 mins of exercising, this is the most practical way to get some decent PWO nutrition. I'm also with Miranda in that eating solid food makes me sick after working out.


wrote …

I have watched more zone and nutrition journal entries than I can count and have yet to find an elite crossfit athlete say that that are pure zone, paleo, or both to date. Personally I semi zone using the hand eyeball method while trying to keep everything low GI. I eat as much natural food as possible except for dairy and root vegetables like sweet potatoes. As far as PWO there is nothing I have found to date better than chocolate milk. I love it and feel fantastic during and after I consume it, even if I am sweating while drinking it. Here is Lon kilgore's post on milk.


wrote …

Great video! It is helpful to hear the variety of strategies used by top athletes. Perhaps we could also hear from people (decent, but not necessarily the best CFers) who were once overweight or once skinny and weak. This might be more relevant to the vast majority of us who probably will never compete in the games, but want to improve our fitness.


wrote …

if you want a phd's take on nutrition then watch the Dr. Sears series and the Dr. Scott Connelly (aka met-rx creator/progenex) series even if you think it is biased the guy will blow you away with his knowledge. As for milk i've never had an issue with it and therefore I see no issue with incorporating it into a pwo drink. As for "clean" cows, I'd argue that unless you are raising your own cows/beef/chickens you can't guarantee that they are "clean". I'm sure the standards for saying something is "organic" or "grass-fed" have some wordage to them that can be worked around. Plus, I mean you can't tell me that as humans when we get sick we should forgo medicine and take our chances (and i understand that nutrition is often more powerful than medicine but sometimes life doesn't deal you those cards)? why would you do that with animals that you are raising for profit?


wrote …

There's nothing wrong with chocolate milk for PWO purposes. For those bashing it, all you are consuming it for is its protein, carb, and fat content (emphasis on the first 2).

With that said, the idea of combining milk with a protein powder makes no sense to me. Why? It's economically silly. Milk is not cheap nor are protein supplements. Combine them and you have one expensive PWO shake.

I understand the logic in that you need carbs with protein if you want to optimize the PWO response, but there are plenty of products on the market that are formulated for said purpose and already contain protein and carbs (including my company's Opticen).

I like the idea of getting the athlete's thoughts on the matter. Good video!


wrote …

I've watched nearly all these Zone videos, and for the most part, the athletes dont mention anything about measuring how much food they eat, and they always take guesses at how many blocks they consume. Rarely do they actually specify how many blocks they're consuming, how they measure, etc. - its always talking about clean eating, and the quality of the food (paleo), and rarely about quantities (zone). I'm not sure why crossfit hq has such a hardon for the zone over paleo.


wrote …

Good food for thought..I think there is a bit of dilineation required between 'primal living' (lets call it PL) and CF. Where CF sometimes uses the 'paleo' technology to advance performance (its main purpose), PL uses 'paleo' technology as its essesnce. So, a Crossitter may choose not to use paleo, and still chase performance, a PL'er (is that a word?) doesn't really have that choice - they stop paleo, they stop Primal Living. I suggest that just because there are very strong touchpoints between PL and CF, they are not one and the same. I don't believe they were ever intended to be. Good comments from everyone. Thank you


Dane Thomas wrote …

Miranda stated that she has tried sweet potato + protein (chicken, fish) post-workout and that solid food that close to a workout makes her want to puke. She finds that liquids work better than solids, and that chocolate milk tastes great and works well for her purposes.

Those who believe that milk should not be a part of the diet of adult humans are free to feel that way and apply that reasoning in their own lives. If you would like to convince Miranda (and the rest of us who are not lactose-intolerant) to give up dairy, start by suggesting an easily digested liquid alternative that is readily available, provides an good balance of protein and carbs, tastes good, doesn't cost a fortune and meets your criteria for moral and societal acceptability.

I'm still waiting...


replied to comment from Dane Thomas

Coconut milk with hemp and berries. Mmmm...mmmmmmmmm!


wrote …

Great comments all the way around. Thanks Pat. Would love to see some of the comments from people who have lost a ton of weight or have gained muscle weight. Maybe some of them are at Level 1's?

Jayson--I too love the coconut milk with vanilla or chocolate flavored protein. Delish. Although, I will occasionally do the sweet potato with chicken for the real long burner wod's but ice cold coco milk is my fav.

Mr. Reyes--when people ask me whether I eat zone or paleo, I tell them I eat charleo zonish. It's the diet that works for me, hence the Charleo part. It is based off the zone, while eating clean (paleo). It's a mixture of both paleo and the zone depending on how I want to eat that day and what I have coming up in the wod, plus everything else that life throws at me. I try to keep paleo, but sometimes I want a dang quesadilla! So I keep that within the zone parameters. How did I come up with Charleo? Well, I had to start somewhere and that was with the zone. So besides keeping hormone levels in check, CF's "Hard-on" for the zone is based on having an easy system to tinker with. How can I measure my performance on a wod without know how I did the last time I did that particular wod? With the an easy system of tracking my diet (the zone) I can see how my diet effects my performance. How did I feel based off the last time that I had about 3 blocks before the wod and how I felt having about 2 block before the wod? The zone is yet just another tool for me to track and measure.


Joseph Alexander wrote …

Great to see all your smiling faces...a lighthearted, fun video. Recently incorporated a post WOD meal myself (can't believe it took me so long to implement). Time and time again I am stunned by the results delivered through consistent implementation and adherence to the basics; i.e. the post-wod meal.


wrote …

Thanks for all of the comments on both sides of the chocolate milk debate! Like Dane said, it is the best I have found for my needs and my lifestyle. Like I said, I did try the sweet potatoes and chicken for a while, but found that it took me like an hour to eat it and it made me sick. I actually have a hard time eating in general and drinking the chocolate milk and adding the Progenex actually helps me to make sure I get the amount of calories/blocks that I need per day. Without these things there would be a lot of days where I wouldn't end up eating nearly enough and wouldn't be able to train the way I want. Are there better ways?? Probably. But, in the end you need to do what works for you.

I will admit to you all that I am not one of those who gets too crazy about eating 100% pure Paleo and organic etc. Other than the chocolate milk, I stick to the classic: Meats and veggies, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. I drink the chocolate milk post workout and I also put cream in my coffee. I am educated regarding the pros and cons of drinking milk/cream and choose to keep it in my diet.

P.S....where do I get a chocolate cow??



replied to comment from Brian Watts

Hahahahahaha. Perfect response.


wrote …

First time poster and have been crossfitting since February. Never lifted weights a day in my life (39 years) until I came to CF. Until that time, it was all running and biking for me. Little muscle mass with exception of the legs and bootie. I gained strength quickly through CF but was having a heck of a time recovering from the workouts. Very very sore and it would take days to recover. I long can I do this? Will I always feel like I was run over by a train?

After about 4 months, my coach recommended that I begin a PWO protein shake as I was waiting hours before I ate after the WOD. I started a simple whey protein drink with 20 grams of protien. It worked WONDERS!!! I saw the difference within days and my strength and fitness gains have been fabulous!

My question is....I have been using a whey protein with very few carbs (about 3 grams). Should I be adding carbs to the PWO meal? Or will straight protien work?


I think we're all waiting for you to answer the important question here, Miranda - have you tried monkey milk instead? I haven't seen chocolate monkey milk at Whole Foods, but I hear there's a grape variant in some regions which comes in five gallon jugs.

As for the location of the chocolate cows, that's one of those super-top-secret secrets being kept by the bovine conspir...

Sorry, I've already said too much.


replied to comment from Desiree Proctor

That depends if you are after performance or body composition as your primary goal. If it is performance then you 100% need carbs, but not as many as most will promote here. I would stay in the 30-40g range.

Chris Mason


replied to comment from Michael Foster

I have an MS in Ex Sci so yes, I've done plenty of research. Check out the China Study...might change your opinion.


replied to comment from Brian Hassler

I take the butchers word at face value and actually visit the farms.


replied to comment from Jonathan McKenzie

nice post,


replied to comment from JAYSON SHAW

Well put, if it has a bar code there's a 99.9% chance it's crap.

Eat Food, Mostly Plants, not too much.


Dane Thomas wrote …

Ryan, you've made your case AGAINST milk, but I'm still waiting for a suggestion FOR an alternative post-workout drink that comes close to providing a similar balance of protein and carbs, is readily available, not too costly and tastes good.


wrote …

Dane, please message me on the forum.


wrote …

What about ice baths anyone?


wrote …

Duncan: I think ice baths are one of the miracle recovery tools. Cold water showers or ice baths practically paralyze me afterwards, i can fall asleep quickly, even if i did a serious workout 1hr prior. Usually, i cant fall asleep for hours after a workout if it's later at night, but introduce a 10 minute cold shower or ice bath, and i'm out like a light. Not to mention the anti-inflammatory benefits of it, i've also heard it does amazing things for fat loss, but i dont have any proof to back up that statement.


wrote …

What about sleep anyone?


wrote …

#44, China Study has a lot dubious research. Look into it.


replied to comment from Ryan Flynn

Have you not seen that the "China Study" was exposed as fraudulent study?


wrote …

Great Topic Pat. We need to see more of your "stylings" as regular features on the CrossFit main site so the community can really see what a great persona you are.

As for the Post Workout Nutrition this has been a project of mine this year and I now have some interesting personal insights. I started this year with the intention on building on my CF successes of last year (check my and what I decided to do this year was try my best to work a Paleo diet under a loose Zone Framework. I wanted to do this since last year my diet, although good, didn't really have a structure or form other than eating 0% crap and not eating after 8:30pm.

This year my progress and overall fitness is off the charts. I can't begin to say how much the strict paleo, 6 times a day eating and following a loose zone program has benefited me. I not only notice it in my increased lifting performance but also on my recovery. Simply, I am just able to push it harder and more often. I have more PR's in the last 2 months than ever before and the only difference in my training is the attention to diet. It's a great case study.

One interesting Post Workout tidbit is that in the last 2 months I have started drinking a 14oz Choc milk with 1 scoop whey isolate powder drink. I was eating a Cliff 20g Builder bar before this and I can't believe the difference in Recovery. I have found that since switching to the Choc milk/powder drink I have made significant changes in my performance. Crazy too as that is the only dairy I have had this year (other than the little coffee cream in the morning).

For me the best I have seen so far is definitely the Choc milk/Pure Whey Isolate post workout meal.

Thanks for all the support.



replied to comment from Miranda Oldroyd

I think you can get one through Wonka Inc. but grass fed chocolate cows are better for Omega 3/Omega 6 ratio. Hahahaa


replied to comment from Brian Watts

Now thats whats up!!


replied to comment from chad mckay


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