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The importance of protein intake post-workout

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Protein is vital post-workout in order to kick-start the body’s recovery process. Here, Hilary Simmons explores the importance of timing and balance for health.

According to research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN), the ability to build lean muscle mass is elevated for 24 to 48 hours after training. During this window – otherwise known as the anabolic phase – the body is greedy for nutrients, the muscles hungrily suck in glucose and your overall ability to process protein is significantly raised.


In practice, if you’re training most days, then your body is in a constant state of recovery and it’s therefore important to be consuming protein regularly across the day, especially if you’re trying to build lean muscle mass.

Accredited sports dietitian, Jessica Spendlove notes that building lean muscle mass is one of the better and more conclusively researched areas in the sports nutrition space, with two clear elements to consider if you’re aiming for muscle hypertrophy:


» Protein timing. Protein is required to build and repair muscle tissue. Not eating enough can hinder your gains, so this is where the timing, distribution and composition of your meals comes into play.

» Energy balance. While muscle hypertrophy requires a calorie surplus, shedding body fat requires an energy deficit – in other words, you need to consume less calories than you use.

Consuming enough protein will be vital to both goals: for the former, to ensure a surplus and, for the latter, to preserve muscle mass.

This doesn’t mean you need to freak out that the anabolic window of opportunity is going to close the minute your workout ends. While it’s wise to bookend your training with a balanced post-workout snack (think a banana with nut butter or a protein shake), you have one to two hours to reap the benefits of your body’s heightened nutrient-processing abilities.

Good post-workout nutrition will always have three key components:

» Slow release carbohydrate (such as oats, wholegrain sourdough, quinoa, sweet potato, brown rice and bananas) to replenish muscle glycogen stores.

» Good quality protein (such as Greek yoghurt, eggs, milk, chicken, turkey, tuna or protein powder) to support muscle recovery.

» Fluid. In fact, this goes for pre-, intra- and post-workout nutrition.

The post-workout period is also a great time for you to enjoy an açaí bowl, or loads and loads of vegies. According to Spendlove, many people go wrong by undereating on the days they have trained, when they can actually afford to eat more. In fact, their bodies will utilise the nutrients better.

“For example, a 60kg woman may be completing a mix of HIIT, LISS and weights every week night. She may eat really ‘clean’ throughout the week, focusing on lean protein, lots of vegetables and minimal carbohydrate intake,” says Spendlove.

“But on the weekends she may eat out most meals, have alcohol both nights and be more relaxed about portion sizes. What can easily happen here is a total mismatch of intake and output. Her high intake days are her lowest output days, and this is not ideal. Aim to match your intake to your output.”

In addition, if you undereat or under-nourish your body during your recovery phase, it can lead to appetite spikes later in the day – or into the next – often resulting in overeating.

“We all understand when we’re trying to lose weight that we need to be in an energy deficit, but weight loss and, more importantly, body fat loss is a lot more complex than that,” says Spendlove. “To most effectively lose body fat we need to strike the right balance between what we are eating and the training we are doing. One of the biggest mistakes I see women make is over-restricting on training days or around intense training sessions, but then end up over-eating on low output days. Post-workout nutrition is important, but you need to pay attention to pre-workout and intra-workout nutrition as well in order for it to succeed.”

By the same token, athletes and individuals who train most days have 50 to 100 per cent higher protein requirements than inactive or sedentary people. During periods of significant physical adaptation, such as when an individual is first beginning to workout, protein needs are greatly increased.

“When we talk about protein intake for muscle hypertrophy, the key elements are the type of protein, the timing of protein intake, and the distribution of protein intake across the day, as well as the total intake,” says Spendlove. “Most people are consuming enough total protein across the day, but they are possibly not consuming it at the right time or in the right amounts. You can make an enormous difference to your diet and fitness goals by focusing on distributing your intake more evenly.”



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How to stop yourself from overeating

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It’s easy to over-dramatise the odd extra helping as a ‘binge’ or ‘blowout’, but if you are consistently eating more than your body needs, there may be good reasons. 

The stick: Macro shortfall

The human body’s drive for protein is so powerful that it will keep consuming food until its protein needs are met according to a University of Sydney study. As protein intake decreases, kilojoule intake increases, researchers reported.

The fix: Consume 15 to 20 per cent of daily kilojoules from high-quality, low-fat protein sources. Lean meats, legumes, fish, eggs and tofu all qualify.

The stick: Multitasking

Whether it’s the portion sizes at your local, a bout of intense work stress or mindless nibbling in front of the telly, there’s a whole gamut of reasons why we eat more than what we need or when we’re not hungry at all . 

The fix: Try to eat intuitively – only when you’re hungry. Focus on eating when you feel hungry and stopping when you feel full. 

The stick: Overwhelm

Research suggests that when we can choose from a wide variety of foods, we generally eat more. Under the ‘smorgasbord effect’, new flavours are thought to stimulate appetite while bland or monotonous menus bore us into disinterest. 

The fix: Limit yourself to a few choices.

NEXT: Kick start your clean eating journey with our 10 step guide to cleaner eating



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How to meal prep like a pro

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1. Go for frozen: Frozen vegetables are generally snap frozen, so they haven’t really had much time to lose their nutrients – it’s a lot better option than the fresh vegetables that have been sitting in your fridge for a long time,” says Austin.

2. Half can be better than whole: “If you’re meal prepping salad, dress it later; or add fats after the fact to preserve the quality and taste of the meal,” says Austin.

3. Family first: “If I have to cook every meal myself, then it’s a chore. But if one of the kids or my partner helps, it changes the whole scenario of the activity. It becomes much more fun, you don’t feel resentful and the meal’s going to taste better because there’s a bit more gratitude and a bit more love in there – you put in more effort,” says Austin

4. Seasonality counts: Buy in-season so food tastes better and is more enjoyable to come home to, suggests Austin.

5. Buy a slow cooker: “I’ll make double dinner or lunch in the slow cooker, so we can have the leftovers the next day,” says Austin.

6. Invest in ziplock: “I like to keep frozen carb and protein sources weighed out in ziplock bags in the freezer, as back up in case I can’t get to the shops,” says Anderson.

7. Dessert wise: Anderson turns her healthy carbs into prep-friendly desserts to add variety to her meals. “I make superfood paleo sweet potato brownies, chocolate cacao breakfast oat muffins and vegetable muffins to help reach my daily fibre and micronutrient intake,” she says. “One of my favourite things to have prepared is peeled frozen bananas in separate ziplock bags ready for a thick smoothie or ‘nice-cream’ at any time.”

Learn how to master your meal prep in the July 2017 edition of Women’s Health and Fitness magazine.



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How to reduce fluid retention

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According to naturopath Rebekah Russell from Blackmores Australia, the following may help reduce fluid retention:

Dandelion leaf: This has been used traditionally for hundreds of years for its diuretic action. It can be enjoyed as a tea.

Vitamin B6: This may help relieve fluid retention and other symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, including breast tenderness, mood changes, irritability and fatigue.

A broad-spectrum multivitamin: This ensures you meet the daily requirements of vitamins such as B1 (thiamine), B6, B5, D3, and the mineral calcium. These nutrients all aid body processes that are important for removing excess fluid.

Grape seed extract: Studies show this can help in the management of fluid retention associated with venous insufficiency, premenstrual syndrome, and the use of hormonal replacement therapy (HRT). It also helps relieve fluid retention, heaviness, pain and itching of the legs.

Ginkgo biloba: This is traditionally used to improve peripheral circulation (to the legs and other extremities), so it can be beneficial for people who experience fluid retention as a symptom of varicose veins.

NEXT: Fuel your body for exercise.


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How to lose the last two kilos

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They say the last two kilograms are the hardest to lose, but we’ve found a loophole.



Calculate your baseline

Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the number of calories you’d burn per day if you were to lie in bed 24/7. It’s based on various factors including your height, age and body composition (a higher muscle to fat ratio will burn more calories even at rest). To calculate your BMR, plug your deets into this equation (known as the Harris-Benedict equation): 

BMR = 655 + (9.6 x weight in kg) + (1.8 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age in years)

e.g. a 30-year-old female measuring 167 cm tall and weighing 54.5 kg would compute 655 + 523 + 302 – 141 to get a maintenance level daily calorie need of 1,339, or 5,624 kJ, per day (multiply calories by 4.2 to convert to kJ lingo).

STEP 2. 

Body audit

If your numbers come in low, don’t panic. In addition to what you burn to maintain basic bodily functions, you need to add your other energy usage. What you want to work out how many kJs you’re burning on average per day, and how many kJs you need to cut to lose your target kilos, is your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), which comprises BMR (65 per cent), physical activity and thermic effect of food. 

To calculate your TDEE, multiply your BMR by your activity level according to these numbers.

Sedentary = BMR x 1.2 (little or no exercise, desk job)

Lightly active = BMR x 1.375 (light exercise / sports 1–3 days/week)

Moderately active = BMR x 1.55 (moderate exercise / sports 6–7 days/week)

Very active = BMR x 1.725 (hard exercise every day, or exercising 2 times/day)

Extra active = BMR x 1.9 (hard exercise 2 or more times per day, or training for marathon, or triathlon, etc.)

e.g. If your BMR is 1,339 calories, or 5,624 kJ, and you’re lightly active, your activity factor is 1.375, making your TDEE 1.375 x 1,339 or 5,624, or 1,841 calories/7,733 kJ. In theory consuming 7,733 kJ each day (or 54,129 kJ a week – there’s no penalty for zig-zagging to accommodate a dinner party) will maintain your current weight.

STEP 3. 

Budget crunch

Based on the 0.5 kg a week deemed optimal, you’ll need a cumulative deficit of 14,700 kJ a week (there are 14,700 kJ in half a kilo of body fat). A weekly deficit of 7,350 kJ will translate to loss of 0.25 kg per week. Aim to eat approximately the same amount of kJs each day, but don’t get obsessive. If you want to go out for parma (around twice the kJs in a Lean Cuisine dinner), shoot for 1,000 kJ less than your loss needs the following day and you’ll come out square. 

STEP 4. 

Loophole phase 

You can’t out-train a bad diet because it’s so much easier to consume calories than burn them. (A flavoured milk packs in more than an hour’s workout burn in a few gulps.) Yet exercise can give you an extra food allowance. By burning 400 calories in spin class, you can still eat 7,080 kJ and lose your half a kilo a week.

Looking for more weightloss tips? Check out Alexa Towersey’s top fat loss tips



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A day in the life of a gluten-free guru

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As a sports nutritionist, triathlete and self-confessed cashew butter addict from Melbourne, Stephanie Lowe is passionate about the health benefits of going gluten free. Her blog offers written posts and podcasts about everything from gut health to fat loss. It also offers delicious GF recipes and Lowe’s ebooks, including Free From Gluten and Real Food Reset. 

My food philosophy


“Real is best. Food that comes out of the ground, from a tree or from an animal is the most nutrient dense and whole source of nutrition. In fact, one of the biggest changes we can make to improve our health is to significantly reduce or eliminate our intake of packaged foods.”

Foods on high rotation in my diet

“Every meal I eat contains many non-starchy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and zucchini. It also contains a quality protein such as free-range eggs or grass-fed meat and good fats such as avocado and olive oil. My carbohydrates come from wholefood sources, such as berries and sweet potato. Eating this way offers me optimal nutrient density, blood sugar control, satiety and long-term health benefits.”

Foods I avoid

“I stay away from packaged foods and particularly avoid ingredients that promote inflammation in the body, such as gluten, refined sugar and polyunsaturated seed oils such as canola oil (because they are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which we have too much of in our Western diet). I believe that anti-inflammatory nutrition is the key to my good health today, and tomorrow.”

Why I became gluten free

“I stopped eating gluten nine years ago to help my mental state and heal my relationship with food, which wasn’t healthy. I was so inspired by the changes I experienced that I went back to university to study nutrition at a post-graduate level so I could educate others on the power of real food. Before this dietary change, I was eating gluten every day, whether it was a small amount through traditional soy sauce or in larger quantities in low-fat cereals and muesli bars.”

Health benefits

“Once I stopped eating gluten, my digestion improved, but the biggest change was the emotional impact – I felt calmer and happier. I really began to understand that with 90 per cent of serotonin receptors (our happy hormone) found in our gut, the food that we eat has a significant influence on our brain and mental health.”


“It can be tricky when waiters at a restaurant don’t quite understand gluten free, or perhaps don’t take your request seriously enough. The great thing is that in 2016 the awareness of gluten free is quite high and many restaurants code their menu GF, which makes ordering out very easy. Ten years ago it was much more challenging to cut out gluten, as many people didn’t even know what gluten was. Now, as long as you communicate what your dietary requirements are, most restaurants and cafes will go out of their way to assist.”

My transition tips

“The best way to approach gluten free is to focus on real food. If you fill your plate with non-starchy vegetables, quality protein and good fats, and choose wholefood carbohydrates, you are 99 per cent of the way there. Healthy, fresh food doesn’t come in a box, so there is really minimal need for the gluten-free products that are increasingly appearing on our supermarket shelves. Stick to whole and fresh foods instead.”

My day on a plate


» A berry smoothie with spinach, avocado, coconut milk, cinnamon and raw pea protein


» Shepherd’s pie with pumpkin mash or a three-egg omelette with a side of avocado and kimchi


» Grass-fed steak or free-range chicken with a rocket salad or steamed greens topped with grass-fed butter and Himalayan salt 


NEXT: Think you may be intolerant to other foods? Check out our guide to food intolerances.


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10 filling toast toppers under 100 calories

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Think low-fat cottage cheese or cream cheese topped with fresh fruit. Let your flavour imagination run wild.

  • ¼ sliced banana with 2 tsp low-fat cottage cheese or ricotta
  •  2 tbsp mashed avocado, ½ diced tomato and 1 tbsp Vegemite
  • 1 tbsp baked beans, 1 tbsp avocado
  • 1 tbsp low-fat cottage cheese with sliced strawberries, melon or apple
  • 2 egg whites (scrambled or hard-boiled) with 1 tsp avocado and 1 tbsp baked beans
  • 2 egg whites (scrambled or hard-boiled) with 25 g slice of fat-removed bacon
  • 1 tsp Nutella with 1 tbsp cottage cheese and sliced orange or strawberries or whole raspberries
  • 1 tbsp cottage cheese with a squeeze of lemon or lime and black pepper, ½ chopped fresh tomato
  • 1 tbsp hummus with 1 hard-boiled egg white, salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp ricotta, 1 egg, spinach, salt and pepper



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Eat like a warrior

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Keep your energy levels up throughout the day with Sheena-Lauren

‘s Warrior Recipes.


Chocolate protein and coconut porridge

BEST FOR: A mini boost before an end-of-day workout or if you need something in your tummy pre-early morning workout. (Sheena-Lauren recommends fasted morning workouts, but if you can’t fathom powering through without something to nibble, bite off a bit of brekkie and save the rest for recovery.)

“The oats provide a great sustained release of energy to power you through the morning. They are a great source of fibre to help curb mid-morning munchies,” Sheena-Lauren says.

What you’ll need

  • ½–1 cup traditional rolled oats
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 30 g chocolate protein
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tsp rice malt syrup

What you’ll do

Combine the oats, coconut milk and chocolate protein in a bowl. Ensure the oats are completely covered with coconut milk. Place in the fridge overnight to soak through. Sprinkle with chia seeds and add one tsp of rice malt syrup.

Sip on a protein shake

BEST FOR: Knocking out niggling hunger near the end of your workout.

“I sometimes sip on this throughout my morning workout if I find myself getting hungry, and I finish it post workout,” Sheena-Lauren says.

What you’ll need

  • High-quality whey protein or alternative

What you’ll do

Add a 20 g to 30 g scoop of protein powder to a shaker and top up with water. Shake thoroughly.

Spicy eggs and sweet potato

BEST FOR: Post workout recovery

“The eggs are a great source of protein for muscle repair and the sweet potato serves as a fantastic low-GI complex carbohydrate, replenishing energy stores to keep you feeling full and keep you on the go for the rest of your day,” Sheena-Lauren says

What you’ll need

  • 200 g sweet potato, grated
  • ½ red chilli, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely diced
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp coconut oil

What you’ll do
Add the grated sweet potato to a fry pan with coconut oil on low heat. Add chilli and garlic. Continue to cook on low heat and toss regularly for approximately 20 to 30 minutes or until soft. Poach two eggs. Plate up the sweet potato, add the poached eggs on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
Add a 20 g to 30 g scoop

Start the Summer Warrior Challenge today.


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Do I need to be skinny to look toned?

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Want to achieve that ‘shredded’ look? It usually requires an increase in muscle mass and a descrease in body fat.

Increased muscle mass (i.e. size, width and volume of your muscle fibres) will help your muscles become more visible beneath body fat; however, significant mass is not always necessary for improved tone.

According to exercise scientist Johann Ruys, “Muscle mass increase is generally associated with an increase in tone, but an increase in tone is not necessarily associated with a major increase in size.”

How to achieve that ‘shredded’ look

To achieve the ‘shredded’ look of a figure model, increased muscle mass is generally required – more so than for the taut, slender lines of a bikini model. However, the acquisition of either body would usually require a decrease in body fat.

“Less body fat will increase the ‘visible effect’ of tone,” says Ruys. “But tone can improve your shape, even with body fat.”

Figure competitors sport around five to 10 per cent body fat for a competition, but it’s certainly not kept that low all year round. This means that even for the most muscled individual, sculpted abs (or indeed a sculpted aesthetic) is not always a reality.

Alexa Towersey, personal trainer and co-founder of the Creating Curves program – a program based on her experience training models and Miss Universe competitors – says “The training you do in the gym creates the muscle tone or muscle mass, and the correct nutrition allows you to get lean enough to show it off at its full potential.

If you’re looking for clear muscle definition, you need to lose the subcutaneous, or surface, fat. It’s true when they say, ‘abs are made in the gym and revealed in the kitchen’.”

NEXT: Check out our Body transformations section or read about How to improve muscle definition




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Top ingredients for a well-balanced smoothie

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The same criteria that govern optimal solid meals apply to liquid meals: fibrous carbs, lean protein, and a healthy fat source. ”A problem many people encounter is that they overload on the fruit, which will make the smoothie high in simple carbs, and lack the protein, so it doesn’t fill them up,” Robbie Clark warns.




» Berries – blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.

» Banana

» Kiwi fruit

» Cherries (preferably sour/tart cherries)

» Pineapple

» Citrus fruits 

» Mango

» Tomato

 Vegetables (all are good, but these are top shelf): 

» Green leafy vegetable – e.g. kale, spinach 

» Beetroot

» Carrot

» Celery 

» Cucumber


» Protein powder – preferably an organic WPI, pea or hemp protein. If you have severe food intolerances, you might best be suited to an organic brown rice protein, which is usually quite hypoallergenic. 

» Greek or natural unsweetened yoghurt

Liquid (as a base) 

» Dairy – skim or full cream milk (depending on your health goals and taste)

» Milk alternatives – almond, coconut, rice or other nut milks

» Coconut water

 Healthy fats 

» Avocado

» Nuts – e.g. almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pecans

» Nut butters – e.g. natural peanut or cashew nut butter

» Seeds – e.g. sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, linseeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, LSA (linseed, sunflower seed and almond) mix

» Coconut – shredded, desiccated 

» Coconut oil

boosters (low GI) 

» Whole oats

» Raw muesli

» Bran

» Psyllium husk

Sweetener (if needed) 

» Raw honey 

» 100% maple syrup

» Organic coconut sugar

» Vanilla extract

Boosters (optional) 

» Cinnamon

» Raw cacao powder

» Maca powder

» Matcha powder

» Ginger

» Turmeric 

» Kefir

» Bee pollen

» Spirulina 

NEXT: Here are four delicious smoothie recipes to add to your collection.



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