We’ve all heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” Nowhere is this more relevant than in the world of fitness and exercise. What you eat after your workouts can impact your recovery, fitness goals, and performance. Since you use a lot of energy during exercise, it’s important to start the recovery process with proper refueling to restore energy and promote muscle repair and growth. In order to get this done, the best post-workout meal or snack should contain at least protein, carbs, and fluids. In this article, we will provide an overview of what you should eat and when you should eat.
Protein for Rebuilding
Protein is essential after your workout. It helps repair and build muscle tissue that breaks down during exercise. Opt for high-quality protein sources like chicken, fish, lean beef, tofu, low-fat dairy products, or plant-based options like beans and legumes. Convenience options like protein bars or protein powders may make getting in your protein easier at times.
Carbohydrates for Refueling
Carbohydrates are key. They restore your energy and replenish glycogen stores. This helps to avoid post-workout fatigue and get you ready for the next workout. Foods like rice, pasta, quinoa, oats, bread, and more will help you recover. Remember to make at least half your grains whole for general health purposes!
Hydration is Key
During a workout, you lose fluids through sweat. Rehydrating properly after exercise promotes recovery and optimal muscle function to avoid cramping. For most exercises less than an hour, rehydrate with water. For intense exercise lasting an hour or more, rehydrate with a sports drink or even low-fat chocolate milk. Fun fact: Low-fat chocolate milk has a carbohydrate and electrolyte content similar to that of many sports drinks. It also contains some protein!
Having a post-workout snack containing carbohydrates and protein within an hour of completing your workout can jumpstart recovery. This is especially important if you aren’t having a meal in the next few hours, are an advanced athlete, you have an extreme fat loss or muscle gain goals, or you are intensely exercising for more than an hour. If you are completing a light workout totaling less than an hour or are exercising for general health, you can likely skip a post-workout snack and instead prioritize your next meal within the next few hours.
Post-Workout Snack Ideas
- Whole wheat toast with peanut butter
- Use protein powder as directed for a quick and easy way to get in protein in the form of a shake or smoothie. Pro tip: many protein powders contain minimal or no carbs. Add carbohydrates by blending in oats, low-fat milk, or frozen fruit to your shake.
- Greek yogurt with granola or fruit
- Turkey sandwich
- Protein bar that contains both carbs and protein
Having a post-workout meal containing the right nutrients within a few hours of completing your workout is important to maximize the benefits from your workout and promote recovery. Your post-workout meal should contain protein, carbohydrates, healthy fat, and fruits or vegetables (like most well-balanced meals), or at least be rich in protein and carbohydrates.
Post-Workout Meal Ideas
- Grilled chicken with quinoa and steamed vegetables
- Salmon with sweet potato and asparagus
- Whole wheat pasta with pesto, white beans, and cherry tomatoes
- Lightly dressed Greek salad with tofu and a side of whole-wheat pita bread
Your workouts can be enhanced by paying attention to your post-workout nutrition. Making sure you are refueling with protein, carbohydrates, and fluids within a few hours post-workout can make a difference in your energy levels, recovery, and progress toward your goals. So, next time you hit the gym or lace up your running shoes, be mindful of your plate – it can be your best workout partner.
This information is meant to serve as a general guideline to spark ideas or positive changes for your fitness journey, but please note it may not be right for you. Post-workout nutrition can be largely dependent upon your individual goals related to body composition, your overall health status, exercise intensity and volume, and more. For an individualized post-workout nutrition strategy, consult with a registered dietitian. Always consult with your healthcare provider based on your individual goals and health before making changes to your diet.