What To Eat After A Workout

By on

The importance of post-workout nutrition

Post-workout nutrition is essential for recovery and performance. Consuming a proper amount of carbs and protein after exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis, improves recovery, and enhances performance. The importance of post-workout nutrition lies in replenishing glycogen stores, decreasing muscle protein breakdown, and increasing muscle protein synthesis, which helps in muscle recovery and growth. Post-workout meals should include a combination of protein and carbs within approximately 60 minutes after exercise to maximize the benefits. Additionally, consuming high-quality, lean protein and rehydrating with fluids are important aspects of post-workout nutrition. It is also recommended to fuel your body with protein and increase your glycogen intake after a workout to aid in muscle repair and restore energy levels.

The Science Behind Post-Workout Nutrition

Post-workout nutrition is a critical aspect of an exercise routine, aiming to facilitate muscle recovery, repair, and growth. The timing of nutrient consumption, particularly protein and carbohydrates, after a workout is believed to be important for maximizing exercise-induced muscular adaptations. While some have claimed that there is an "anabolic window of opportunity" immediately after exercise, recent evidence suggests that the importance and existence of this window may vary depending on factors such as training status and whether the exercise is performed in a fasted state. The main purposes of post-workout nutrition are to replenish glycogen, decrease protein breakdown, and increase protein synthesis, ultimately leading to improved recovery, muscle growth, and performance. Carbohydrates help replenish depleted glycogen stores, while protein jumpstarts muscle protein synthesis. The recommended amount of protein to consume surrounding training is 0.4-0.5 g/kg of lean body mass, which for most individuals is equivalent to 20-40 grams of protein. While the "anabolic window" was once thought to be small, recent evidence suggests that it may not be as critical as previously believed, especially if a pre-workout meal has been consumed. Therefore, while post-workout nutrition is important, total daily protein intake and usual protein intake are equally, if not more, important for muscular health. Post-workout nutrition plays a vital role in the recovery and adaptation process following exercise, with a focus on replenishing energy stores and promoting muscle repair and growth.

Explanation of the body's response to exercise

During exercise, the body undergoes various physiological responses to meet the increased demand. These responses involve the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine, and immune systems. Some key responses include:

1. Nervous System: Exercise stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, leading to increased respiratory rate, cardiac output, and metabolic processes.

2. Hormonal Changes: During exercise, plasma levels of cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine increase, consistent with the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Additionally, growth hormone, insulin sensitivity, and testosterone levels also increase.

3. Cardiovascular System: The circulatory system adapts to accommodate increased metabolic activity in skeletal muscles by increasing cardiac output and modulating blood flow. This helps in maintaining homeostasis for the increased demand in physical, metabolic, respiratory, and cardiovascular efforts.

4. Musculoskeletal System: Exercise leads to adaptations such as increased muscle capillary perfusion, strength due to muscle hypertrophy, endurance due to increased muscular mitochondrial content, and increased bone density.

5. Respiratory System: The respiratory system responds to exercise by increasing oxygen intake and removing carbon dioxide to meet the increased demand for oxygen by the muscles.

These responses work together to maintain homeostasis and adapt the body to the demands of exercise, leading to various health benefits such as improved cardiovascular health, mood elevation, and increased bone mineral density.

Importance of replenishing nutrients post-exercise

The need to replenish nutrients post-exercise is well-documented. Consuming the right nutrients after exercise, such as carbs and protein, helps decrease muscle protein breakdown, increase muscle protein synthesis, and restore glycogen stores, enhancing recovery and stimulating new muscle growth. As mentioned above, post-exercise nutrient intake is essential for promoting protein synthesis and glycogen synthesis, with the timing and amount of protein and/or carbohydrate intake playing a significant role in muscle recovery. Post-workout nutrition has three specific purposes: replenishing glycogen, decreasing protein breakdown, and increasing protein synthesis, which ultimately leads to improved recovery, less muscle soreness, increased ability to build muscle, and improved immune function. Additionally, timing of post-workout nutrition is key to recovery and muscle building, with carbohydrate intake recommended as quickly as possible post-workout, and protein intake optimized within 2-3 hours of exercise. Therefore, it is crucial to pay attention to post-exercise nutrition to support muscle recovery, replenish energy stores, and improve overall performance and health.

The role of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats) in recovery

The role of macronutrients in exercise recovery is crucial for replenishing energy stores and aiding in muscle repair. Here's a summary of the roles of each macronutrient:


Proteins are essential for repairing cells and damaged tissue, making them crucial for muscle recovery after exercise. They are the building blocks of muscles and aid in making them stronger.


Fats help in the transportation of oxygen throughout the body, maintaining healthy red blood cells, and enhancing the immune system. They are also important for energy production and inflammation reduction.


Carbohydrates are vital for replenishing glycogen stores, which is important for muscle recovery. Consuming unrefined carbohydrates with high dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals can help replace lost nutrients after exercise.
A combination of these macronutrients is important for post-exercise recovery, with proteins aiding in muscle repair, fats supporting various bodily functions, and carbohydrates replenishing energy stores. The timing of nutrient intake is also crucial for maximizing the benefits of post-workout nutrition.

What to Eat After a Workout

Carbohydrates: Quick-digesting vs. slow-digesting carbs

After a workout, consuming fast-digesting carbohydrates can help replenish depleted glycogen stores in your muscles and stimulate insulin release, aiding in muscle building. Examples of fast-digesting carbs include fruits like bananas, grapes, and watermelon, as well as white bread, white rice, and potatoes. These carbs are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and can be beneficial when timed with your exercise routine. It's recommended to consume fast-digesting carbs within one hour after a workout to take advantage of the "carbohydrate window," when the muscles are primed to replace muscle glycogen. However, it's important to consider factors such as fiber and fat content and fructose levels when choosing the best post-workout carbohydrates. Slow-digesting carbs, such as oatmeal and whole grains, are recommended before a workout, while fast-burning carbs are advised after the workout to replenish glycogen stores and promote muscle recovery. It's essential to choose the right type of carbs based on individual health and fitness goals.

Examples of ideal post-workout carbohydrate sources

Some ideal post-workout carbohydrate sources include:

1. Potatoes: They are a solid choice as a whole food carb source for a post-workout meal. Potatoes are high in natural sugars and can help aid muscle recovery and reduce pain after intense exercise like sprinting.

2. Beets: High in natural sugars and inflammation-fighting phytonutrients, beets have been studied for their ability to support endurance workouts by increasing cardiorespiratory performance. They can help aid muscle recovery and reduce pain after intense exercise.

3. Mango: Packed with carbohydrates and vitamins A, E, and C, mango is versatile as a post-workout carb and helps reduce inflammation that can cause muscle soreness after a strenuous workout.

4. Sweet potatoes: They are a good source of carbs for replenishing glycogen stores after a workout.

5. Quinoa, rice, oatmeal, and whole grain bread: These are also recommended as post-workout carbohydrate sources due to their ability to promote faster nutrient absorption.

It's important to choose carbohydrate-dense foods that are easily digested to promote faster nutrient absorption and replenish glycogen stores after a workout.

Proteins: The importance of protein for muscle repair and growth

Protein is essential for muscle repair and growth. It is made up of amino acids, which act as building blocks for the body. When consumed after exercise, protein provides the necessary amino acids to repair and rebuild muscle, reversing damage caused by exercise and preparing the muscles for future workouts. The amount of protein needed for muscle recovery varies based on body weight, the intensity, and duration of the exercise, with active individuals advised to consume about 10–20% of their total daily energy intake from protein. Research indicates that protein and amino acid supplements can enhance recovery, immune function, and the growth and maintenance of lean body mass, particularly when ingested prior to, during, and/or following exercise. The optimal amount of protein for muscle building appears to be between 1.2 and 1.6 g per kg total mass or 0.4-0.5 g per kg of lean body mass, which for most individuals is equivalent to 20-40 grams of protein. Therefore, consuming adequate protein is crucial for muscle repair, recovery, and growth, especially for individuals engaged in intense training or resistance exercise.

Recommended sources of post-workout protein

After a workout, it is recommended to consume a combination of protein and carbohydrates to support muscle recovery and glycogen replenishment. Good sources of post-workout protein include:

  • High-quality protein powder
  • Eggs
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Salmon
  • Chicken
  • Tuna
  • Protein bar
  • Lean meat
  • Fish
  • Nuts and nut butter
  • Seeds
  • Tofu
  • Edamame
  • Quinoa

These foods supply the body with amino acids, which enhance muscle repair and growth, particularly when consumed after exercising. The goal is to aim for 10-25 grams of high-quality protein in your post-recovery snack or meal. It's also important to ensure you're hitting your overall daily protein needs, which can range from 10-35 percent of total daily calories, depending on individual requirements.

Fat: The Role of healthy fats in post-workout recovery

The role of healthy fats in post-workout recovery is a topic of interest in the fitness and nutrition community. While the focus is often on consuming protein and carbohydrates after a workout, healthy fats also play a significant role in the recovery process. Here is the role of healthy fats in post-workout recovery:

Energy Source: Fats are an important energy source during the recovery process.
Hormone Production: They contribute to hormone production, which is essential for muscle repair and growth.
Inflammation Reduction: Healthy fats help reduce inflammation, which is beneficial for the recovery of muscles and other tissues.

While the emphasis is often on consuming protein and carbohydrates after a workout, it's important to include healthy fats in the post-workout meal to support the body's recovery process. Examples of healthy fats include avocados, nuts, seeds, and fish.

Healthy fats play a crucial role in post-workout recovery by providing energy, supporting hormone production, and reducing inflammation. Therefore, including sources of healthy fats in the post-workout meal is beneficial for overall recovery and muscle repair.

Examples of suitable fat sources to include in post-workout meals

  • Avocado: A good source of healthy fats.
  • Nuts and nut butters: They provide healthy fats and protein.
  • Seeds: Such as chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp seeds, which are rich in healthy fats.
  • Salmon

These fat sources can help you feel full, support stable energy levels, and enhance the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, all of which are important for recovery.

Example post-workout meal ideas that incorporate all three macronutrients

1. Grilled Chicken with Roasted Vegetables and Rice
- This meal provides protein from the chicken, carbs from the rice, and some healthy fats from the chicken and/or oil used for roasting the vegetables.

2. Egg Omelet with Avocado Spread on Whole-Grain Toast
- This meal offers protein from the eggs, carbs from the whole-grain toast, and healthy fats from the avocado.

3. Salmon with Sweet Potato
- Salmon provides protein and healthy fats, while sweet potato offers carbs and fiber.

4. Tuna Salad Sandwich on Whole Grain Bread
- Tuna provides protein, whole grain bread offers carbs, and you can add healthy fats from the dressing or avocado.

5. Oatmeal with Whey Protein, Banana, and Almonds
- This meal combines carbs from the oatmeal and banana, protein from whey, and healthy fats from almonds.

6. Cottage Cheese and Fruits
- Cottage cheese provides protein, while fruits offer carbs and various nutrients.

7. Pita and Hummus
- This meal provides carbs from the pita, protein from the hummus, and healthy fats from the tahini in the hummus.

8. Greek Yogurt, Berries, and Granola
- Greek yogurt offers protein, berries provide carbs, fiber, and various nutrients, and granola adds carbs and healthy fats.

9. Protein Shake and Banana
- A protein shake offers protein, while the banana provides carbs and various nutrients.

These meals incorporate a balance of protein, carbs, and fats to support post-workout recovery and muscle repair.

Hydration: The Forgotten Element

Proper hydration post-exercise is crucial for recovery and overall health. After exercise, it's important to replace fluids lost through sweat to reduce the risk of heat stress, maintain normal body function, and sustain performance levels. Dehydration can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, muscle cramps, and decreased athletic performance. Athletes should aim to drink one and a half times the fluid they lost while exercising to rehydrate adequately. Water is generally the best fluid for hydration, but for high-intensity exercise lasting longer than an hour, a sports drink may be helpful in providing energy and electrolytes. Proper hydration post-exercise is also essential for muscular repair, digestion, reducing fatigue, and heart rate recovery. Thirst is not always a reliable indicator of dehydration, so monitoring urine color and other signs of dehydration is important.

Recommended fluid intake guidelines before, during, and after exercise

Before Exercise
- Drink 16-24 fl.oz. of water within the 2 hours prior to training.
- At 10-20 minutes prior to exercise, consume another 7-10 fl.oz. of water.

During Exercise
- Consume approximately 6-12 fl.oz. of fluid every 10-20 minutes throughout the training. Drink beyond your thirst.
- For high-intensity exercise lasting longer than an hour, a sports drink may be helpful in maintaining energy and electrolyte levels.

After Exercise
- Rehydrate with 16-24 fl.oz. of fluid for every pound of water lost through sweat.
- Drink 8 ounces of water no more than 30 minutes after you exercise.

It's important to note that the exact amount of water needed depends on individual factors such as sweat rate, climate, and exercise intensity. Monitoring urine color and body weight changes can help assess hydration status.


Post-workout nutrition is essential for muscle recovery and performance. Consuming the proper amount of carbs, protein, and fat can help your body recover faster and can increase muscle growth. So, the next time you get in a tough workout, make sure to follow it up with the proper nutrition and hydration.

nutrition | post-workout | healthy foods