When it comes to getting healthy, you probably already know that nutrition is just as important as exercise, but did you know that what you eat after a workout is incredibly important too?
What you eat after your run, Pilates class, or strength training session can either fuel or sabotage your success. And no one wants their hard work to go to waste!
Read on to discover why this is important, why timing is everything when it comes to fueling your workouts, and what you should eat after exercise.
Why You Need To Eat After Exercise
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that when you work out, you use up energy, and oftentimes lots of it! Eating after exercise is critical not only to get your energy back up but also to aid in muscle recovery.
When we work out, we break down our muscle fibers, creating little tiny tears. Our body then has to go to work repairing these tears, which is what strengthens our muscles!
In order to maximize this process, we need to fuel our body with the right foods. So, what foods are those? Read on.
The Basics: Protein, Carbs & Fat
If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve heard me talk about macronutrients: that is, protein, carbs, and fat.
Our body needs all three to survive, but what are we looking for post-workout?
Ideally, protein & carbs.
After your workout, you need to refuel with a clean source of protein. If it’s not mealtime yet, make sure you’re getting it in the form of a snack.
Protein gives your body needed amino acids in order to help rebuild the breakdown of muscles, as mentioned above.
The recommendation is 0.14–0.23 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For example, if you’re a 140-pound woman, you would want to consume about 20-32 grams of protein post-workout.
Eating enough protein will help your muscles repair themselves so all that strength training actually works!
You also want to be sure to include carbohydrates in your post-workout recovery.
Glycogen, stored in your body’s liver and muscles to provide the body with energy as blood glucose level decrease, are used while exercising. Thus, it’s important to replenish them by eating carbs.
The amount of carbs you’re looking to consume is about 0.5–0.7 grams per pound of body weight. Again, to use our previous example, a 140-pound woman would be looking to consume is about 70-98 grams of carbs.
Carbs to protein should be around a 4:1 or 3:1 ratio.
A quick note on carbs: not all carbs are created equal. Try to look for whole-grain sources of carbs along with fruits and vegetables.
A slice of whole wheat bread will give your body lasting energy rather than the sugar crash of white starches. For additional examples of healthy carbs, see below.
While fat is a critical macronutrient to daily life and eating fat can actually help you lose weight, protein and carbs are ultimately most beneficial to your post-workout recovery.
Small amounts of fat alongside these other macronutrients will likely not do any harm, but should be the main focus.
Why Timing Is Everything When It Comes To Fueling Your Workouts
As far as post-workout snacks go, within 45 minutes of your workout and up to 2 hours after is the perfect time to refuel with a combination of protein and carbs.
As you’ve learned, that winning combo is what helps speed up your recovery time and replenishes your glycogen stores.
A quick note: if you finish up your workout and it’s time for a main meal like lunch or dinner, go ahead and just eat that (no need to double up on a snack!).
Related: Do You Have Portion Distortion?
Also, listen to your body. If you only workout for 20 minutes, you likely don’t need to bookend it with snacks on either side.
The main goal is this: don’t go into any workout starving, but don’t feel the need to double up on meals before an intense class. If you’re not hungry or just ate, no need to eat again before your workout.
Post-Workout Meal Ideas:
These 11 great post-workout meals and snacks will help refuel your body after exercise:
1. Leafy greens with chicken or tuna
Tuna over leafy greens can serve as a snack or light meal option post-workout. Tuna, particularly the pouch version, is a super quick and convenient option that packs about 20 grams of protein per 3 ounces. And dark leafy greens are always a good choice. Greens such as kale and Swiss chard can help with exercise-induced inflammation and are loaded with antioxidants.
2. Whey protein smoothie (with pineapple and ginger)
A protein smoothie is a go-to for many athletes post-workout. You can also add whey protein to your smoothies as well as pineapple and ginger. Both pineapple and ginger act as anti-inflammatory agents, which work to fight off muscle soreness after an intense session in the gym and reduce exercise-induced inflammation.
3. Cottage cheese with fruit
Cottage cheese is a great source of protein giving you 25 grams in just 1 cup – just the amount you need in our previous examples! Fruit also gives you the healthy carbs you’re looking for and is a super tasty treat over cottage cheese. Peaches are a GHU team favorite!
4. Whole grain tortilla with turkey, hummus, and grains
If your training falls around midday, a whole grain tortilla with turkey and hummus is a great lunch option. You’ll get healthy carbs from your whole grain tortilla and a good does of protein from both turkey and hummus. Throw in some crunchy veggies too for good measure: carrot sticks, cucumber, lettuce, etc.!
5. Hardboiled eggs
To get your needed post-workout protein, hard-boiled eggs are a great way to go. They’re convenient, can be made ahead of time and contain 6 grams of protein per egg.
6. Chicken with quinoa/brown rice
If you’re looking for a more hefty meal post-workout, lean protein with grains makes a perfect dinner. Quinoa and brown rice are both healthy carbohydrate packed foods and surprisingly quinoa delivers on protein-front as well with about 8 grams of protein per cup. Add some roasted veggies to round out your meal and feel great about the fuel you’re giving your body to maximize your hard work.
7. Whole grain cereal with soy milk
The whole grain cereal is a smart carbohydrate packed with fiber, B vitamins, and more. Soy milk can be a good replacement for those who are lactose intolerant or sensitive, plus it contains enzymes and riboflavin to help restore lost energy after your workout.
8. Omelet with fresh fruit
Headed home post-workout? Whip up a quick omelet for yourself with some eggs, milk and cheese. Got some veggies in the fridge? Throw those in as well. Serve it up alongside some fresh fruit for a perfect protein & carbohydrate-rich meal you’ll love.
9. Greek yogurt with mix-ins
A typical container of Greek yogurt contains 17 grams of protein and about 6 grams of carbs. Throw in some almonds and dark chocolate and you have yourself the perfect post-workout treat.
10. Apple slices with nut butter
Another great healthy and tasty snack option post-workout is apple slices (25g of carbs per medium apple) and a nut butter of choice. Of course, peanut butter is the go-to (8 grams per two tablespoons), but almond butter is also a delicious alternative (7 grams per two tablespoons). Cashew butter can also be found in our pantry for a unique spin on the classic (6 grams per two tablespoons).
11. Chocolate milk
Believe it or not, chocolate milk is beloved by long-distance runners logging serious miles. Why? Well, for one it rehydrates, and two, it contains a four-to-one carb to protein ratio critical for restoring glycogen and rebuilding muscle. Chocolate milk is also a good source of B-vitamins which many athletes find helpful for exercise performance and muscle repair.
PS: Don’t Forget To Hydrate!
No matter when you work out or the form of exercise you choose to do, stay hydrated. Water is essential to keep your body working safely and productively. Here are some of the health benefits of water:
- Prevents dehydration
- Helps eliminate toxins from your body
- Improves digestion
- Helps to naturally suppress appetite
- Helps carry nutrients throughout your body
- Aids in the metabolism of the stored fats in the body
- Water can help reduce the likelihood of back and joint pain
No matter what workout you do, fuel it with clean food and plenty of water. You’ll get more out of your movement and bounce back ready for the next sweat session with ease!
Carol on September 13, 2018 at 5:49 AM
Hi I have been into most of my life I am still physical education teacher, operated my own aerobics studio ,certifications with AAFA, but the next wall you run into is menopause and age. I was hoping your site would help to deal with the progress shin of exercise and age, as we all know it gets difficult to lose weight as you get older, but you lose muscle mass and skin elasticity. This makes it very difficult to see results, maybe you can help address some of these issues as I have with some of my clients. Thank you, Carol
Adrienne McGuire on September 1, 2017 at 12:54 PM
Camille - have you tried eating a banana and soy yogurt before a workout? That seems to work well for me, as I too have a sensitive stomach pre-workout!
Camille Starr on July 2, 2017 at 11:17 AM
I've found in the past that I can't eat any dairy before a workout, and peanut butter seems to upset my stomach. I can eat after, but I have to wait about an hour or two, or my stomach will get upset. Particularly if I got very hot and sweaty. What do you suggest? I want to start going to the gym early before work. Thanks.
Chris Freytag on July 5, 2017 at 2:46 PM
Hi Camille - check out our suggestions here: https://gethealthyu.com/best-workout-snacks/.