Post Workout Meal Ideas for What to Eat
- Eating a post-workout meal maximizes your workout progress by preventing muscle damage and supplying the body with nutrients.
- The best post-workout meal combines carbohydrates, protein and fats.
- Ideas for what to eat include Greek yogurt or cottage cheese with berries or a post-workout recovery smoothie.
It doesn’t matter that you’re one tough cookie in the gym; if you’re not properly fueling your body, you’re squandering your own progress. Pre-workout meals get a lot of attention, but they’re not the only thing on the menu. Post-workout meals are just as, if not more, important.
Eating a balanced ratio of macronutrients–carbohydrates, proteins and fats–soon after a workout replenishes lost nutrients and fluids, helps your muscles recover faster and builds muscle. Hungry for progress? Read on to learn about the benefits of a post-workout meal and get ideas on what to eat to maximize your performance.
Why Should You Eat After a Workout?
Eating after a workout feels as good as it tastes. Here are some of the scientific reasons and benefits of eating after a workout:
Glycogen is the stored form of glucose (sugar) that lives in your muscles and liver. As the body’s preferred source of energy, glycogen breaks down to release glucose into the bloodstream as fuel. Since your muscles use up glycogen when you exercise, the glycogen tank runs low quite quickly.
Eating a post-workout meal is as important as oil is to a car—it replenishes your supply. The best foods to replenish glycogen are high-quality, unprocessed carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and beans.
Research has found that eating soon after a workout triggers muscle protein synthesis (MPS). This is a process in the body that leads to muscle growth. Sore after your workout? Use these workout recovery tips to help you get back on your A-game that much faster.
Impressive gains will be staring you back in the mirror if you choose when you eat your post-workout meal. To capture the “window of opportunity,” it’s recommended that you eat within one to four hours of working out. But, the specific timeline can fluctuate based on your workout and the timing of your pre-workout meal.
Rehydrating after a workout is as essential as that post-workout mirror selfie. When you work out, your body temperature increases. Getting all nice and sweaty means you’re working hard, but it also causes your body to lose fluids and electrolytes (largely sodium aka salt).
While chugging water during and after your workout helps, it doesn’t deliver much-needed nutrients the same way as, say, a post-workout smoothie does. Discover delicious smoothie recipes. You can also load up on foods that have a high concentration of water (think watermelon, cucumber and broccoli).
Best Types of Food to Eat After a Workout
Get on the road to recovery by combining three main macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fats. Here’s the skinny on each of these post-workout fuels:
We’ve already established that glycogen is the body’s preferred source of fuel. But how does your body get this fuel? Easy: Through carbs. This explains why you might feel tired and mentally sluggish when you don’t consume enough of them. After a workout, carbohydrates replenish the empty glycogen tank.
Carbohydrates are also essential for muscle recovery. Eating carbs causes your insulin levels to spike. If you’re sitting around doing nothing, a spike in blood sugar isn’t the ideal scenario. But if you just finished a tough workout, this spike in insulin is beneficial because insulin delivers nutrients throughout the body. This results in reduced muscle soreness and inflammation.
The ratio of carbs needed will depend on a few factors, such as your weight and the length and type of workout. According to USADA, you should consume between 3 to 12 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight throughout the day.
Examples of carbs to eat in a post-workout meal include:
- Whole grain bread
- Rice cakes
- Chocolate milk
- Pancakes and waffles
What’s a workout without protein? After all, protein is made up of 20 amino acids that help repair and build muscle tissue. While protein should be consumed throughout the day, research has found that 20 grams of highly absorbable protein isolate is beneficial to the body after a workout.
The timing of protein post-workout also matters. It’s recommended that you ingest protein 45 minutes to 1 hour after you finish exercise to increase muscle growth from MPS.
Examples of proteins to eat in a post-workout meal include:
- Cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
Fat may be the least essential macronutrient to the post-workout equation, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t add to the table. Fats help you absorb the nutrients from the food you’re eating, provide energy and keep you fuller for longer.
But more research needs to be done to determine its full effectiveness.
Examples of fats to eat in a post-workout meal include:
- Fatty fish
- Chia seeds
Post-Workout Meal Ideas
Fuel yourself like a winner with these easy and delicious post-workout meal ideas. We’ve included breakfast, lunch and dinner options. There are even on-the-go snacks that are perfect when paired with the best post-workout supplements.
- Greek yogurt, berries and granola
- Tuna and crackers
- Rice crackers with mixed nuts
- Grilled chicken with brown rice and a kale and feta salad
- Salmon with broccoli and quinoa
- Summer salad rolls
- Whole grain wraps with chickpeas and lean turkey
- Tuna sandwich with whole wheat bread
- Greek yogurt and strawberries
- Salmon and veggie bowl
- Oatmeal with banana, peanut butter and protein powder
- Loaded veggie frittata
- Egg bites
- Bacon, eggs and pancakes
Whether you’re hitting the gym early in the morning or late at night, a post-workout meal does more than keep you satisfied. It also replenishes glycogen, helps your muscles recover faster and increases muscle mass. To see these gains, it’s important that you fuel your body with the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fats. Simple ideas include a bowl of Greek yogurt, berries and granola or a dinner of grilled chicken, brown rice and a salad.
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