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What to Eat After a Workout

By Jill Levy

April 23, 2023

What to eat after a workout

If you go through the trouble of exercising regularly, you want to be sure you’re gaining the most benefits from your workouts. Eating well after you exercise, especially by focusing on quality proteins combined with carbohydrates, is the best way to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to come back leaner and stronger.

Below find out what to eat after a workout to build muscle and endurance, recover more easily, and to help build energy and strength.

As always, you should consult with your healthcare professional prior to beginning any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including exercise or foods to consume post-workout. 

Why It's Important to Eat After a Workout

It's a top healthy eating tip. Eating after exercise is important for building muscle and even promoting an overall healthy weight because it provides your body with the nutrients it needs to normally repair and rebuild muscle tissue that has been taxed during your workout. You'll also help achieve satiety when you don't wait too long after training.

When you exercise, you create small tears in your muscle fibers; however, the natural process of repairing these tears is what leads to muscle growth and development. Eating a combination of carbohydrates and protein after exercise can help kickstart the recovery process, helping you to benefit the most from your exercise routine.

The ideal combination of nutrients to eat after exercise is protein plus carbohydrates.

Here’s why:

Protein (amino acids) helps to build and repair muscle tissues. How much protein do you need? Divide your weight in half for a generally healthy protein intake. Eat that amount in grams of protein per day.

Carbohydrates help replenish glycogen stores in your muscles, which can become depleted during exercise. Glycogen is the primary fuel source for your muscles during exercise, so replenishing these stores can help improve your performance during future workouts.

Eating carbohydrates after exercise can also help promote healthy insulin levels (already in the normal range) in your body, which can help drive nutrients into your muscle cells more efficiently.

Finally, eating after a workout helps to balance blood sugar, satisfy hunger and bolster energy.

These foods also belong in a balanced diet exhibiting food synergy, such as including a variety of whole foods in order to maximize their health benefits.

While protein and carbs have the biggest impact on supporting recovery, eating healthy fats is important, too, since these aid in nutrient absorption and keep your appetite in check. 

Macronutrient Percentages for Optimal Recovery

What's the best thing to eat after a workout? The specific macronutrient — carbohydrates, protein and fat — percentages you should aim for depends on your individual goals, body composition and overall diet. It also varies depending on whether you do mostly cardio/aerobic or strength-training exercises. Learn how to count your macros to make sure you're hitting your goals.

The ideal post-workout meal, generally speaking, should include a combination of carbohydrates and protein, with a ratio of roughly 3:1 or 4:1, depending on your individual goals. 

Here are some general recommendations for macronutrient percentages based on the type of exercise you do:

Cardio workouts

Consume a higher percentage of carbohydrates, especially if you’re endurance training, as these are the primary fuel source for aerobic exercise. Aim for a ratio of 4:1 carbohydrates to protein. About 45 percent to 65 percent of your calories each day should come from carbohydrates and about 10 percent to 30 percent from protein. The remainder should come from fat.

Strength workouts

For strength workouts, get a higher percentage of your calories from protein. Aim for a ratio of about 3:1 carbohydrates to protein. About 30 percent to 40 percent of your daily calories should come from protein and about 30 percent to 40 percent from carbohydrates, with the rest coming from fats. 

Timing Matters: How Soon to Eat After a Workout

Ideally, you should aim to eat within about an hour after your workout. This is when your muscles are most receptive to nutrient uptake. The first few hours following exercise are known as the "anabolic window," when your body is primed to use the nutrients you consume to repair and rebuild muscle tissue.

That being said, the exact duration of the anabolic window is a topic of debate among experts. Some argue that it can last up to 24 hours or more after a tough workout, and therefore there’s no need to rush to eat right after exercising. 

While the anabolic window may be longer than previously thought, you can still support muscle protein synthesis and recovery by eating within a couple hours of exercising. This approach also has the benefit of taming your appetite and promoting already healthy blood sugar levels, leading to less hunger and lethargy.

Best Post-Workout Foods and Protein Powders

After a workout, it's important to refuel your body with the nutrients it needs to recover and repair.

Here are some examples of foods that typically work well in post-workout meals:

  • Lean protein sources: Chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, protein powder or legumes.

  • Whole-grain carbohydrates: Oats, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, etc.

  • Fruits and vegetables: Berries, banana, mango, pineapple, spinach and other greens, sweet potatoes, and other veggies and tubers.

  • Dairy products: Yogurt, milk or cottage cheese.

  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, flax or chia seeds.

  • Protein powders: Bone Broth Protein, Multi Collagen Protein, plant-based protein powders made from ingredients such as hemp or pea, and whey protein make the best post-workout supplements.

It's also important to stay hydrated after a workout, so be sure to eat hydrating foods and drink plenty of water or other fluids, such as coconut water, herbal tea, bone broth and seltzer.

Sample Post-Workout Meals or Smoothies

What should you eat 30 minutes to one hour after a workout? Here are some examples of healthy post-exercise meals:

Muscle-Building Smoothie: Combine a serving of Bone Broth Protein (such as chocolate or vanilla flavor ) with banana, spinach, almond milk and flax seeds. In place of Bone Broth Protein, you can also use Multi Collagen Protein Joint + Mobility that has a vanilla flavor. 

Recovery Shake: Add a serving of Multi Collagen Protein Recovery to a blender with berries and coconut milk. You can also enjoy this product all on its own mixed into water or another liquid, or combined with Organic Supergreens for extra antioxidant support.

Protein Oats: Add your favorite protein powder or yogurt and fruit to 100 percent rolled oats, then top with nuts and seeds.

Veggie Omelette: Combine two free-range eggs with your favorite veggies and a side of diced and cooked sweet potatoes.

Salad with Chicken: Top a salad with different veggies, such as peppers and carrots, along with a serving of chicken or fish and a piece of Ezekiel or sourdough bread.

Foods to Avoid that Interfere With Exercise Recovery

What should you NOT eat post-workout?

It's best to consume nutrient-dense foods after exercise that help replenish energy stores, support muscle recovery and hydrate the body. On the other hand, salty, fatty, processed foods do little to provide needed nutrients after exercise, plus they can be dehydrating and lead to blood sugar swings and indigestion.

Foods that you should generally try to avoid after a workout include:

Fried or high-fat foods: Foods high in fat — such as fast food, fried foods or fatty meats — can slow down digestion and delay the absorption of nutrients.

Sugary foods: Consuming sugary foods, such as candy or soda, after a workout can cause a spike in blood sugar levels, leading to a crash later on. It's better to choose whole foods with natural carbs and sugars, such as fruit and sweet potatoes, to replenish energy stores.

Processed foods: Processed foods, such as chips or snack cakes, are often high in unhealthy fats, sugars and additives, plus they’re lacking key nutrients. 

Alcohol: Consuming alcohol after a workout can dehydrate the body and impair recovery. 

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