Post-workout Meal: What To Eat After A Workout

Combat fatigue and feel refreshed after your workout with wholesome and tasty foods.

Medically Reviewed by Kate Turner, RD, CSSD, CPT
By Charushila Biswas, MSc (Biotechnology), ISSA Certified Fitness Nutritionist

To keep yourself fit, strong, and young, you must work out regularly. Also, you must add a post-workout meal to your fitness routine to maximize the outcomes. It will prevent you from feeling extremely tired, sore, and lethargic. This meal helps replenish your energy sources and rebuild lean muscle mass. Post-workout meals also help you get that slim and toned figure you are aiming for. However, it is important to know which foods to consume and their quantities. This post gives you all the information about post-workout meals. Read on!

Why Is Eating Post Workout Important?

Why you need to eat after working out

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When you workout, glycogen (glucose stored in muscles) is used up as a source of energy. The repeated contraction of the muscles also leads to muscle fiber wear and tear. That’s why, right after working out, your muscles feel weak, and you feel like resting for a while. It’s your body’s way of telling you that you have no energy and need to refuel. This is precisely why you need to eat after working out. The nutrients from the good foods will help in the following ways:

  • Restock the glycogen stores.
  • Help the muscles recover from wear and tear.
  • Build more muscle.
  • Reduce muscle protein breakdown.

It is also important to know what to eat to reap all the benefits of post-workout meals. Broadly, you should include carbs, proteins, and fats in your meal. Let’s see how each of these food groups affect the body.

  • Carbs Replenish Glycogen Stores

When you do cardio or endurance training, your glycogen stores may become depleted. So, on the days when you only focus on cardio, you should aim to consume about 0.5-0.7 grams of carbs per pound of your body weight (or 1-1/2 g/kg/hr during the early recovery phase and continuing for 4-6 hours will optimize rates of synthesis of muscle glycogen).

  • Proteins Rebuild Muscles

Both resistance training and cardio lead to some degree of muscle wear and tear. Resistance training causes more muscle tears. So, on the days when you lift weights or do other forms of resistance training, make sure you consume about 0.14-0.23 grams of protein per pound of your body weight (or 0.25 to 0.3 g/kg body weight) or 15 to 25 g protein across the typical range of athlete body sizes, although the guidelines may need to be fine-tuned for athletes at extreme ends of the weight spectrum. Higher doses (>40 g dietary protein) have not yet been shown to further augment MPS.

  • A Little Bit Of Fat Is Good

Fat may slow down the absorption of post-workout meals, but it doesn’t prevent your body from getting all its benefits. You must consume healthy fats in small quantities to help improve satiety levels.

Now, the main question is, how much of each of these food groups should you consume? The best thing to do is to include both carbs and proteins in your post-workout meal as this will help improve glycogen synthesis and muscle recovery. Maintain a carb:protein ratio of 3:1. So, if you consume 60 grams of carbs, you must consume 20 grams of protein in your post-workout meal. Throw in some healthy fats, and you are all set! But which proteins, carbs, and fats are best? Find out in the next section.

18 Post-Workout Foods For Recovery And Instant Energy

Carbs

1. Dark Leafy Greens

Dark leafy greens as post-workout food

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Dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, radish greens, Swiss chard, lettuce, broccoli, collard greens, mustard greens, and arugula are loaded with dietary fiber, vitamins C, A, E, and K, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and other phytonutrients. These will not only help you replenish the glycogen stores but also protect you from a host of diseases, aid weight loss, and help boost your immunity (1).

2. Oatmeal

Oats are popular among those who want to lose weight. But did you know that the beneficial complex carbs present in oats also make them a great post workout choice, especially if you use them in a smoothie? Loaded with vitamin E, antioxidants, and other phytonutrients, oats help increase satiety, lower bad cholesterol, and also fight cancer (2).

3. Fruits And Veggies

Fruits and veggies as post-workout food

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Fruits and veggies like apples, bananas, pears, peaches, plums, watermelon, muskmelon, dragon fruit, passion fruit, carrots, tomatoes, beetroot, scallions, and peas are great to include in your post-workout meal. And that’s because they help boost your energy levels and combat the toxic, free oxygen radicals. They also can help fight heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and certain types of cancer. The WHO recommends consuming 4-5 types of fruits and veggies per day (3). You can easily add a banana, spinach, or carrots to your post-workout meal, even blend them in!

4. Sweet Potato

Sweet potato is another good choice. It is low in calories, great for replenishing the glycogen stores, and keeps you satiated for a long duration. This instant energy source also has cancer-fighting potential, helps in weight loss, and flushes out toxins from the body (4). If you are on a weight loss mission or looking to control your blood sugars, have boiled sweet potatoes instead of the baked ones as baking may cause a greater spike in your blood sugars (5).

5. Quinoa

Quinoa as post-workout food

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Quinoa is a protein-packed carbohydrate that has many vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, protein, and dietary fiber (6). It helps prevent weight gain, improves digestion, and fills you up instantly. Toss together some chicken, veggies, and quinoa to make a great post-workout meal.

6. Rice

And you thought rice was bad for you! Well, not when you have it within two hours post working out and also have a cup of veggies and a source of protein (7), (8). Yes, white rice has a higher GI than brown, red, or black rice. Brown rice has more dietary fiber than white rice. But both are beneficial if you can control the portion size (recommended ½ cup per serving). Also, rice will give you that quick boost of energy by restocking your muscles and cells with glycogen and glucose respectively.

Proteins

7. Eggs

Eggs as post-workout food

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Like rice, eggs have quite a mixed reputation. Many people prefer eating only the white because they do not like the texture of the yolk or it smells odd. But many healthy eaters avoid having the yolk as they consider it to be unhealthy. However, that is not true. Whole eggs are excellent sources of water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, and most importantly, essential amino acids and proteins. They are great for your post-workout meal as they are loaded with proteins and other nutrients that help protect you from various diseases (9). Having 1-2 whole eggs as part of a post workout meal is ideal. If the eggs are your only protein source in the meal have it contain at least 2 whole eggs.

8. Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is a protein-packed dairy product that is enjoyed in salads, wraps, pizzas, and sandwiches. It is a good source of protein, calcium, and other nutrients that help increase the satiety levels (10). Some commercially available cottage cheese is also fortified with vitamin D, an essential nutrient for overall well-being. You can have it with a few slices of avocado and a slice of whole wheat bread for your post-workout meal to rev up your energy levels and help your muscles recover from the wear and tear quickly.

9. Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt as post-workout food

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Greek yogurt contains more protein than regular yogurt and helps improve satiety levels (11). It is a great snack option, and consuming it post your workout is a great way to keep your hunger pangs in control for an hour or so. You can add it to smoothies or have it with some fruit.

10. Tuna

Tuna is a great source of protein and healthy fats. One ounce of canned tuna contains about 7.1 g of protein and 78.7 mg of omega-3 fatty acids (12). It also contains a selenium-containing compound, selenoneine. It helps protect the hemoglobin and myoglobin from oxidation and also helps decrease mercury toxicity (13). Consume a piece of fish with some dark leafy greens and some healthy fats for a filling and yummy post-workout meal.

11. Chicken

Chicken as post-workout food

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Chicken is another good source of protein that you can consume after working out. Three and a half ounces of skinless chicken breast contains up to 31 grams of protein (14). Since protein is tough to digest, it takes longer to digest and absorb the nutrients from chicken. As a result, your satiety levels go up. Throw in some veggies, avocado, herbs, and olive oil, and your post-workout meal is fixed!

12. Tofu

Tofu is a great source of vegan and vegetarian protein. Three ounces of tofu contains about 8 grams of protein (15). You can consume tofu salad, tofu wrap or sandwich or add it to your bowl of quinoa. Avoid it if you are allergic to soy.

13. Mushroom

Mushroom as post-workout food

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Mushrooms are low in calories and. Half a cup of mushrooms contains about 1.1 grams of protein (16). Have sautéed mushrooms with veggies or mushroom soup post workout and get re-energized in just a few minutes.

14. Protein Powder

If you are always on the go and do not have time to fix your post-workout protein-loaded meal, protein powder may be a good option for you. If you have a few berries in the fridge but no yogurt, add protein powder and make a quick smoothie. There are various types of protein powders available on the market that you can add to milk, yogurt, and water to make a healthy and nutritious protein shake to drink after your workout session.

Fats

15. Avocado

Avocado as post-workout food

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Avocados are high-calorie fruits. But they are also loaded with healthy fats, dietary fiber, and vitamins A, C, E, K, and B6. Scientists also believe that consuming avocado might help manage weight problems, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and lead to healthy aging (17). Have one-fourth of an avocado or add it to salads/smoothies/toasts to get recharged post workout.

16. Nuts

Nuts are small handfuls of health boosters. They are a great source of healthy fats, protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals (18). Toss a few almonds, peanuts, and pistachios in your smoothie bowl or just have a handful of them right after your workout.

17. Nut And Seed Butters

Nut and seed butters as post-workout food

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Nut and seed butters are also great healthy fat and protein sources. Add them to your smoothie or oatmeal bowl to give it a nutty flavor and rev up your energy and muscle recovery after an intense workout session.

18. Ghee

Ghee or clarified butter is a healthy fat that you can add to your coffee and smoothies. It has antioxidant properties that help flush out toxins and also help keep your hunger pangs at bay (19).

These are the 18 best post-workout foods you can consume. Still not sure how to fix your meal? Take a look at the following list.

Post-Workout Meal Ideas

Post-workout meal ideas

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  • Fruits and Greek yogurt
  • Banana and nuts
  • Avocado and spinach smoothie
  • Grilled chicken breast/fish with veggies and avocado oil
  • Salad/sandwiches/wraps with veggies/cottage cheese/avocado/fish
  • Mushroom soup
  • Baby carrot and hummus
  • Vegetable quinoa
  • Rice, veggies, and fish/chicken/mushroom/tofu
  • Boiled eggs
  • Boiled sweet potato and kale salad with cottage cheese
  • Protein shakes

Now, the glaring issue is – timing. Because timing is everything. Here’s why.

Why Is Post-Workout Meal Timing Important?

If you do not consume your post-workout meal within 45 mins-2 hours after working out, the following might happen:

  • Your metabolism may slow down.
  • Your muscles may not recover completely.
  • The carb processing of your body increases post workout. If you wait too long, your body may not be able to process the carbs. And you will gain flab.
  • You may feel tired and lethargic throughout the day.
  • Your muscle soreness recovery may slow down.
  • You may end up overconsuming calories in a failed attempt to get energy from various food sources (including junk food).

So, you see, it is best that you make it a habit of consuming a post-workout meal. Here’s one last important tip.

Drink Water!

Make sure to drink sufficient water each day

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Drinking water, in general, is good for you. If you are working out, make sure you drink 3-4 liters of water per day. If possible, add a bit of sugar and salt to make your own homemade electrolyte drink that you can sip on post high-intensity workout. This will help balance the salts in your body fluids and prevent your blood glucose levels from dropping suddenly.

To get the most out of your workout, include a post-workout meal in your routine. It will keep you from feeling exhausted, achy, and sluggish. Post-workout meals can help you repair your muscles and reclaim some of the energy you expended throughout your activity. Keep in mind the timing, carbohydrate-to-protein ratio, healthy fats, and portion control. If you can do this, you will be surprised at how much your stamina, muscle power, and strength have improved. Post-workout meals might also help you achieve the toned physique you desire. Go ahead, talk to a nutritionist, and give it a try.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is pasta good after a workout?

No, pasta, white rice, white bread, or other refined carbs are not good options post workout.

Is KFC good after a workout?

While it’s not advisable to eat junk or fried food while you are trying to maintain your ideal weight, KFC meals are high in protein and fat and can be eaten post workout.

Is peanut butter good after a workout?

Yes, peanut butter is rich in protein that can help aid muscle repair and make you feel full after a workout.

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author
Charushila is an ISSA certified Fitness Nutritionist and a Physical Exercise Therapist. Over a span of 5 years, she has... more

Kate Turner

(MA, RD, CSSD, CPT)
Kate is a registered dietitian and personal trainer and has over 7 years of experience in the field of nutrition... more

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