Eating the right foods after exercise can help you recover, build muscle, and prepare for your next regimen.
The new year is finally here and it’s time to start on your new exercise goals.
But before you get too far into January, keep in mind that your workout doesn’t end when you leave the gym or finish that final lap on the track.
Choosing the right foods after your workout can help you recover more quickly, build muscle, and get ready for your next workout.
Here’s a quick guide to making the most of your post-workout nutrition.
When you work out, your muscles use their glycogen energy stores. Some of the muscle proteins also get damaged, especially during strength workouts.
Vanessa Voltolina, a registered dietitian in the greater New York City area, says “eating the right combination of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals helps speed the process of rebuilding the used glycogen stores, as well as repairing muscle proteins.”
People also shouldn’t shy away from including some healthy fats in their diet.
“I think most people are in need of more healthy fats to help take in the fat-soluble vitamins,” said Adam Kelinson, a New York City-based private chef and nutritional consultant for athletes, celebrities, and executives.
What you eat after a workout depends on the duration and intensity of exercise. The type of exercise is also important.
“Higher carbohydrate meals are most beneficial after endurance activities — such as running or cycling — lasting more than an hour,” Voltolina told Healthline. “Following strength training, it’s important to consume protein in combination with moderate carbohydrate.”
Timing also matters, but you have more wiggle room than you might think.
“The ideal timing for consuming a post-workout snack is within 45 minutes,” said Voltolina, “but benefits can be seen up to 2 hours after training.”
Keeping it in perspective
Karina Inkster, a vegan fitness and nutrition coach based in Vancouver, British Columbia, said unless you’re an athlete or work out a lot, post-workout nutrition is not as important as other factors — such as your overall macronutrients (protein, carbs, fats), eating mainly whole foods, and your overall calorie intake.
So, when deciding what to eat after your workout, you have to keep in mind how the whole day fits your exercise goals.
“You want your 24-hour period to look great,” said Inkster. “If that means amping up your protein content, then by default, your post-workout nutrition meal or snack is probably going to be a little higher in protein.”
Vegans and vegetarians, though, need to eat protein from a variety of sources throughout the day to make sure they’re getting enough of the essential amino acids.
Kelinson said you should also be honest about how much of your workout is actually moderate or high intensity.
“Ultimately, you may spend just 30 or 40 minutes out of an hour working out,” Kelinson explained to Healthline. “You move from one thing to the next, you talk a little bit, you get some water, you take your breaks. We’re not talking high-exertion efforts here.”
So be careful about overdoing the packaged post-workout snacks, many of which have added sugars.
“Just because you move your body a little bit, it is not a license to overconsume,” said Kelinson.
You can also probably get away with following your workout with one of your regular meals or snacks, rather than adding another meal to your day.
“People who train really early in the morning will often have something really small before their workout, just for a bit of energy,” said Inkster. “And then their breakfast, which they would normally have anyway, becomes their so-called post-workout nutrition.”
Don’t forget to hydrate
Drinking enough water before, during, and after your workout can help with recovery and your next day’s performance.
Professional athletes sometimes measure their body weight before and after a workout to know how much water they need to replace.
But you can probably get away with keeping an eye on the color of your urine — pale yellow is where you want it.
Depending on the intensity of your workout and the temperature of the environment, you may also need an electrolyte drink to replenish sodium and potassium lost in your sweat.
When choosing foods to eat after your workout, look for foods that are easily digested to speed up nutrient absorption.
You should also lean toward whole foods that are packed with other micronutrients.
Here are a few options.
chia seed pudding
fruit (berries, apple, bananas, etc.)
whole grain bread
whole grain cereal
turkey or chicken
salmon or tuna
protein shake (plant- or animal-based)