When you’re working out, your muscles use up their glycogen stores for fuel. This results in your muscles being partially depleted of glycogen. Some of the proteins in your muscles also get broken down and damaged. Eating the right nutrients soon after you exercise can help your body get this done faster. It is particularly important to eat carbs and protein after your workout. Although the timing does not need to be exact, many experts recommend eating your post-workout meal within 45 minutes.
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.” “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.”
“Nailing your post-workout nutrition promotes quicker recovery, reduces muscle soreness, builds muscle, improves immune system functioning, and replenishes glycogen — all key building blocks in priming you for future workouts,” says sports dietitian and Ironman athlete Marni Sumbal, M.S., R.D. So if you give little thought to your post-training nutrition, your time at the gym might produce lackluster results.
Yoga Instructor Karly Treacy is all about carb loading after you’ve done your part at the gym. “Your metabolism is fired up and your body has spent its glycogen. Adding carbohydrates to your post-workout meal will not boost or diminish any muscle synthesis but it will replenish your glycogen stores,” she says. “Glycogen plays a role in maintaining blood sugar levels and is the number one food for the brain, so make sure you nourish your body with both a protein and a carbohydrate after a workout!” Treacy’s go-to choices are a protein shake with banana, raw cacao, maca, cinnamon, almond butter, and a scoop of protein powder. Alternatively, Treacy goes for a Nicoise salad with the potatoes. “Both of these options are a perfect balance of protein and carbohydrates so that you maximize your body’s recovery, but do not take away from the muscle building or fat burning goals you may have!”
Kate Osman, Optimum Nutrition athlete and NPC Bikini Competitor, varies her protein and carb-packed post-workout food depending on what time of day she works out. In the morning, she whips up protein-packed scrambled eggs with avocado and serves it alongslide a slice of Ezekiel bread with a light spread of natural almond butter. “Eggs are a great source of protein and the avocado will give you some of the good fats that your body is craving, and Ezekiel bread will help you fuel up for the day,” Osman explains. In the evening, Osman goes for grilled chicken and steamed vegetables or salmon with sweet potato slices. “This will fill you up without making you feel bloated after your workout,” she says. Speaking of bloat, do you need to de-puff ASAP? Then check out these ways to debloat in 36 hours!
Although she’s not against a protein shake if you’re short on time, Barry’s Bootcamp Trainer Ingrid Clay says eating—not drinking—protein is her preference. Clay’s post-workout meal includes three-and-a-half to five ounces of lean protein, half cup of complex carbohydrates like brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes or Jasmine rice, and then a green leaf veggie (to replace minerals and vitamin depletion). Finally, she likes to include one to two teaspoons of coconut oil because of its healthy fat status.
“The one macro to avoid post workout is fat for about two to three hours,” Massaroni says. “It slows the absorption of protein when your body needs it most, and the introduction of fat along with a blood sugar spike can lead to fat storage and inhibit muscle repair and growth.” Confused about fat or no fat?
Fitness expert Jeff Grant goes for either a protein shake (two scoops whey isolate, one cup almond milk, one tablespoon peanut butter, half a banana, and ice cubes all blended together) with one cinnamon raisin Ezekiel English muffin with the other banana half. Or he’ll go for a flank steak, large sweet potato, and salad. “I will always have carbs post-workout because it’s the protein and carbs that rebuild your muscles. Studies show that you should have a 2:1 carb to protein ratio post-workout. I honestly usually keep it even at 40-60 grams of each. It is also very important to get that meal in within 30 minutes of completing your workout for the best results,” Grant explains.
Eric the Trainer, a Hollywood physique expert, says that after working out, he reaches for the big three: an animal-based protein, a water-based carbohydrate, and a healthy fat. “This trio provides all the muscle building, energy, and nutrients that make up a healthy, balanced diet,” he says. Examples of his tri-fold pattern: low-fat cheese sticks + apple slices + raw almonds; sliced chicken breast + watermelon cubes + sliced avocado; or yogurt + blueberries + peanuts.
Salmon: high in protein and Omega-3 fatty acids, salmon offers a healthy (and delicious) way to jumpstart your muscle recovery. While the protein works to repair damage to the muscle fibers, the Omega-3’s help prevent damage from oxidative stress and ward off illness. Salmon is also packed with the amino acid taurine, which provides additional antioxidant benefits.
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. It also contains a selenium-containing compound, selenoneine. It helps protect the hemoglobin and myoglobin from oxidation and also helps decrease mercury toxicity .
Eggs: packed with seven grams of protein, an egg is a compact, recovery hero. It delivers amino acids, which are the body’s versatile building blocks that aid in muscle repair and may decrease muscle soreness. Consuming protein immediately after your workout is important, but Smith recommends endurance athletes also eat a protein-rich snack before bed to help promote muscle recovery and repair overnight.
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. 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!
Tofu: is a great source of vegan and vegetarian protein. Three ounces of tofu contains about 8 grams of protein . You can consume tofu salad, tofu wrap or sandwich or add it to your bowl of quinoa.
Sweet potato: provide a tasty way to perk up your essential carbohydrate stores. “As an athlete, you want to maintain adequate levels of glycogen, and these stores of carbohydrates aren’t limitless,” Smith says. With their rich orange color, sweet potatoes provide more nutrients, including vitamin C and potassium, than your run-of-the-mill white potatoes.
Quinoa: a protein-packed carbohydrate that has many vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, protein, and dietary fiber. 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.
Brown rice: just one cup of brown rice will provide you with 88.0% of the daily value for manganese. This trace mineral helps produce energy from protein and carbohydrates and is involved in the synthesis of fatty acids, which are important for a healthy nervous system, and in the production of cholesterol, which is used by the body to produce sex hormones. Manganese is also a critical component of a very important antioxidant enzyme called superoxide dismutase. Superoxide dismutase (SOD) is found inside the body’s mitochondria (the oxygen-based energy factories inside most of our cells) where it provides protection against damage from the free radicals produced during energy production.
Spinach: is high in niacin, zinc, protein, fiber, vitamins A, B6, C, E and K, thiamin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese. In other words, it’s loaded with nutrition for every part of your body. Moreover, research suggests there may have been something to Popeye’s ability to turbo-charge his muscles with spinach after all, as the dietary nitrate found in spinach actually helps increase production of proteins that boost muscle strength.
Broccoli: Sulforaphane, a naturally occurring organic sulfur compound found in broccoli is probably most well-known for its anti-cancer activity. However, as Filippone points out, sulforaphane also “increases testosterone levels and staves off the retention of body fat.”It also “blocks certain enzymes that have been linked to joint destruction, so broccoli is a must have in an active person’s diet.” Research has also shown sulforaphane helps protect your muscles against exercise-induced damage.