Many people spend lots of time planning their workouts and put a lot of thought into their pre-workout meal to boost their energy. However, not many know that they should give their post-workout meal just as much attention to reach their fitness goals more easily.
The main macronutrients to fuel your post-workout recovery are protein and carbohydrates. You need to consume protein-rich food like dairy, eggs, chicken, and fish. Your body also needs carbs, found in potatoes, rice, bread, quinoa, and oatmeal. Fruit and veggies should also be part of your post-workout meal.
Read on as you explore how to optimize your nutrition after the gym and increase the benefits of your hard workouts.
Why Should You Eat After A Workout?
To understand why your body needs the proper food intake after a workout, let’s explain what happens during a workout session.
Your muscles store a type of glucose called glycogen. When you work out, you use up the glycogen because it’s the body’s preferred fuel source. So, the muscles will be partially depleted and starving for fuel. Your body also loses electrolytes along with fluids through sweating.
Moreover, some of the proteins in the muscles can break down and damage the muscle tissue. Sometimes your muscles even develop small tears during workouts.
After a workout, the body will start rebuilding its lost glycogen and muscle protein, repairing the damaged muscle tissues and building new ones.
A post-workout recovery meal will enhance recovery and regain nutrients. It’ll restore energy levels and reduce fatigue and tiredness.
When Should You Eat After A Workout?
Before you find out what to eat, let’s figure out when to eat after the gym. The timing of your meal is just as important as what it contains.
The body’s ability to rebuild protein and glycogen increases after exercise and diminishes with time.
So, it’s ideal to eat the post-workout meal as soon as possible, within one or two hours after working out. If you’ve eaten a nutrient-rich meal before your workout, its benefits will still apply after exercising. So, plan your post-workout meal depending on your pre-workout meal timing.
Mix the Right Macronutrients
Your meal should have a mix of the right macronutrients, including healthy protein and complex carbohydrates. They’ll boost glycogen storage and rebuild muscle protein. The ideal mixture is a 3 to 1 ratio (carbs to protein).
As mentioned, exercising leads to muscle protein breaking down. The type of exercise and the level of your training affects the rate of protein loss. Your body can build upon existing muscles with exercising, but only when the muscles recover after previous workouts.
Consuming the right amount of protein will help the muscles heal by providing the amino acids it needs to rebuild the muscle proteins. It’ll also prevent loss of lean mass and build new muscle tissue.
To figure out how much protein you need, use the following simple formula:
Multiply your body weight in kilograms by 0.2 and 0.5 to get the recommended protein range in grams.
The higher end of this range is optimal for those who go through intensive workout sessions that last more than 45 minutes. If your workout is less intensive, adjust your protein intake to the lower end of the range and do some trial and error to see how you end up feeling with different proportions.
Carbohydrates are the macronutrients that help rebuild glycogen in your body. When you consume carbs and protein simultaneously after a workout, insulin secretion that promotes glycogen synthesis is better stimulated. Carbohydrate-rich foods also make up for the loss of immunity that can happen after exercising.
Consuming carbohydrates is more important for those who exercise more often. If there’s a one or two-day gap between your workout sessions, it becomes less vital but still essential.
As mentioned, the carb to protein intake ratio should be three to one. So, to figure out the number of carbs you need to eat in every post-workout meal, multiply the protein intake that you calculated in the previous section by three.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids also help increase muscle protein synthesis and boost the muscle cell size in your body. So, it’s good to include it in your meal.
What to Eat After a Workout Session?
The food you choose to have as your post-workout meal should contain protein and carbohydrates and be easily digestible to enhance nutrient absorption.
The protein in dairy can help repair new cells in the muscles and contain the essential amino acids essential for the body.
Milk protein is highly effective at supporting the rapid growth of lean muscle mass. Other protein-rich sources are ricotta and cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and kefir.
You’d be happy to hear that chocolate milk is the best snack for after exercising. Not only is it rich in protein, but it also has carbs. Its protein to carb ratio is 4 to 1, making it the ideal snack for refueling your body.
Eggs are one of the richest sources of protein you can find. They contain all nine of the essential amino acids for building muscles. Remember that it’s better to eat whole eggs than to consume egg whites because apparently, the egg yolk helps with protein synthesis. You can eat hard-boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, omelets, or any other form of eggs.
Skinless chicken breasts are what your body needs after the gym. They’re very rich in protein while containing low amounts of calories. Chicken also has lots of vitamin B6 that can boost your immune system. Turkey is also a great source of protein you can consider as your post-workout meal.
Fish like salmon and tuna have high levels of omega-3 acids and protein. That’s what your body needs for easing muscle inflammation and post-workout soreness.
Mixing your protein source with a starchy carb will give you better results, and potatoes, especially sweet potatoes, are the best you can find. They contain maltodextrin, which is a complex carbohydrate that helps the body digest the protein faster. You’ll also get the vitamin A you need for boosting your immune system.
Bake your potato in its skin or serve it roasted or mashed with a drizzle of olive oil. Skip the high-calorie butter and cream. Fatty French fries won’t do any good, either.
Quinoa is gluten-free and rich in protein and fiber. It also has a low glycemic index which is suitable for people who regulate their blood sugar.
Fruits are rich in carbs and easily digestible. Berries are also rich in antioxidants and will help you with muscle inflammation. It’s a good idea to know more about antioxidants and include them in your healthy lifestyle.
Bananas are the best and easiest snacks to eat after the gym since they’re rich in potassium and carbs. Learn more about the health benefits of bananas.
Take a look at some protein-rich fruits:
The benefits of vegetables are apparent to everyone. You can include them in your meal, make a salad, or drink them down! A green smoothie containing spinach, kale, carrots, tomato, and any other veggies or fruits you’d like to add will be rich in vitamins and minerals that your body needs.
Here are the top 10 protein-rich veggies you can find:
Whole-grain bread or toast is the best way to go because its carbs can help you regain your energy. Bread also contains fiber that will balance your blood sugar level and prevent fatigue.
Much like potatoes, rice is an excellent source of starchy carbohydrates and helps replenish energy and glycogen quickly.
Although brown rice is a better source of nutrients than white rice, it’s not the best choice for athletes. Much like other whole grains, brown rice contains phytic acid that prevents your body from absorbing micronutrients like zinc, iron, magnesium, calcium, and so on. Consuming white rice doesn’t have this issue, and its carbohydrates are perfect for fueling physical training.
As you all know, oatmeal is a whole food containing lots of nutrients and minerals. It’s rich in carbohydrates, protein, iron, vitamin b-6, fiber, calcium, magnesium, and so on. It’s also very easy and quick to make, and it pairs well with fruits and milk, which are also beneficial.
What you consume after a workout is only one piece of the puzzle. Watch this video to learn about the common mistakes you should avoid post-workout.
What to Drink After a Workout Session?
Since your body loses water and electrolytes during a workout through sweat, what you drink after the gym is much more important than what you eat. And water is the best fluid that can keep your body hydrated and help it recover and get better results from the exercise.
You should never skip drinking water before, during, and especially after a workout session. The amount of water your body needs depends on multiple factors: the type, intensity, and length of the workout, how much you sweat, the environment, how thirsty you are, and so on.
However, there’s a general guideline for how much you should drink: two to three cups for each pound you lose during your workout.
After sweaty and long workouts, like an hour or more, you’ll need to replace the electrolytes that you’ve lost by drinking energy drinks. The electrolytes are minerals, including sodium, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and so on. So, look for healthy energy drinks that contain all of them.
Herbal tea has chemical compounds and nutrients that can effectively help your body digest and process protein and carbohydrates. It also boosts your metabolism and increases your energy.
So, consider making yourself some herbal tea after the gym and drink it in addition to water. If you don’t know much about herbal teas, read about the best ones you need to have at home. The popular Taylors of Harrogate classic tea variety box is a great place to start and find your taste.
- Varieties included: English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Decaffeinated Breakfast, Lemon & Orange, Pure Assam, Green Tea with Jasmine, Organic Peppermint, and Organic Chamomile. Variety packs include six tea bags of each variety. Total 48 tea bags included. From black and green teas to Earl Grey and fusion teas, there's something in the line-up for every tea fan to savor. Each variety can be enjoyed as a standalone beverage, but many pair up nicely with biscuits and other sweets.
- Assorted range of 48 tea bags
Meal and Snack Suggestions for After a Workout
Combining the mentioned foods will give you a better chance at gaining all the nutrients you need after the gym. Here are a few healthy suggestions for your post-workout snacks or meals:
- White rice with grilled chicken and vegetables.
- Egg omelet with vegetable or tuna filling and whole-grain toast.
- Grilled salmon with sweet potato baked in its skin.
- Tuna salad sandwich with spinach on whole-grain bread.
- Whole-grain turkey wrap with veggies.
- Oatmeal with berries and banana.
- Greek yogurt with berries and banana.
- Quinoa bowl with sweet potatoes, pecans, berries, or other combinations.
- Salad bowl with cucumber, spinach, kale, lettuce, tomatoes, peas, carrots, and light olive oil.
- Banana smoothie with dairies like milk, frozen yogurt, or ice cream. You can add berries, honey, and protein powder. Here are 25 perfect post-workout smoothies you can try.
Foods to Avoid After a Workout
Oily and Fatty Food
Your body takes much longer to digest the fat present in rich and greasy food. So, fat intake after exercising will slow down digestion, limit nutrient absorption, and even lead to an upset stomach.
Low levels of healthy fat won’t affect your body’s recovery that much; for instance, you shouldn’t avoid whole milk. However, steer clear of deep-fried fast food. If you’re worried about the oil you use when cooking, go through this list of the healthiest oils to consume.
Fruits like avocado also contain a high level of fat that can lead to digestive issues after workouts. So, if your stomach gets upset, avoid it.
Nuts and seeds may contain high protein levels, but they also come with high levels of fat. Because of the digestive slowdown, it’s best to avoid nuts, nut butter, and seeds directly after working out.
Red fatty meats will only slow down your metabolic functions after exercising and do more damage than good. So, avoid sausage, bacon, steak, and any other kind of red meat after the gym.
Coffee isn’t a good drink after your morning workout because it’ll dehydrate your body even more than it has been during the workout. Alcohol has the same effect, so cut it out.
Sugary drinks like sugary smoothies contain a lot of calories, and by drinking them, you’ll end up consuming more calories than you’ve lost during your workout, and that’s not what anyone wants! Here’s what happens if you don’t have sugar for 30 days! Of course, natural smoothies that you make with beneficial fruits and veggies are still on the table.
Last update on 2021-10-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API