Post-workout nutrition is something I get asked about quite often. There always seems to be emerging research on the topic and of course there is a lot of “bro science” out there on what it means to refuel muscles properly after exercising. Post-workout nutrition is vitally important and helps replete carbohydrate stores, decrease muscle breakdown while repairing tissues, and increase protein synthesis, which allows muscles to grow.
Why is post-workout nutrition important?
When we workout, the protein in our muscles is actually broken down and requires repair. With good nutrition, our body gets to work right away repairing these micro tears in the muscle, which is what allows us to come back stronger the next time around. Isn’t this the ultimate goal of physical activity- to gain muscle, improve performance, and become a fitter and healthier individual!?
Along with the breakdown of protein, our body also needs fuel to power through the workout. Carbohydrates are the preferred source of this fuel and we need to make sure that we are replacing those lost carbohydrates after an intense workout.
This is where post-workout nutrition comes into play.
A post-workout meal containing both protein and carbohydrates refuels our body, repairs damage to muscle tissue, and allows muscles to grow larger, stronger, and without injury!
What about timing?
There is a lot of conflicting research on the timing of the post-workout meal. You’ve probably heard about a magic window and that we need to eat within 30 minutes of finishing a workout. This is okay advice, but might not account for everything. There are a lot of factors at play including the intensity of the workout, the kind of exercise done, and if something was eaten before the workout.
Ideally, you should try to eat a post-workout snack or meal within 2 hours of finishing exercise. This will initiate the repair process and refuel the body. I know that I get HANGRY if I don’t eat pretty quickly after working out. This is my body’s way of telling me I need fuel! Listen to your body’s cues and see what works for you.
Top 10 Foods for Post-Workout Recovery
Lean protein and carbohydrates are a powerful pair after a tough workout. Aim for 20-30 grams of protein, or a palm sized portion and pair that with a carbohydrate source. Remember that fruits and veggies count as carbs, so don’t exclude those foods! Below are my top 10 foods for good post-workout nutrition. Keep a variety of these foods on hand, so that you can quickly grab a snack or throw together a tasty meal and begin the repair and recovery process.
- Plain Greek Yogurt- this snack packs a protein punch with 23 grams in 1 cup. Buy the plain version to keep added sugars to a minimum. Pair your Greek yogurt with carbohydrate rich berries and a handful of homemade granola.
- Cheese Sticks- cheese sticks are a portable source of protein. If you are off and on the run after your workout, reach for a couple of cheese sticks paired with pretzels or an apple.
- Eggs- eggs are a hearty source of protein and are great for a post-workout meal. Try scrambled or hard-boiled eggs served with fruit or toast.
- Deli Meat- deli meat is such an easy source of protein. Look for a low-sodium variety if available. Make a sandwich with whole-grain bread and fresh veggies for a healthy mix of carbohydrates and protein. Or try a snack plate with deli meat, cherry tomatoes, and whole-grain crackers.
- Protein Powder- I feel like I used to live on this stuff and have recently started taking more of a whole-foods approach to my post-workout nutrition. I now keep protein powder on hand for emergencies and also love it for a protein-boost and sweetener in yogurt, smoothies, and oatmeal.
- Sweet Potatoes- Try topping a sweet potato with a smear of almond butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Pair with 1 cup of cottage cheese for a protein boost.
- Smoothies- fruit smoothies are a refreshing way to load up on carbohydrates after working out. Fruits are still high in sugar (although it is natural), so keep your smoothie balanced by adding some protein. My favorite post-workout smoothie is made with 1 banana, 1 scoop of protein powder, and 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder blended with almond milk and ice. I also love smoothie bowls like my Pink Power Smoothie Bowl.
- Oatmeal- oatmeal contains complex carbohydrates and makes for a satisfying post-workout snack or meal. Use plain old-fashioned oats rather than sugar-filled instant packets. Add Greek yogurt or protein powder for your post-workout protein source.
- Hummus- this chickpea dip is a great source of both protein and carbohydrates. Make a veggie and deli meat snack plate with a side of hummus!
- Whole-grain bread- toast tastes extra yummy after a tough workout. Try making a tuna or egg salad sandwich to get in that muscle-building protein- just remember to keep the mayo to a minimum!
A quick tip!
I just love sweet potatoes. I eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even my post-workout snacks. They can be a little time consuming to bake, so try this quick cook method. Just pierce the sweet potato with a fork around the middle and microwave for 5-6 minutes, or a little longer depending on time. I cut up these sweet potatoes and keep them in a tupperware for grab n’ go nutrition.
What’s your go-to post workout meal?
Favorite way to eat sweet potatoes?
Live Happy. Live Healthy.