After Gym What Should I Eat — After a great workout, many people reward themselves with a junk food treat. Pizza, burger and fries, ice-cream are common choices. But is that what should you be eating after a workout?
We all know that post-workout nutrition is essential for muscle growth and recovery from exercise. But the post-workout period provides the best opportunity for eating healthy in order to lose fat, too. Let’s go over some mouthwatering nutritional options after you have finished your session at the gym.
Eating after a workout is important
To understand how the right foods can help you after exercise, it’s important to learn how physical activity affects your body.
When you’re working out, your muscles use up their glycogen — the body’s preferred fuel source especially during high- intensity workouts. This results in your muscles being partially depleted of glycogen. Some of the proteins in your muscles can also be broken down and damaged.
After your workout, your body tries to rebuild its glycogen stores as well as repair and regrow those muscle proteins. Eating the right nutrients soon after you exercise can help your body get this done faster. It’s especially important to eat carbs and protein after your workout.
Doing this helps your body:
- decrease muscle protein breakdown
- increase muscle protein synthesis (growth)
- restore glycogen stores
- enhance recovery
What to eat after exercise and why
The following are examples of foods and compounds that help the body to absorb nutrients quickly and speed recovery.
According to research published in 2017, as few as 9 grams (g) of milk protein may be enough to stimulate protein synthesis in the muscles, aiding in recovery after exercise.
Other than milk, dairy products rich in protein include:
- Greek yogurt
- ricotta cheese
- cottage cheese
In fact, a 1 cup serving of low-fat kefir contains 9.2 g of high-quality protein. These proteins can repair new cells, especially those in the muscles. These proteins also contain all of the essential amino acids, which are only available through the diet.
In 2007, some researchers found that milk-based proteins are more effective than soy-based proteins at promoting the growth of muscle proteins after resistance exercise.
The researchers concluded that while both milk and soy proteins help a person to maintain and build muscle mass, milk proteins were more effective at supporting the quick growth of lean muscle mass.
Results of a study from 2017 suggested that consuming whole eggs after resistance exercise resulted in more protein synthesis than consuming egg whites with the same protein content.
The researchers concluded that the nutrients in the yolk helped to stimulate the muscles more effectively.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Research from the Washington University School of Medicine suggests that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids helps to boost the synthesis of muscle proteins and increase the size of muscle cells in healthy young and middle-aged adults.
Fatty fish, including salmon, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Tuna also contains high levels of the fatty acids, and about 6 ounces (oz) of tuna packed in water contains 41.6 g of protein and 5.4 g of fat.
Other evidence shows that oil drawn from fatty fish may help to reduce muscle soreness after resistance training. A study from 2016 found that consuming 6 g of fish oil every day for 1 week before beginning resistance exercise resulted in reduced muscle soreness.
Consuming carbohydrate-rich foods may be the best way to reduce the decreases in immunity that can occur after exercise.
Consuming carbohydrates as part of a post-workout snack also helps to promote glycogen storage.
Sweet potatoes, grains, and fruits can contain high levels of healthful carbohydrates, as can quinoa.
Quinoa is gluten-free, classified as a pseudocereal, and usually consumed as a grain. It is high in fiber and rich in protein, with 1 cup providing 8.14 g.
Also, quinoa has a low glycemic index, making it an excellent choice for people who regulate their blood sugar.
The nutrients and chemical compounds in herbal teas, especially yerba mate, may help the body process carbohydrates and protein effectively.
Authors of a study from 2016 compared the effects of yerba mate to water after exercise. The participants who drank yerba mate recovered strength faster in the 24 hours that followed a workout.
In 2012, researchers found that mice administered yerba mate extract were able to metabolize more quickly and expend more energy than those who did not.
It is essential to drink plenty of water before, during, and after a workout. Staying hydrated ensures that the body gets the most benefit from exercise.
The body loses water and electrolytes while sweating, so drinking water during and after a workout promotes performance and recovery.
Everybody varies in the amount of water they need, depending on the type of exercise, how much they sweat, how thirsty they are, as well as other factors.
Factoring in Nutrients and Timing
Consuming the right amount of carbohydrates and protein is especially important after a workout. When to eat your recovery meal depends on the type of workout performed and your goals.
Intense weight resistance workouts to increase muscle size, it’s suggested to consume 20–30 grams of lean protein and 30–40 grams of healthy carbohydrates as close to your post-workout as possible.
For lighter aerobic workouts, eat a well-balanced meal with the same ratio up to one hour after exercising. Some theories suggest that an anabolic window diminishes without adequate carbohydrate and protein intake.
The most critical factor in your post-workout meal is not necessarily nutrient timing but just ensuring you are eating the right foods for your individualized fitness goals.
Eating Well and Staying Hydrated
Getting enough essential nutrients after a hard workout, with carbohydrates and protein being the main focus is best. Vitamins and minerals help with post-workout inflammation and tissue repair while carbs and protein carry out vital related functions. Drinking plenty of water and sometimes a sports recovery drink during longer exercise sessions is also wise to prevent dehydration.
Average sweat loss during exercise is about 0.5–2 liters per hour. Typically, any weight loss greater than 2% during exercises will significantly decrease performance, and a weight exceeding 4% may lead to heat illnesses.2
Sports nutrition research recommends drinking 2–3 cups (16–24 ounces) of water for each pound of body weight lost during a workout. Active adults typically don’t weigh in after a workout, so a good rule is drinking plenty of fluids during and after physical activity to avoid dehydration.
Don’t Skip Post-Workout Meals
Food intake is a critical component of athletic success pre and post-workout. Athletes use various dietary strategies to improve exercise, including eating carbohydrates and protein following workout programs. They also focus on maintaining proper hydration during and after physical training.
Consuming carbohydrates along with protein immediately after exercise has shown to be an excellent strategy to maximize rates of muscle glycogen synthesis (energy restored to muscle cells).
Eating additional protein within an hour after exercise is also shown to improve muscle glycogen stores. It’s ideal for eating your protein with a carb source as well as the two work together to replenish your stores of vital nutrients and initiate muscle protein synthesis that builds muscle and strength.
Hard workouts leave your muscles starving for fuel. Without adequate nutrients to restore depleted glycogen stores, protein balance is said to remain in a negative state. Skipping meals post-workout can contribute to an imbalance or negative physiological environment not conducive to building muscle tissue or repairing tissue damaged from exercise.
The goal is to maintain a positive or net protein balance by eating adequate macronutrients before, during, and especially after exercise. Improved muscle protein synthesis rates were shown for athletes consuming carbohydrates and protein within a few hours of training.
Post-Workout Meal Ideas & Tips
The post-workout meal doesn’t have to be complicated, nor does it require expensive shakes or supplements. The most important part of eating right is planning and preparing your meals. Your body will appreciate a meal ready to go when the workout is done.
Healthy and Convenient Post-Workout Foods
- Brown rice
- Chocolate milk
- Lean proteins
- Nut butter
- Power greens
- Whole grain wraps/tortillas
You can choose the convenience of protein powder or premixed protein drinks or bars if that works for your lifestyle and goals. You can also get into the habit of meal prep and planning your grocery trips centered around nutritious foods that help with recovery. You will have a ready stock of quality whole foods for frequent meals to keep your body fueled after a hard workout.
Preparing your post-workout food is also part of the fun of maintaining a healthy body and lifestyle. Below is a sampling of meals that can be enjoyed after a great workout.
Here are some of the best foods for a post-workout snack or meal.
5 healthy, satisfying foods to eat after a workout that will give your muscles the best chance to recover
1. Fish or chicken
Fish and chicken provide lean protein, which should be the cornerstone of any post-workout meal or snack, says Martinez.
Lean proteins — which include fish, beans, and boneless, skinless poultry — allow you to get all the health and muscle-recovery benefits of protein, with fewer calories and less saturated fat than proteins like beef or pork.
“Fish and chicken have all the essential proteins — leucine, isoleucine and valine — and promote muscle repair and muscle growth,” Martinez says.
Tip: Preparing protein ahead of time can make it easier to replenish post-workout. Steamed or baked fish, or grilled poultry, can easily be prepared the night before and eaten shortly after a workout.
Quinoa is a complex whole grain that has the two post-workout essentials: carbohydrates and proteins.
“If you like grains, quinoa is probably your best choice,” says Stacie Stephenson, DC, functional medicine specialist and founder of VibrantDoc, a wellness platform.
In addition, quinoa is gluten-free, so it’s a good option for those who are gluten intolerant or who have celiac disease.
Tip: You can prep a protein-packed quinoa bowl with fish or chicken and add fruits, like avocado, and vegetables, like kale for an additional boost of important nutrients.
“Avocado has a high healthy fat content and is a good choice, especially for athletes on a low-carb or ketogenic diet,” Martinez says.
For example, one avocado has about 13 grams of monounsaturated fat, 2.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat, and 3 grams of saturated fat. This high fat content takes longer for your body to digest keeping you feeling fuller for longer compared to, say, eating a bowl of plain white rice that’s mostly simple carbs.
Tip: For an added protein boost, avocados can be paired with a hard-boiled egg or chickpeas.
4. Dark leafy greens
“Leafy vegetables are packed with micronutrients and vitamins, so they are a healthy part of a balanced diet for athletes,” Martinez says.
Specifically, dark leafy vegetables provide important nutrients like calcium and iron, which can help you perform. Calcium helps muscles repair and contributes to bone strength, while iron helps regulate metabolism and energy consumption.
The best examples of these dark, leafy greens include:
- Bok choy
Tip: A post-workout meal is the perfect time to sneak an additional serving of vegetables into your day. If you’re making a protein smoothie, add spinach, or saute some kale to go with your quinoa.
5. Protein shakes or chocolate milk
Protein shakes are popular because they’re a quick and easy way to get protein after a workout. However, it’s important to make sure that you’re drinking a high-quality protein shake that isn’t filled with sugar. Rather than just following ads, Martinez says it’s important to do your homework on your shakes.
“The protein supplement industry is a huge, multi-billion dollar market with great marketing departments,” says Martinez. “That said, protein shakes are convenient and easy to mix up and drink after a workout. The high-quality protein shakes usually supply about 30 grams of protein including 3 to 4 grams of the amino acid leucine, which helps promote muscle growth.”
If you don’t have protein powder, some people claim that chocolate milk is a great post-workout drink — though Martinez says it has no special benefits. “It does work as a recovery drink because it has carbohydrates and protein, but it’s really no different than having any other meal with those macronutrients,” he says.
These are the foods to avoid after a workout
Foods to avoid after a workout: Sugary post-workout shakes
“A protein smoothie is one of my favourite post-workout meals because it can quickly nourish the body after an intense workout or weights session,” explains Wright. Butm she warns, “Watch out for sugar-laden protein powders or worse, artificially sweetened shakes which may also include fillers, chemicals and bulking agents.”
Foods to avoid after a workout: Processed energy bars
“While some energy bars can be a convenient option for those busy days, avoid ultra-processed energy bars with lengthy ingredients lists,” advises Wright.
In particular, the health coach suggests avoiding snack bars that contain artificial sweeteners (such as aspartame), refined sugar or high levels of natural sugar. “An equally convenient, but ideal alternative could be a banana or berries with a handful of nuts,” she says.
Foods to avoid after a workout: Low-carb meals
While protein is widely recognised as a post-workout essential, did you also know that carbohydrates are a vital part of post-workout recovery and nourishment? The reason being, Wright explains: “Your body taps into its glycogen stores during exercise and eating carbohydrates in your post-workout meal helps to restore them.”
You might not realise that fruits are an incredibly good source of carbohydrates too, with Wright revealing that strawberries, bananas, blueberries and kiwi are among some of her favourites for a post-workout refuel.
She also recommends opting for ‘smart carbohydrates’ such as whole grains, legumes and vegetables, rather than refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta or flour products. “This will ensure you have sustained energy throughout your day,” Wright advises.