Eating a nutritious snack or light meal can help your body bounce back after exercising. The best post-workout noshes should include protein, carbs, and healthy fats.
A nutritious snack or light meal can really hit the spot after a sweat sesh. And according to the pros, it can also be super healthy! Studies show eating after working out can aid in exercise recovery and help muscle growth.
Just keep in mind that what you eat can count for a lot. Here are the best types of foods to eat after exercise.
When you work out, your muscles use up glycogen stores. This is your bod’s fave fuel source, especially during higher-intensity activity. Additionally, studies show working out can break down and damage muscles.
Eating after working out can help you:
- repair muscles
- restore glycogen levels
- grow strong muscles (by increasing muscle protein synthesis + decreasing protein breakdown)
Protein, carbs, and fats are the best post-workout macros. All these babies are involved in your body’s recovery, which is why it’s so essential to have just the right mix of them. However, some macros might be better than others, depending on your unique goals.
Here’s the deets on each.
Reminder: Exercise causes your muscles to tear and break down. Protein helps your bod rebuild it. Eating enough protein after you work out gives your body the amino acids it needs to repair these proteins. It also helps build new muscle tissue.
The pros from the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommend that you eat 0.15 – 0.25 grams (g) of protein per pound of your body weight after a workout… and ASAP!
In a 2019 review, researchers noted that eating protein within a few hours of resistance-type exercise in particular boosts muscle protein synthesis rates. Win: It also enhances the ability of muscles to adapt to prolonged exercise.
Still, a 2017 study concluded that eating protein either post or pre-workout has a similarly positive effect on muscle strength, hypertrophy, and body composition. Therefore, rushing home from the gym to down a snack might not be that huge of a deal.
A 2013 review also noted that those who ate 20 g of protein 1 hour before *and* after exercise had greater fat-free mass and thigh mass than those who consumed dextrose. (But TBF, that’s protein competing against basically just pure sugar.)
Your body uses up your glycogen stores as fuel during exercise, which are basically carb-destination number 1. So when you down some carbs afterward, those glycogen stores fill back up.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, eating about .5-.7 g of carbs per pound of body weight within 30 mins of training leads to healthy glycogen re-synthesis.
But how fast do you use up your precious glycogen stores? That depends what you’re doing. For instance, endurance sports make your bod use a lot more glycogen than resistance training does. So, if you’re running, swimming, or biking for long periods, you might need to nosh on more carbs than if you’re weightlifting.
Research also shows that insulin secretion — which helps promote glycogen synthesis — functions better when you eat carbs protein at the same time. So, go ahead and eat that peanut-butter protein muffin or hummus wrap after you work it out.
Carbs give your body fuel while you work out and help replenish your glycogen stores afterward. This is especially important when you’re doing endurance activities.
There’s a fitness myth that eating fat after you work out inhibits nutrient absorption. But that’s just not true! While fats might slow down digestion a tad, research doesn’t show that reduces its nutritional benefits.
One review shows that even if you eat a high-fat meal (45 percent energy from fat) after exercise, muscle glycogen synthesis isn’t affected. Even though the research is pretty dated, nothing has been published since that contradicts it.
Meanwhile, a small 2022 study of 20 men found that eating fat-filled cheese boosts protein synthesis rates both at rest and post-workout. And a 2006 study found that whole milk was better at promoting muscle growth after a workout than skim. AKA, more fat might actually boost muscle growth.
As long as you’re not just downing vats of trans fat, a little fat won’t hurt anyone. The U.S. Department of Health recommends getting less than 10 percent of cals per day from saturated fats for optimal health.
Having a little fat with your protein or carbs post-workout won’t hinder nutrient absorption. However, it might slow digestion a bit. There’s also a little evidence to suggest that eating fat after a workout could boost muscle growth. But we need more research to prove all the perks.
Let’s say the main goals of your post-workout snack are to give your body the nutrients it needs to recover and max out exercise benefits. In that case, picking nutrient-rich, easily digestible food is perf.
Whether you focus on carb or protein-heavy foods or ones with fat will depend on your unique exercise regimen. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- chickpea, mango and curried cauliflower salad
- nutty homemade protein bars
- smoked salmon cucumber roll-ups
- homemade turkey jerkey
- hard-boiled egg whites and mustard
A little fatty
Sometimes, a snack just isn’t enough. Here are some easy, ideal meals (or near-meals) to fill up on for breakfast, lunch or din:
- fettuccine with bolognese or veggies
- hummus burger with cabbage and bell pepper
- roasted teriyaki mushrooms and broccolini soba noodles
- lentil spinach soup
- broccoli grape harvest salad
- stuffed grilled peppers with veggie ground meat or black beans
- flank steak salad with grilled pineapple
- tuna avocado salad
- garbanzo and black bean enchiladas
- egg white frittata with poblano pepper and turkey bacon
- quoina bowl with peanut-baked tofu
- chicken parm zucchini boats
- red lentil dal
A little fatty
According to a 2013 review, experts generally agree that the post-exercise period the most important part of nutrient timing. That said, eating before you work out can be important or even just as important in some cases.
But it really comes down to your goals, the type of exercise you’re doing, and when you’re exercising. For example, when you wake up, your blood sugar levels are lower, and you might feel a little tired if you don’t at least have a snack before hitting the gym or jogging.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, most people can safely exercise without eating first unless you’re going longer than 60 mins at high intensity. So, even though people are really into fasted cardio right now, it might not be the best thing in all instances.
In general, it’s a good idea to talk to a doc before skipping meals before working out. Those with conditions like diabetes or blood sugar probs need to make sure they have enough fuel, for instance.
If you have specific sports performance goals, talk to a personal trainer or qualified nutritionist who can help you create a dietary regimen that works for you.
In general, the same type of foods that we listed as post-workout meals will work as pre-workout foods – you just might wanna eat a slightly smaller portion or nosh at least an hour in advance to ensure all that food doesn’t slosh around in your stomach.
Research shows that eating after a workout can aid in exercise recovery and enhance muscle protein synthesis. Most pros recommend fueling up within a few hours of sweating it out.
What exactly you eat will depend on your unique fitness goals. But in general, it’s a good idea to eat a protein-heavy meal after weight training and one higher in carbs after endurance activity. When in doubt, talk to a doc or certified nutritionist.