What to Eat After a Workout
Think protein, carbs, healthy fats, and hydration.
You’ve smashed your workout—#doneanddusted—so now you can reward yourself with all your favorite foods, right? Well, not quite. What you eat after a workout has to meet certain nutritional benchmarks. It’s all about maximizing those gains, helping your muscles grow and repair, and reducing fatigue.
“Soon after exercise, the body is most effective at replacing carbohydrates and promoting muscle repair and growth,” Florida-based nutritionist and certified personal trainer McKenzie Flinchum, RD, tells Health. “Post-workout nutrition should be rich in carbohydrates to replenish muscle fuel stores, contain lean protein to promote muscle repair, and include fluids and electrolytes to rehydrate effectively.” And if you have a quick turnaround time between training sessions, Flinchum says it’s even more important to eat carbs and protein post-workout to maximize your recovery.
Here are 7 foods that get the expert seal of approval as post-workout fuel.
“Eating protein-rich foods after a workout helps to build muscle, reduce recovery time, and increase strength,” North Carolina-based nutritionist and Dish on Fish blogger Rima Kleiner, RD, tells Health. That’s because protein helps our brains recognize the hormone leptin, which provides energy and helps us feel fuller for longer.
“Protein is a building block for every cell and tissue in our body,” Kleiner says. She recommends 3 ounces. of cooked salmon fillet, which provides about 20 grams of protein.
Eggs are another great source of protein—they are also packed with a range of vitamins (including B, D, and E), biotin, potassium, folic acid, and omega-3 fatty acids (in the yolk). Flinchum recommends aiming for 15 to 40 grams of protein in your post-workout meal to promote muscle repair. And don’t forget a nutritious carb source, like rice, potatoes, or oatmeal.
“You’ll likely reap the most benefits when you nosh on a combination of protein and carbohydrate to replenish those glycogen stores,” Kleiner says. Rice, potatoes, and oatmeal are all nutritious carb sources.
While it’s important to replenish glycogen stores soon after your workout, you don’t have to eat immediately post-workout to reap the benefits. In general, it’s a good idea to eat within a 45-minute post-exercise window, Kleiner adds.
Florida-based fitness trainer Tanya Etessam swears by black rice as the ultimate post-workout carb source. “It contains the same antioxidants that are found in blueberries—without the sugar!” she tells Health. “It also packs almost double the amount of fiber in brown rice and helps lower cholesterol.”
Aim for mostly whole foods in your post-workout meal, with a good balance of healthy carbs, healthy protein, and healthy fats, Fresh n’ Lean consultant Randy Evans, RD, tells Health. “The emphasis is on balance because the healthy carbs can restore our carb storage and provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but healthy fats and proteins are essential for our bodies to function properly, and they also provide longer lasting energy.”
Yogurt with fruit
Yogurt is the perfect post-workout snack because it boosts your protein intake and it’s also a nutritious carb source. Adding fruit doesn’t just make it more interesting—fruit is beneficial post-workout because it contains simple carbohydrates, which are absorbed very quickly, Flinchum says. “Your blood sugar levels drop during exercise, but fruit quickly increases them again,” she explains.
If you’re wondering what fruit to choose, don’t overthink it too much. “All fruit is pretty comparable in regards to carbohydrate content and effect,” Flinchum says. “Berries tend to be lower calorie and lower sugar than fruits like mango and pineapple, but as long as you are consuming an appropriate amount, go with your personal preference!”
Nuts and seeds
If you don’t have time for a cooked meal after your workout, you can’t go wrong with a handful of nuts and seeds. Etessam recommends soaking nuts to break down gluten, reduce phytic acid, and remove tannins. “This makes nuts easier to digest and increases absorption of vitamins,” she says. She also recommends chia seeds as an excellent source of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants. Plus, they help to regulate insulin levels.
RELATED: The Healthiest Nuts for Your Body
Smoothie with added protein powder
A smoothie is another quick and easy post-workout snack you can prepare ahead of time. “A protein powder supplement is a simple way to add protein to your smoothie,” Flinchum says. “Banana, oats, and yogurt are all nutritious carb sources.”
Pack even more goodness into your smoothie by adding a handful of greens like spinach, which contains a huge amount of immunity-boosting vitamin A, iron, and antioxidants.
Water and electrolytes
Finally, don’t forget to rehydrate! “Dehydration is really common after exercise, especially in hot environments,” Flinchum says. “Try to stay hydrated during your workout, but also make sure to increase fluid consumption following exercise.”
And if you sweat a lot or notice any signs of dehydration, such as dizziness or fatigue, you may need to consume some electrolytes (sodium and potassium) too—this can be done through foods or sports drinks with added electrolytes.
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