Best Post-Workout Meals

When and What to Eat After Exercise

egg scramble with sweet potatoes and spinach

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

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What you eat post-workout is just as important as what you consume before your training session. Hard workouts require proper nutrition to fuel and refuel working muscles. What can be less straightforward is knowing the best foods to eat and how long you should wait to eat once your workout is done.

Before answering those questions, it's essential to understand the importance of food intake to support your workouts and how your body responds to the demands of physical exercise. During an exercise session, energy stores (glycogen) deplete, muscle tissue damage occurs, and fluids and electrolytes leach through sweat.

Post-workout nutrients are essential for topping up these lost stores, facilitating the recovery process. Also, when you include protein and carbs in your exercise recovery meal, you'll stimulate muscle protein synthesis to repair and build new muscle tissue, a huge plus if your goal is to build muscle and strength. Keep reading for more on what to eat after a workout.

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.

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
  • Fruit
  • Lean proteins
  • Nut butter
  • Power greens
  • Quinoa
  • Whole grain wraps/tortillas
  • Yogurt

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.

Recovery Boosting Meal Ideas

  • Brown rice and boneless skinless chicken breast: Prepare with your favorite low-sodium spices or salsa for a nutritious recovery meal. You can do this in the crockpot, stovetop, or oven.
  • Egg scramble: Easy one-skillet meals where one whole egg, vegetables, and sweet potatoes can be tossed with favorite spices and sprinkled with fresh black pepper. 
  • Leftovers: What you cooked the night before is calling your name and ready to refuel that body. Do you have cooked quinoa ready to go? Toss on salad greens and sprinkle with balsamic for a well-balanced meal.
  • Peanut butter: The all-American favorite sandwich on whole-grain sprouted toast is a post-workout pleaser. This nutrient-dense meal contains quality plant protein, healthy fat, and high fiber.
  • Power smoothie: Blend your favorite fruit with non-fat Greek yogurt or favorite tolerated dairy, some water, and ice. You can significantly boost healthy fats with a spoonful of your favorite nut butter. 
  • Wraps: Whole grain high fiber wraps are a great start to a wonderful recovery meal. Add some fresh avocado, lean meat of your choice, greens, beans, or whatever suits the theme of the wrap, roll up, and enjoy.

A Word From Verywell

Finding what healthy foods work best for you post-workout will be through trial and error. Having a nutritional strategy in place will create the success of your food plan post and pre-workout.

Eating the right foods to fuel your body after exercise will be the most important part of achieving your goals. Other suggestions are not to skip meals and remember to drink plenty of water. 

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Jäger, R., Kerksick, C.M., Campbell, B.I. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exerciseJ Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 20 (2017). doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8

  2. Kerksick, C.M., Wilborn, C.D., Roberts, M.D. et al. ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update: research & recommendationsJ Int Soc Sports Nutr 15, 38 (2018). doi:10.1186/s12970-018-0242-y

  3. Craven J, Desbrow B, Sabapathy S, Bellinger P, McCartney D, Irwin C. The effect of consuming carbohydrate with and without protein on the rate of muscle glycogen re-synthesis during short-term post-exercise recovery: a systematic review and meta-analysisSports Med - Open. 2021;7(1):9. doi:10.1186/s40798-020-00297-0

  4. Arent SM, Cintineo HP, McFadden BA, Chandler AJ, Arent MA. Nutrient timing: a garage door of opportunity? Nutrients. 2020;12(7):1948. doi:10.3390%2Fnu12071948

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