It’s the most important meal of the day. What you eat after your workout is going to determine how quickly you start to recover from exercise. The faster you can recover and rebuild muscle, the sooner you can retrain those muscles. And the sooner those muscles are at full functionality, the faster they can start metabolizing fatty acids at their full potential.
In order to determine what you need to eat after a workout, you first need to understand the purpose of your post-workout meal. Your post-workout meal serves 3 main purposes:
- To replenish the energy used during your workout
- To provide the protein needed for protein synthesis in order to rebuild muscle
- To provide all the essential vitamins and nutrients necessary for growth
What you choose to eat should address all three of those factors. If you do that your performance and recovery will be optimized.
Eat Carbohydrates Post Workout
If you’re working out with a high intensity your muscles are going to be using muscle glycogen for energy. Muscle glycogen is synthesized from glucose, and glucose comes from carbohydrates. This fuel needs to be replenished.
In addition, your insulin sensitivity is at its highest after a good workout. That means this is one of the few times you can eat carbohydrates without any real fear of them being stored as fat. It’s also a nutrient timing strategy I implement with clients who run into weight loss plateaus.
The benefit of this carb timing is even though your muscles have a limited capacity to store carbohydrates, this post-workout window can lead to muscle glycogen super-compensation. This simply means that after you work out, your muscles have the potential to store more carbohydrates (glycogen) than they otherwise would have if you didn’t work out first.
And since your insulin sensitivity is higher after you work out you technically could be a little looser with the types of carbs you eat. However, I personally prefer to eat the same foods I eat at any other time, as making consistent eating choices helps to better form healthy habits. But if you wanted to optimize a cheat meal scenario, this would be the most opportune time to do it.
Other than the glycogen super-compensation benefit, how many carbs you eat after your workout isn’t as important as the total carbs you eat over the course of the day. Unless you’re an endurance athlete or someone who trains more than once per day, enough glycogen will be synthesized by your next workout so long as you hit your daily carb goals.
Eat Protein After Your Workout
Your muscles are primarily made up of protein building blocks called amino acids. During exercise, you tear down your muscles so that they can be rebuilt bigger and stronger so they are more resilient to stress. This happens through a process called muscle protein synthesis. In order for protein synthesis to occur, you need protein.
Studies have shown that eating 0.4–0.5 g/kg of lean body mass (LBM) both before and after your workout is sufficient for getting all the potential anabolic benefits of building and/or maintaining muscle mass . For a person who carries 150lbs of LBM that comes out to between 27-34 grams of protein in each meal.
The longer or harder you work out the greater the teardown of your muscles, which means the demand for protein will be greater than say completing a simple walk around the block. In addition, there are benefits to consuming additional protein while in a calorie deficit – namely conserving muscle so you can lose fat and not just weight.
Stick With Nutrient Dense Foods After Training
There are a lot of post-workout supplements on the market that essentially provide all the carbs and protein you need. However, I don’t like these products for one very important reason – they tend to be void of any real nutrition.
We don’t eat carbs and protein – we eat food. And food contains vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants that provide the framework for your metabolism to function optimally.
That’s why, as I mentioned earlier, I eat the same foods post-workout as I do at any other time of the day. These meals are based around whole foods and have a balance of carbs, protein, and some fat too. They are nutrient dense and tend to contain a lean protein, a starch, and a veggie.
Post-Workout Meal Ideas
To give you a better idea of what to eat after a workout I created a spreadsheet with around 20 meals that I find to be well-suited for optimizing your performance and recovery while also keeping you on the healthy habit train.
I’m giving you a handful of different options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner because I know everyone works out at a different time and not everyone can eat breakfast for dinner even though it’s all just food. 😜
Just click here to get your free bonus and get some ideas going for your post-workout nutrition.
I broke all the meals down in LoseIt so you can see their calories, fat, carbs, and protein too. Some of them I modified so they are better suited for reasonable portion sizes.
What If I Work Out at Night?
Good question and one I receive often. It doesn’t matter when you train – eat in a way that supports your performance.
Weight loss is a function of energy balance over a prolonged period of time. Just because you’re eating a meal at 9pm it doesn’t mean it’s going to be stored as fat. It’s only stored as fat if you eat more than you burn over the course of days, weeks, and months.
So if you work out at night, please come home and have a meal. It’s possible that the meals you had earlier in the day will be used for your recovery if you don’t eat post-workout, but I’m willing to bet you’re going to be hungry, so please eat guilt free and stop thinking of your weight loss in hourly increments.
Performance, recovery, and satisfaction are priorities. Keep overall calories in check for the day and you’ll be fine.
What are some of your own meal ideas that you like to eat post-workout?