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What To Eat After A Workout?

Last updated Sept. 19, 2016

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Making the right choice of food is very important after a workout. It is essential to gain an understanding of your body’s nutritional needs to get the most out of your workouts.


It is common to feel the need to reward yourself with a savory meal after a vigorous, calorie-burning workout. Because you earned it, right? The foods you might be craving, however, may not be the foods that your body requires after exercise to allow for its proper restoration and repair. It is essential to gain an understanding of your body’s nutritional needs to get the most out of your workouts.

The American Dietetic Association has outlined several recommendations for food and drink consumption after your workout routine: 

  • A snack or meal should be consumed 15-60 minutes after exercise to enable nutrition recovery.
  • Fluid and electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, should be consumed to restore levels that were lost in sweat. Weighing yourself before and after the workout can help you determine how much fluid is needed to replenish what was lost.
  • Carbohydrates, the fuel for muscles, should be replaced after exercise.
  • Protein consumption will provide amino acids that facilitate the repair of damaged muscle tissue and encourage development of new tissue fibers.

In a joint position paper published in 2008 by the Dietitians of Canada, the American College of Sports Medicine, and the American Dietetic Association, several recommendations were suggested, based upon research findings, for eating after physical activity:  

  • For those who choose weight lifting and strength training as their workout, it is important to consume protein 1-2 hours after exercise. Research suggests that in order to maximize muscle growth and repair, approximately 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight is enough.
  • The recommended amount of carbohydrates that should be consumed post workout is about 0.5-0.7 grams per pound of body weight. This intake should occur during the first 30 minutes after the workout, as well as every 2 hours, totaling 4-6 hours in order to replace glycogen stores.
  • After physical activity, it is important to drink approximately 16 to 24 ounces of fluid, for every pound of body weight that was lost.

There are several healthy options for recovery snacks and meals. Some of the best post-workout snacks include: 

  • Yogurt smoothies with frozen berries
  • Sports drink, which provides carbohydrates, electrolytes, and fluid; a sports bar, which provides carbohydrates and proteins
  • Graham crackers with peanut butter, low-fat chocolate milk, and a banana
  • Whole wheat pita turkey sandwich, pretzels, and low-fat milk
  • Rice bowl with beans, salsa, cheese, avocado, and whole grain tortilla chips or a whole wheat tortilla
  • Lean steak stir fry with broccoli, peppers, carrots, and brown rice

The University of Texas released a publication in 1998 analyzing the effect of carbohydrate intake on glycogen storage after exercise. Glycogen is a form of glucose that is stored in the muscle to be used later as an energy source. The analysis found that the addition of protein to carbohydrate intake after physical activity might possibly increase the rate of glycogen storage due to the capacity of protein and carbohydrates to work together on insulin secretion. In other words, insulin, the hormone secreted to promote glucose being absorbed into the blood and subsequently stored in muscle, may be increased due to the addition of protein. This indicates the need for a combination of both lean protein and whole grain carbohydrates to promote this energy storage for later needs.

Since you are the expert on how your body feels in response to food intake post-exercise, it is important to pay attention to which foods and the amount of liquid intake that seems to give you the most benefit. If you are on a vegetarian diet or have significant dietary restrictions, it is encouraged that you talk to a nutrition expert on whether or not you are properly replenishing the nutrients your body lacks after physical activity. A dietician can also help you determine the best post workout meal for your body's needs. Without proper replacement of hydration and nutrients, your body could suffer adverse health consequences.

References:

Eating for Recovery [brochure]. American Dietetic Association; 2009 Apr.

Rodriguez NR, DiMarco NM, Langley S. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise. 2009;41(3):709-731. 

Eating and exercise: 5 tips to maximize your workouts [Internet]. Mayo Clinic; 2014 Feb 21 [cited 2014 Nov 9]. Available from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20045506?pg=2

Ivy JL. Glycogen Resynthesis After Exercise: Effect of Carbohydrate Intake. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 1998;19:S142-S145.

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Thompson, D., Williams, C., Garcia-Roves, P., McGregor, S. J., McArdle, F., & Jackson, M. J. (2003). Post-exercise vitamin C supplementation and recovery from demanding exercise. European journal of applied physiology,89(3-4), 393-400.

Aragon, A. A., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2013). Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?. Journal of the international society of sports nutrition, 10(1), 1.

Shirreffs, S. M., Watson, P., & Maughan, R. J. (2007). Milk as an effective post-exercise rehydration drink. British Journal of Nutrition, 98(01), 173-180.

Rankin, J. W., Goldman, L. P., Puglisi, M. J., Nickols-Richardson, S. M., Earthman, C. P., & Gwazdauskas, F. C. (2004). Effect of post-exercise supplement consumption on adaptations to resistance training. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 23(4), 322-330.

Moore, D. R., Areta, J., Coffey, V. G., Stellingwerff, T., Phillips, S. M., Burke, L. M., ... & Hawley, J. A. (2012). Daytime pattern of post-exercise protein intake affects whole-body protein turnover in resistance-trained males. Nutrition & metabolism, 9(1), 1.

Decombaz, J., Fleith, M., Hoppeler, H., Kreis, R., & Boesch, C. (2000). Effect of diet on the replenishment of intramyocellular lipids after exercise.European journal of nutrition, 39(6), 244-247.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Sept. 19, 2016
Last updated: Sept. 19, 2016