Updated: Aug 30, 2021
What we eat after an intense workout is as important as what we eat before. However, you may find yourself giving more importance to your pre-workout meals. What you need to know is that recovery nutrition (and nutrition in general) is influenced by the type and duration of physical activity, body composition and your individual aims. Therefore, it might be worth seeking out professional help (registered nutritionists or dietitians) to figure out your personal needs, as everyone is unique.
If you are training once a day or three times a week, you can meet your requirements from your ordinary meals or snacks without consuming additional food. However, if you train multiple times a day or you do an evening session and an early morning session the following day, you need to pay attention to your recovery nutrition.
Below you can find some general recommendations and a guide on how to build your perfect post-workout meal/snack.
There are multiple benefits of having a good post-workout meal or snack:
- Improved recovery
- Less muscle discomfort
- Improved ability to build muscles mass
- Better immune function
To ensure a quick recovery and allow our muscles to repair for the next training session there are three key concepts that we must keep in mind:
1.Replace muscle glycogen (Carbohydrates)
2. Activate protein synthesis (Protein)
3. Rehydrate (Water/Fluids)
Since this might not be simple to remember to try to focus on the three R’s:
Repair, Replenish and Rehydrate.
Why carbs? Carbohydrates are essential to replenish our muscle glycogen stores (I’ve already explored in my previous articles the fact that while we are working out our muscles use their glycogen stores to function). Consuming enough carbs is crucial to enhance the recovery between workouts and this is extremely important for athletes who train multiple times per day or for several hours. Therefore, after an intense training session, we should prioritise carbs in our post-workout meals or snack – this will enhance the recovery phase.
Why protein? Consuming the adequate amount of protein after exercise will help repair and rebuild our muscles. The requirements depend on individual characteristics and needs, however, as a general rule of thumbs, particularly after resistance training, adding at least 15-25g of protein to a post-workout meal or snack, can boost muscle repair, ease muscle soreness and promote glycogen reservoir. It is suggested to consume these quantities of protein within 30 minutes to 2 hours after working out as our muscles’ receptiveness to recovery is greater and our body can optimally use proteins.
The advice is to try to consume proteins and carbs together in a ratio of 3:1 (carbohydrates: protein), which means for example 30g of protein and 90g of carbohydrates.
Why fluids? Replacing water and the minerals lost through sweating is a cardinal part of an athletes’ recovery. It is advised to drink around 1.2 - 1.5 litres of liquid for each kg of weight loss during training or competition, to fully replenish fluids losses – bear in mind that sweating and urine losses continue during recovery. Choosing fruits and vegetables with high water content is an optimal way to restore fluids. Smoothies, milk and sports drinks with electrolytes are a good option.
What to eat after a workout?
Since while we are training our muscles use their glycogen stores to function and some of the muscles proteins are broken down, choosing the right foods is crucial to enhance the recovery and maximize the results. Remember to choose foods that are easy to digest, as this will guarantee a faster absorption of the nutrients. Below you can find a list of foods contain carbs and good quality protein:
- Sweet potatoes
- Rice cakes
- Greek yoghurt
- Chicken breast
- Protein powder (even if food should always be your first choice)
Dairy, eggs, meat, fish and soy protein are a good source of leucine, which is an essential amino acid (we are not able to build it, so we must consume foods that contains it). Leucine is extremely important for building muscle mass.
- Nuts butter
Always remember to include also a small source of fat in your post-recovery nutrition!
Ideas for post-workout meals or snacks:
- Peanut butter and banana on multi-grain toast
- Cottage cheese/tuna/hummus on crackers/wraps
- Large glass of milk or chocolate milk
- A handful of nuts
- Greek yoghurt with berries or banana and granola
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Tinned fish toast
- Egg omelette with avocado toast
Why chocolate milk?
Chocolate milk contains is considered the ideal post-exercise hydration drink and researchers have demonstrated that it is superior to commercial recovery drinks – Plus choosing flavoured milk instead of standard sports drinks will make you save money!
In practical terms: remember to include a source of carbohydrates and protein to your post-training snack or meal to enhance the recovery and perform better during your next workout. Plus, don’t forget to rehydrate your body with plenty of fluids.
Francesca is our sports nutritionist who used her sports nutrition expertise while she was a ballet dancer for most of her life. Francesca uses this unique insight to provide clients practical, insightful and lifestyle-driven nutritional advice in both Italian and English. She is a registered associate nutritionist with the AfN. Please contact us to request Francesca's expertise.
References for further reading:
Beelen, M., Burke, L.M., Gibala, M.J., and van Loon, L. J.C. (2010). Nutritional strategies to promote postexercise recovery. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2010;20(6):515-32.
American College of Sports Medicine, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Dietitians of Canada. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2016; 116: 501-528.
IAAF Athletics (2013). Nutrition for athletes: A practical guide to eating for health and performance. Based on an international consensus conference held at the ioc in Lausanne in October 2010 / prep. By the nutrition working group of the international olympic committee ; rev. and updated in April 2012 by Ron Maughan and Louise Burke.
International Olympic Committee (2010). Consensus Statement on Sports Nutrition 2010. http:// www.Olympic.org/Documents/Reports/EN/CONSENSUS-FINAL- V8-en.pdf.
Kerksick C, Harvey T, Stout J, Campbell B, Wilborn C, Kreider R, Kalman D, Ziegenfuss T, Lopez H, Landis J, Ivy JL, Antonio J. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008 Oct 3;5:17. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-5-17. Erratum in: J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008;5:18.
Pitkanen HT, Nykanen T, Knuutinen J, Lahti K, Keinanen O, Alen M, Komi PV, Mero AA. Free amino acid pool and muscle protein balance after resistance exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003 May;35(5):784-92. doi: 10.1249/01.MSS.0000064934.51751.F9.