What to Eat AFTER a Workout and WHY
Updated: Jul 13, 2020
Have you ever heard the expression "you can't out train a bad diet"? Nutrition plays an important role in fueling and recovery for exercise. Adequate amounts and timing of nutrients can help muscle growth and recovery, exercise performance, and endurance among other benefits! We have all heard about the importance of protein, carbohydrates, and fluid after a workout, but does everyone know why and what effect it is having on your body?
During a workout, your muscles use up carbohydrate stores (called glycogen) for energy and the right balanced post-workout meal can help your body restore glycogen, repair and grow muscles, as well as to reduce soreness and restore energy levels. It's all about the right combination of carbohydrates, proteins, fluid, antioxidants and healthy fats, and here’s how:
Hydration is a leading cause of fatigue and poor performance in athletes. It is important to replace the sweat lost during your workout, so make sure to drink plain water during and after your workout as well as for the rest of the day! For longer, harder training sessions, you might benefit from a fluid source containing carbohydrates (like Gatorade or Powerade), book an appointment with one of our dietitians to help you decide if this is right for you!
Your muscles use carbohydrates as their preferred energy source during your workout, so it is important to replace these carbohydrates with your post-workout meal or snack. The harder and longer the workout, the more carbs you should ingest.
If you don’t have enough carbohydrates in your diet when you’re working out, you might experience lower energy and fatigue as well as impaired muscle growth and repair. To avoid this, try to have a source of carbohydrate within 30-60 minutes following your workout. This is when your muscles are most receptive to re-fueling.
Carbohydrates can be found in wheat products (bread, pasta), grains (oats, rice, quinoa), starchy vegetables (potatoes, yams, corn), fruits, milk, and yogurt.
We all know protein is important when working out as it helps with muscle growth and repair. Protein-rich foods can also be rich in other nutrients like iron, which is especially important for vegetarian and female athletes.
Protein helps your muscles and tissues repair and recover following a workout. It also helps build muscles, circulate oxygen around the body, and maintain immune function. It helps your muscles recover and become not as sore for the next workout, so it is important to incorporate protein into your post workout meals.
You can get protein from meat, poultry, seafood, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, legumes, nuts, seeds, and eggs.
Exercise produces free radicals during workouts which can damage body cells. Antioxidants helps protect cells from damage, leading to a better recovery.
It is important to add an abundance of plant-based foods in your post recovery diet as they are rich in antioxidants like vitamin C, beta-carotene, and vitamin E. Try increasing your intake of vegetables and fruit, and "eat the rainbow" (meaning eat a wide variety of richly coloured vegetables and fruit) to get a variety of antioxidants in your post-workout meal.
It’s important to incorporate healthy fats into your after-work out meal as well. Healthy fats help metabolize fat-soluble vitamins and are involved in hormones, cell communication pathways, among other important roles. You can add healthy fats by adding avocado, fatty fish (like salmon), nuts, or nut butters to your post-workout meal or by using healthy oils like olive oil in your cooking or salad dressings!
It is important to incorporate all of these components into your post-workout meal to ensure proper recovery after your workout. Here are some easy and delicious post-workout meal ideas:
stir fried vegetables with chicken and brown rice
smoothie made with plain Greek yogurt, fruit, and spinach
oatmeal with nuts and seeds sprinkled on top
oven baked tofu with steamed vegetables and quinoa
canned salmon on a multigrain pita wrap loaded with vegetables and avocado
1. Holwegner, A. (2019, February 11). Sports Nutrition: Sports dietitian tips for what to eat after a workout. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from https://www.healthstandnutrition.com/what-to-eat-after-a-workout/?fbclid=IwAR2DxLlC23rJwp4y8QRiBM-KCWUhVvRS1oPH5kLdRz1RofczrB09fq_FeMw
2. Marengo, K. (2018, August 7). What to eat after a workout to lose weight, build muscle, and recover faster. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322692
3. Radcliffe, S. (2019, January 3). What Are the Best Foods to Eat After an Intense Workout. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/what-are-the-best-foods-to-eat-after-an-intense-workout?fbclid=IwAR2IjSAwFHY9_lW9ryFmuhV68Bmpp_31UW3m6JeTqzL9uMtBu55QE5H8-KQ